Returning From Heaven: Phoenix Mountain Offerings
Last week, in the first days of the Chinese New Year, I didn’t have a chance to visit my friend who provides us with our Dong Ding Oolong Tea. So today, I made a point of making it to his home during these final days of the holiday. When I arrived, my friend – who chose the English name Young, was holding the first draft of his English translation of a poem that a friend posted on his FB page. This poem was written by a friend in response to a photo that Young had taken on the ninth day of the Chinese New Year when he went to the local temple to make traditional offerings.
白雲擁抱悠 峰嶺鳳凰遊 雲去山默默 山名把鳳留
The 9th day of the new year is the day when the “Heaven God” comes back from heaven – where he returns to on 12/24 of the lunar calendar for ten days of “holiday”. So it was here at his neighborhood Phoenix Mountain Temple that my friend made offerings to 天宮 and took advantage of the light for a photo. I have passed this temple at a respectfully slow speed for many years, as it is the way to a small farm road that leads to a footpath to a gazebo with a great view of the heart of Dong Ding Oolong Tea country. This has been my secret spot, where I can string a hammock in the middle of a tea garden and wake to sunrise over Phoenix Mountain.
I saw the photo and commented how it was my current favorite of his, and that I would like to translate the poem with him when I visited the next day. Young took it to heart and presented the basic English meaning to me. A mutually educational conversation ensued where he described Chinese words and I offered English versions. He informed me in the meantime that instead of brewing tea in the usual tea tasting room of his home, we would go to the spot I mentioned above. I readily accepted. So he packed a tea kit and pre-boiled some water to bring in a thermos to be reheated on a hiking stove. While he and his wife Nicole prepared tea things, I pondered English words for the translation of the poem. I scribbled out the last few words as they announced our departure.
Clouds closing in, enshrouding you
Phoenix soars, playing above your peak
Clouds drift away, and leave you standing silentlyAges pass, but the soul of the Phoenix remains
The rare occasion of riding in their car rather than my own motorcycle was almost disorienting as I sat passenger through the familiar route. With some effort, we arrived, the long way around some newly restricted areas due to a TV broadcast of the spot a year or so ago. I actually hadn’t been there in about a year, and didn’t know about the media effect. Nevertheless, we we trumped our way to a familiar spot and had a delicious pot of tea that Young had just finished roasting. He had procured some unroasted tea leaves from a mutual friend who also supplied Eco-Cha with its current winter stock of Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong selection. Young roasted them in preparation to be stored in ceramic urns in a special order to make “lao cha” or aged tea. These leaves will be left in these urns for years before being brewed and enjoyed.
As fog began closing in on us, we arranged our “adventure pow”, or picnic brew. I mentioned to Young and Nicole that I had once considered organizing “adventure pows” in Sedona, Arizona. I lived there for a year, 15 years ago, enjoying picnic brews in amazing sandstone canyons. Upon tasting the first brew of Young’s freshly roasted tea, I involuntarily exclaimed “success!” It was heavily roasted Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong that was mellow, full-bodied, but with an amazing aromatic aftertaste reminiscent of roasted chesnuts and sweet potatoes and pine forest. It was delicious, in this comforting fog on a Sunday afternoon - at one of my favorite spots in Dong Ding Country. We sat at a picnic table to the side of the gazebo that was busy with Sunday hikers, and slowly brewed several pots of warming, flavorful tea while chatting about the English translation of the poem and anything else that popped up in our relaxing Sunday picnic.
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The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.