October 19, 2013
This year at the Nantou County Global Tea Expo, the ‘Tea Culture Exhibition Hall’ has expanded its scope to include a museum-like exhibit and films in addition to live demonstrations of tea culture. In previous years, there were interactive displays where guests could freely observe and partake in tea the brewing ceremonies of their choice. Each space had its own artistic style and cultural orientation from around the world. This year the live demonstrations have been refined and consolidated into three spaces with rotating installations. They still offer variety while allowing for more developed, artistic themes of tea brewing. The other day I got to participate in one of these tea ceremonies that was designed by a few friends from Lu Gu.
The name of the ceremony in Chinese is 圍爐煮茶 which loosely translates as “Gathering Around the Hearth and Brewing Tea”. My friends conceived of the theme and designed the installation themselves, which I experienced as a really clever innovation of traditional Chinese culture. The first two words in the name refer to the traditional family gathering on the last night of the year before Chinese New Year. It is all about the nourishing warmth of a home cooked meal with family. This sentiment is the essence of the tea ceremony that was designed for this year’s event.
Two hosts and five guests made up the tea party that took place on straw tatami mats with small wooden tables arranged around a large iron kettle of boiling water set upon a charcoal stove. The hosts simply facilitated the party while the guests all brewed tea for each other. Each guest was given a type of tea to brew among five of Taiwan’s most recognized specialty teas: Oolong, Aged Tea, High Mountain, Jin Xuan, and Black tea. We each wore a traditional style apron bearing the name of our tea type and were instructed on how the ceremony was to take place.
After the basic methods were explained, it was an easy-going, spontaneous event where we all brewed tea with the tea and tea wares provided. We shared our own brew and received pours from others teapots as we went along. The conversation flowed along with the tea, and it was a friendly gathering around the charcoal stove - a symbol of warmth and sustenance.
Drawing water with handmade Japanese bamboo ladles from the communal antique iron kettle to fill and refill our gong fu teapots again and again to share our distinctly flavored teas was really fun as well as highly satisfying. The presentation that was steeped in tradition and style accommodated a kind of free-for-all tea party where we all got to enjoy not just one type of tea from a single server, but five types of tea from five servers all at once! What a brilliant idea it was on many levels. It was embedded in Taiwan tea culture with touches of the historical Japanese influence, and embodied the naturally free, informal - yet very traditional Taiwanese style that has seduced me into making this island my home.
October 13, 2013
The most educational and privileged event at the Nantou County Global Tea Expo, in my experience - is the opportunity to taste award winning teas from all over Taiwan. For an entrance fee of US$3.30, you can participate in a cupping of 10 of this year’s Champion Spring Teas in Taiwan. Ten participants per cupping are invited to smell the brewed leaves and taste the brewed tea through two rounds of the table. The cuppings follow the standard tea judging methods of 3g of tea leaves in a 50 ml cup brewed for 6 minutes with near-boiling temperature water. The brewed leaves and tea are then allowed to cool for about 6 minutes before sampling.
The cupping is hosted by a certified tea judge who leads the group through the brewing, smelling of the brewed leaves, and tea tasting experience. The host introduces the tea types that span the spectrum of specialty teas produced in Taiwan from green to black, yet mostly comprised of variations of oolongs. Basic explanations of the tea types are given along with the judging process that is conducted in the competitions.
The first cupping we attended this year started with a green Bi Luo Qun from Ping Lin, Taipei followed by an unroasted, minimally oxidized High Mountain Oolong from Ren Ai Township in Nantou. Step by step we moved through the gradients of oolong teas, finishing with a heavily oxidized Oriental Beauty Oolong from Xin Zhu.
More types of Champion Spring Teas can be experienced by attending other cuppings. There are 18 types of tea, almost all champion, with a few 2nd place prize winners of local competitions from all over Taiwan, offered at this event. So in order to make the best of this unique opportunity, we will attend at least a few more cuppings of this year’s champion spring teas before the event closes on October 27.
October 03, 2013
September 30, 2013
September 23, 2013
September 06, 2013
The increasing popularity and demand for Taiwan tea has resulted in the loss of some traditional tea cultivating and production methods, we source from and support farmers that are dedicated to keeping the artisan tea tradition thriving.