23 December 2009

DIY to Learn it Best

"You have so many questions.  Touch it once and you will learn yourself."

試聽知識 - the knowledge gained from experimentation.  I'm fortunate that my teachers are quite patient with me.  I can be like a monkey child, I point to everything and ask what it is, how it works, how to do it....


"What's that?" I ask him on the way back to my quarters.

"A dragon fruit bush.  We saw that yesterday, remember?"

"Oh yah.  What's that over there?"

"Oh, that's Dong Ding mountain coffee.  My cousin grows it.  Do you like coffee, do you want to try?"  My teacher takes me to the bush where we pick some of it off; it has bright red skin that will turn brown after it's picked and oxidizes.  "Eat the skin.  It's sweet."

                             DD coffee bean

Dong Ding mountain has changed a lot.  It used to be considered a sacred place, the home of the tea that made Taiwan famous for oolongs.  Many people who have never been still consider it to be a somewhat magical place.  Nowadays, you will see fruit trees/bushes, vegetable farms, wild pig farms, and some coffee bushes amidst the tea fields.


"Why talk so much?  Drink it and you'll know yourself. The brew doesn't lie."

The Happy Farmer's wife stated her opinion emphatically and it is both true and correct.  She comes from a family of farmers and her husband sees himself as a tea craftsman rather than as a tea culture person or a big retailer.  She's unafraid to criticize other farmers or retailers by name, especially those that she feels do dishonest business or are lazy with their craft.  She also knows everyone else's business, and after a few pots of tea, so will you. 

Mrs. Happy has a sharp memory and prepares a bowl of tea for me as I walk inside her shop and sit down next to her daughter who's studying elementary English, but is too shy to practice with me.  Mr. Happy is on the mountain preparing for the upcoming tea competition.  I look at the leaves in the bowl and at the brew.  The fragrance is floral and extravagant; it lingers in the air like royalty.  It's been over a year since I've had their tea and my mind immediately registers its signature sweetness.  Mrs. Happy and I look at each other for a moment as we smile.

"The story is in the brew" I said to her.  "People don't need to waste their breath with more examination or chatter over this tea." 

Truth is, though, I love to talk to tea people about tea.  Most producers are happy to talk as well, partly out of politeness, partly because they are entertained by those who have enthusiasm for their work.  Sometimes one should tread carefully, though, as some tea people misunderstand enthusiasm for prying or spying.  My experience has been that the world of tea tends to be vast and quite transparent; there will always be experts willing to chat, even though they may not agree amongst themselves.  Mrs. Happy, though, would rather talk to me about the latest "farmer gossip," so in this case, the best story really is in the brew itself.

Do you want to know about the oxidation level, tea base, cultivar and roasting of the tea?  It's in the leaves, the brew, the aroma and the taste.  Pay attention and learn what the characteristics of major types of teas are.  We can learn about fire, as in why heat causes some teas to produce a rich, full-bodied fruit flavor, or how it can be used to tame the astringency of a mediocre tea base.  The masters that craft the tea can see through its beautiful aromas and tastes to understand the true base of the tea.  By paying attention and listening, we too can learn to see into the souls of our brews.


  1. Rich,

    Have been really enjoying the simple peacefulness of your recient posts.