15 March 2019

Meeting a Tea Saint - Master "Big Way"

“Imagine that you are dealing with royalty, with a delicate, regal, but moody princess who has just woken up.  She’s not a morning person.  You throw boiling water on her face, do you think she would like it?  Do you think she would be pleasant to be around after that?”

Of course not, I’d actually be exceptionally grateful if she didn’t order my beheading!

We must remember to be thoughtful and gentle when we brew tea, understanding that some of them are delicate or particular.

Master “Big Way” has been brewing tea all over East Asia for over 30 years.  He has quite a collection of pots and charcoal braziers to heat water with.  One of his favorite pots was made by an old acquaintance of his, using a dark, dense type of clay that can withstand higher temperatures than a typical clay pot.  It is noticeably heavier than a “regular” teapot of the same size, and retains more heat as well. 

So maybe you’ve learned that a light oolong needs water heated to between 180-195 degrees and should only be brewed for about a minute to release the best flavor.  Or that you should not use more than 6 grams of tea in a small pot (for fear of the tea turning bitter).  Or that a lightning bolt will blast you in the forehead if you brew a pu’er in the same pot that you’ve once brewed black teas in.  

Master Big Way will tell you many of these “so-called rules” are nonsense.  He put an aged oolong of mine into his pot, filled it with boiling water, and placed it over the charcoal fire for over 5 minutes.  It tasted fantastic; smooth, rich and creamy.  I’ve brewed that tea at least 50 times and it’s never tasted anything like the cup he made.  Shiuwen was shocked by how different the tea tasted, too. 

It must be the pot, you say, or sorcery.  Master Big Way admits that the pot and the charcoal fire help improve the taste of the tea, but the amazing experience begins before the water even enters the teapot.  I jokingly told him that he cheated and added MSG to the water.  He said he added something to the water that’s even better.

What’s the magic ingredient?!  Find out in Part 2 of our story about Master Big Way’s technique.

01 February 2018

When a Tea Reminds You of Fruit Loops, but in a Good Way!

“Guess what tea this is, I bet you’ve never had anything like it before!”

I hear this all of the time and it’s usually true.  Really good teas are memorable and unique.  Great tea makers often have a signature taste or note, but whether this is done on purpose or is a product of one’s technique is a delicate matter to bring up with the tea’s maker.

Mr. Noodle used to be a farmer.  He grew vegetables that were, in his estimation, the fattest and most delicious in all of Nantou county!  He also loves to eat traditional Taiwanese foods, like minced meat rice and stinky tofu.  But he really loves to eat noodles:  beef noodles; egg noodles; dan dan noodles; vermicelli noodles with oysters, on and on.

师出高徒 - A famous teacher produces talented students.  This is a well known Chinese idiom and students search for great teachers to help them transform into great artists.  Mr. Noodle’s first master is very well known and has won a ton of awards.  His teas are expensive, easily triple the average market price for each type of tea he sells.  He is a tea genius.  One would not be wrong in thinking that Mr. Noodle is, too.

“My master wouldn’t teach me how to finish the tea, though, so I had to leave him and go learn that elsewhere.  But me?  I would teach anyone my technique.  Whether or not you can learn and master it, though, is up to you!”  

With a big grin and a booming voice as he speaks, Mr. Noodle pours hot - but not boiling - water into his pot for the 6th infusion of his high mountain oolong.  He specializes in high mountain tea, which is his favorite type of tea.  His technique utilizes a very high temperature and multiple roasting cycles to give his high mountain tea a characteristic floral fragrance and ripe-fruit taste.  Most high mountain oolongs are floral; some have light fruit flavors (like Lishan).  His tea has ripe-fruit flavors that are usually found in moderate-to-high oxidation oolongs, like Dong Ding or Hong Shui, except that the body of his tea is not deep and rich.  

In my own tea roasting experience, I have never been able to turn a low-oxidized and relatively delicate high mountain oolong into something that has both a mild body and ripe fruit flavors, all the while keeping an intensely fragrant floral aroma.  The Younger, a tea distributor that I’ve known for years and who has taught me a lot about tea making, says that Mr. Noodle is pulling my leg.  “I have been making tea for over 20 years.  I have touched every type of tea you can make, and I’m certain there is no way to roast at the temperature and duration of time that Mr. Noodle stated.  You will make charcoal!”

I don’t know what the truth of the matter is, but Mr. Noodle’s tea is pretty tasty!