Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Taiwan and US Tea Philosophies - a Dang Mini-Essay

I was chatting with a buddy over the weekend about tea and economics. Tea is a different kind of product in Asia than it is in the West. Particularly, as is dictated by my location, I understand tea in the United States is a luxury good. And in Taiwan, as dictated by my personal connections to tea people and my affinity for the culture, I understand that tea is a necessity - maybe more like a monthly expense. This means we treat tea differently. If a season is not to one's taste, the US drinker will more often than not choose a different season's or location's tea to drink or perhaps drink a different category tea than they would have usually drunk. But a Taiwanese drinker will generally drink 'with the season' and learn to appreciate (or at least come to terms with) the seasonal shift in tea quality. The ideal US drinker knows what they want, and the ideal Taiwanese drinker knows what is going on.

With this in mind, I see the difference in terms of contrastive tea philosophies. In the US, with the food systems that we have we can pick up strawberries at the grocery store any time of year. Tea is a luxury that we examine, subdivide and choose the teas which best fit our personal, favorite taste profiles. In Taiwan, different fruits and vegetables cycle through seasons as short as two weeks - for example, when the mangoes are a perfect balance of sweet and tangy, a week or so after they start to come to market, they are priced the highest. This is when they are considered most delicious by those who are considered to have the most developed taste in mangoes. We drink the tea of the season because our tea merchants explain to us that is the best tea to drink. They teach us what is going on with the weather, why a tea tastes the way it does, and often choose for us what we will drink and purchase. They treat us like clients rather than customers. The philosophy that I extract from this Taiwanese way of tea drinking is one of communion with nature. i.e. "We will be drinking tea no matter what (because we are tea people!!) and that means we'd better learn to appreciate the way the tea changes. Because it ain't gonna stop changing for nobody."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

*Quick Update - Volcano Pot

The pot I got last week I have been seasoning and drinking cooked oolong from. I thought maybe the clay just hadn't finished seasoning, because the tea kept coming out muddy - really vibrant nose notes, but body was both unclear and sharp.

I just got a text from a buddy drinking some really tasty Qian Jia Zhai puer from 2013, and it sounded so good I went to try it. I grabbed that volcano pot... it really kills! This pot is gonna be for young shengcha, I bet. Really digging the milky soup, and the notes shine through very well!

Damn, that's a tasty shengcha!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Taiwanese Volcano Pot

I've been minding the store on my own the last couple weeks at FLT. Shiuwen has been in Taiwan meeting the farmers and general teafolk she works with over there. And she returned yesterday with all kinds of goodies!

She brought me a generous and fantastic little gift, an unglazed pot made by Lin Studio. And it's made out of Taiwanese, homegrown, volcanic clay. Beautiful and strange!

The texture is grabby like fine grit sandpaper. The shape is very cute. But what I noticed when I got it home and started to season it was the smell. It smells strongly of some mineral, but  I can't place it, and it's only when I get it very hot. I circulated through it some Tie Guanyin soup, and it smelled wonderful as the last of the liquid evaporated off the clay. I haven't tasted a brew from it yet, but I'm dying of curiosity. I'll probably try it in the next couple of days.

I think it's really exciting to see all the different kinds of clay people are using to make unglazed pots now. I've used a Taiwanese clay pot (light grey color) for Dong Ding quite a bit, and enjoyed it. I also occasionally use a pot made of Japanese red clay (not Tokoname) for High Mountain Oolongs, which is really fun. It will be fun to see how the clay teapot market develops as it grows, and more diverse clays become teapots. Woohoo!