Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tea Gatha

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A while back, I picked up Thich Nhat Hanh's "Chanting From the Heart", a guide to ceremonies and daily practices from Plum Village. Of course, my favourite part was this short gatha:

Drinking Tea

This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.

Preparing tea, especially gongfu cha with great care, is a chance to meet the present moment. A quiet break form the distractions of a busy world. Finding the moment when the water is just right, seeing when the pot has just enough leaves, knowing the perfect moment to pour. Each session, each cup is a unique moment, inviting our focus and appreciation.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fushoushan (Lishan) High-Mountain Oolong • 福壽山 (驪山) 高山烏龍

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When I first began learning about Taiwan's high-mountain oolongs at Kkikdageo, it revolved around Lishan (梨山, Pear Mountain) in the central region of Taiwan. So, I was a little confused when I went in one day to replenish my stash and was asked, "Why do you want Lishan oolong? Why not try something different?" The something different was an amazing organic, medium roasted oolong from Taiwan that knocked my socks off, but I still longed for that sweet, floral, light oolong from Lishan that I'd grown to love.

Several times after, I asked if there was any Li-shan oolong in but I was always referred to something else, different types of Ali-shan oolong, usually. I wondered if maybe the market for Li-shan had pushed the price beyond what it was worth, as I'd seen happen with Bilochun. One part-time worker told me that the tea gardens were resting for a few years, but she hadn't been a reliable source for information in previous conversations, so I wasn't sure if it was actually the case, though it sounded reasonable. After that, I just decided to stop asking.

Last week, I dropped by and Prof. Ahn served some incredible high-mountain oolong. It was slightly reminiscent of Tie Guanyin but was certainly Taiwanese. Assuming it wasn't from Li-shan, I asked if it was Ali-shan cha. He explained that it was from Boksu-san, the highest tea garden in Taiwan at 2500 meters. I thought it would be a good time to ask about Li-shan and why they stopped selling Li-shan tea, which lead to a bit of a confusing exchange, until finally, he concluded, "This is Li-shan tea!"

With a pen and paper, he drew a sketch of Li-shan with it's highest peak being Boksu-san, the Korean pronunciation for Fushou-shan (福壽山, which translates roughly as "Blessed Life Mountain, but has the connotations of a life of happiness, luck, and longevity. Anyway, an all-around great name for a tea-producing mountain!). In his opinion, Fushoushan cha is the best high-mountain tea in Taiwan, and I have no trouble believing him.

Though most of our conversation revolved around why my Korean isn't better than it is after all these years, we did get some tea-talk in too. He told me, "After ten steeps, when oolong loses its taste, leave it for a 30 minute steep and it will taste good. Next, an hour and then leave it steeping over night and drink it in the morning." Of course, you should add some hot water after a long steep to really make it better.

I never did get to the bottom of why they went so long without supplying Lishan cha, but I'm excited that it's back and, really, that's all that matters!