Tea Tidings Issue 14
By Daniel Reid
Greetings, Tea People! A river of tea has passed through our teapots since I posted the last issue of Tea Tidings. This long hiatus in communication was caused by the proverbial “circumstances beyond our control,” a sign of uncertain times that seems to be destabilizing the lives of people throughout the world. One thing, however, that never changes and always remains under firm control is the art and alchemy of Chinese tea that launches us back to life each morning, keeping our bodies grounded in good health and our minds anchored in a sane view of the world.
Speaking of which…
Tea Shields Your Brain from Dementia
The incidence of dementia today continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and almost everyone knows someone who slowly withers away in the gathering darkness of this miserable malady. The causes are many - chemical additives in food and water, exposure to artificial electromagnetic fields, pharma drugs, radiation, and other facts of modern life - but the effects are always the same - a relentless deterioration of the brain that leads to total loss of control over basic vital functions and the erosion of mental and emotional sanity.
Autopsies on victims of Alzheimer, “Mad Cow,” and other forms of fatal dementia have shown that their brain tissue contains high levels of a protein plaque called beta-amyloid, a neurotoxin that gradually destroys brain cells. Clinical tests on cultures of human brain cells have shown that extracts of tea protect the cells from the toxic assault of beta-amyloid. The study showed that green tea is five times more potent than black tea in providing this neuro-cellular protection. As we’ve noted before regarding these scientific studies on the health benefits of tea, the protective benefits of oolong tea are even greater than those of green tea, and that makes High Mountain Oolong Tea one of your brain’s best friends.
The elements in tea that shield the brain from toxic damage by beta-amyloid plaque are a category of antioxidants known as catechins, and the factors that provide the most potent protection are gallic acid, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate. While black tea also provides a certain degree of neuro-cellular protection, green tea is far more potent, and oolong even more so.
It’s also very important to remember that the protective benefits of any tea are erased if the tea is contaminated with chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial additives, and other industrial pollutants, as is most of the tea produced today. Organically produced teas, such as those offered on our menu, are very difficult to find and always more expensive, but they earn back their cost with the protection they provide, serving your brain as a personal bodyguard against toxic attack.
If you haven’t browsed our menu of organic High Mountain Tea and hand-crafted teaware from Taiwan lately, brew a pot of tea and take some time to have a look at our current selections. Jolene has been up in the mountains visiting our favorite tea plantations, and down in town cruising the best teaware shops, looking for new items to offer on the menu.
She found a very good grade of the relatively rare varietal “Kingfisher Jade”
(Tsui Yu), one of the famous Three Daughters of Taiwan, which a judge at one of Taiwan’s annual Tea Fairs described as “shockingly fragrant.” At only $60 for 300 grams (half-catty), this is is one of the best deals on the menu.
Jolene also visited Pear Mountain (Li-Shan) last month, and there she found a superb batch of premium-grade Li-Shan Classic Oolong
. Because of the strong demand for this tea among Taiwan’s upper echelon of tea drinkers, our supply of this excellent leaf is limited. If you click on this item on the menu, you’ll see the two photos
she took of the magnificent mountains and crystalline lake surrounding this beautiful tea plantation, which rises 2,500 meters above sea level. Snow and I are thinking about renting a cottage in a nearby village where the tea pickers live in order to retreat from the hustle-bustle of the modern world for a few months. Not only does this region grow some of Taiwan’s finest High Mountain Tea, it also produces an array of excellent organic foods, including mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, taro and yams, and freshwater fish and shrimp.
If you suffer from nervous tension, depression, chronic stress, and/or insomnia and have not yet tried our GABA Tea
, we suggest that you give it a try as a remedy for such problems. Produced by a complex multi-stage fermentation process that causes the tea leaves to synthesize extraordinary amounts of a calming neurochemical known as GABA, this therapeutic tea is used to treat a wide range of nervous system disorders in Taiwan and Japan, including epilepsy. Made exclusively with the finest grade of organic High Mountain Oolong, GABA Tea not only calms an overactive brain and soothes frazzled nerves, it also tastes very good, with a distinctive flavor and rich aroma created by the special fermentation process used to produce it. In order to preserve maximum potency of its therapeutic properties, this tea comes packed in individual tea bags made of a natural organic fiber, vacuum-sealed in foil packets. Each tea bag may be steeped 4-5 times in either a tea pot or a lidded cup.
Jolene has also collected a fine selection of new tea pots, some of which are one-of-a-kind collector’s items hand-made by Taiwan’s top master potters, using only the finest materials. Teapot #005
, for example, is crafted from a rare, densely textured clay found only in deep veins locked within Taiwan’s highest mountains. This clay is then blended with a special form of activated charcoal that gives the clay energetic properties which “soften” (microstructure) the tea as it steeps in the pot and neutralize any unpleasant tastes and odors held within the water used to make the tea. This pot will bring out the best in your most expensive teas.
is a particularly fine example of the traditional Chinese red clay pot crafted in the classical round shape, featuring a wide mouth that makes it easy to scoop out spent leaves and a short spout that pours a perfect stream of tea. The inscription on the side says that the pot belongs to “A tea person of elegant taste.” That must be you! This is a sturdy pot that lends itself well to travel. This is a truely unique pot, only one exists.
If you like to drink tea alone or with just one other person, and would rather spend your money buying an expensive tea than an expensive pot, I suggest Teapot #026
as a suitable choice. Beautifully designed with an elegant shape, this pot is hand-crafted from red terracotta clay, with a wide mouth and a smooth glossy surface that’s easy to polish to a bright sheen. At the time of sending this out, there are only two of these pots available.
Jolene also managed to find a selection of teapots, in four unique designs, made from a rare type of blond clay known as duan ni. More porous than the red terracotta and dark “purple sand” varieties of clay, duan ni absorbs tea oils more readily than other types of clay, allowing the interior surface to season more swiftly and the exterior surface to acquire a rich patina when polished. All four designs have themes of leaf and wood crafted in green and brown colors that contrast attractively with the underlying blond clay surface. Because we’ve cultivated a close friendship with the potter, we’re able to offer these beauties at only $65 per pot, an exceptional bargain. You can see all four of these at the top of this page
on our site.
You will find new selections in all of the other sections of our menu as well, including some extremely rare tea cups hand-crafted by old masters from lava clay studded with crystalized minerals that sparkle in the light and energize the tea in the cup.
“Teaphoons” in Taiwan
The word for “weather” in Chinese is tien chi, and one way to translate that is “the wrath of heaven.” Typhoons in Taiwan certainly live up to this definition. The frequency and ferocity of typhoons in Taiwan have been growing rapidly over the past few years, causing severe damage to many of Taiwan’s best High Mountain Tea plantations, which are particularly vulnerable to the wrath of these meteorlogical monsters owing to their exposed locations high up in the mountains.
Snow and I spent eight weeks in Taiwan during this year’s typhoon season, and there we witnessed some of the fiercest weather we’ve seen anywhere on earth. The English word “typhoon” is derived from the Chinese tai-feng, which means “super wind,” and in Taiwan they can get strong enough to toss cars bouncing down city streets like tumble-weeds and capsize giant container ships in harbors. You can well imagine what such super winds might do to tea plantations.
These “teaphoons” have always been the bane of tea plantations in Taiwan. A few years ago they wiped out more than half of the tea bush at the Cedar Lake plantation, the source of some of our personal favorites, and this year a series of three mega-typhoons destroyed so much acreage at the plantations of our best suppliers on Pear Mountain (Li Shan) and Mount Ali (Ali Shan) that their supply of winter harvest tea has plunged, while the price for what little remains has soared. Nevertheless, by paying a personal visit to the tea estates that have always provided our best winter teas and warming up the connections we’ve cultivated there, Jolene managed to secure a small supply of winter tea to offer on our menu, and the quality of this year’s winter harvest is excellent. If winter leaf is your cup of tea, be sure to order some before our supply runs dry.
In a previous issue of Tea Tidings written about two years ago, I predicted that the supply of Taiwan’s best organic High Mountain Tea would shrink, while prices would inflate correspondingly, and that’s exactly what’s happening. I also suggested that dedicated devotees of the organic High Mountain Oolongs that we offer on our menu purchase adequate supplies of their favorite teas to keep their tea pots warm for at least three years. I repeat that advice here and now, for this trend shall continue into the foreseeable future, and not only because of the weather. . .
The China Factor
Another factor that’s cutting down the supply and driving up the cost of Taiwan’s best quality High Mountain Tea is the recent opening of direct travel routes between mainland China and Taiwan. Flights now link Taipei directly with Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, and other major cities in China, opening Taiwan to a flood of eager visitors from mainland China. It did not take long for Taiwan’s mainland Chinese cousins to discover and develop a fond taste for the peerless flavor and fragrance, as well as the potent therapeutic benefits of Taiwan’s High Mountain Oolong tea. Armed with the enormous purchasing power they’ve recently acquired, these nouveau riche visitors from the mainland have been buying up huge quantities of Taiwan’s best High Mountain Oolong and sending it back to China, leaving less and less each year for the rest of us. This is a growing problem that is causing serious concern among tea connoisseurs in Taiwan, and it’s something that should concern High Mountain Tea aficionados throughout the world as well, because this factor is reducing the supply and increasing the cost of organic High Mountain Tea in Taiwan even faster than typhoons.
Another problem that has developed in recent years as a result of closer trade and travel contacts between Taiwan and mainland China is the appearance on the tea market of ersatz High Mountain Oolong grown on the mainland but packaged in those beautiful packets made in Taiwan, complete with the ideograms “Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea” (tai-wan gao-shan oolong-cha) boldly printed in elegant calligraphy on the front and back of the sealed packet. These counterfeit High Mountain Oolongs have already flooded tea shops in major cities throughout China, and now they are starting to find their way to markets in Southeast Asia, Europe, and America via export sales to overseas suppliers as well as internet marketing.
So once again, our advice to those who wish to buy pure and genuine High Mountain Oolong Tea organically grown in Taiwan is this: “Buyer beware!” Know your source and know your tea, otherwise it’s likely that you’ll find an impostor hiding in your teapot…
One of the things we did during our recent sojourn in Taiwan was to investigate the possibility of arranging private tea tours to some of Taiwan’s High Mountain Oolong tea plantations, and we are happy to report that the prospects for this look good. Many of our tea friends throughout the world have been asking about this for years, and we have not forgotten your wishes. Previously, one of the biggest obstacles to arranging such tours was the reluctance of Taiwan’s best plantations to allow anyone - foreign or local - to set foot on their estates, lest their planting and production secrets should escape. For example, one such plantation, famous for producing a very limited and highly cherished supply of a varietal known as “Presidential Tea” (because a personal supply of this precious leaf is presented each year as a gift to Taiwan’s President), did not want anyone to discover their trade secret and therefore kept the plantation strictly off-limits to visitors. However, no secret can be kept forever, and since this secret has now become common knowledge in the Taiwan tea trade, we can tell you what it is: small electric fans secured on tall poles are placed evenly among the tea bushes to prevent mold, mildew, and moisture from doing damage to the delicate tea leaves as they mature in Taiwan’s hot, humid climate. We managed to get a few hundred grams this year, and it tastes fabulous!
Other obstacles to arranging small private tours for foreign visitors to Taiwan’s famous High Mountain Tea estates include strict government restrictions that have recently been relaxed and repeated damage from typhoons to the mountain roads that give access to these plantations, as well as to the limited facilities for overnight accomodation in these remote regions. All of these problems are currently being resolved, so if any of our tea friends are still sufficiently interested in joining such a tour, please send a message to let us know, and we will continue our efforts to make it happen.
The Hong Kong novelist Ni Kuang, author of a famous novel from which a film was made --Tien Lung Ba Bu (“Eight Steps of the Celestial Dragon”) - is also a well known cha ren (“tea person”) in the Chinese world of tea, and he has written some interesting essays on the topic of tea connoisseurship. In one of these essays, he proposes the thesis that the tea pots, tea cups, tea trays, tea tools, and related tea paraphenalia so carefully collected and conspiculously displayed on the tea tables of dedicated connoisseurs of the art and craft of Chinese tea are essentially “tea toys” that play the same role in the lives of adult tea people that dolls and balls and other toys play in the lives of children. As Ni Kuang sees it, the tea table is a tea person’s playground.
“All humans are born with a need to play with toys,” he states, “and this applies as much to adults as it does to children. We need toys to express our creative imagination with our hands,” he writes, “and to demonstrate and compare our skills with others.” Naturally, the best toys are always the most expensive ones, and these become status symbols among those who play the game, and a reflection of self-esteem. Hence, the best bicycle, the most expensive computer game, the most elaborately dressed doll, the most realistically crafted toy gun, all become the focus of the child’s creative imagination and an outlet for his recreational energy, as well as cherished treasures to be shared and sometimes traded with one’s closest friends.
There’s no doubt about it: adult tea people purchase, collect, trade, and use tea pots, tea cups, and other tea utensils exactly the way children play with toys, and nothing makes a better gift for a tea friend than an exquisite tea pot or cup. “Pots R Us” would make a great name for a tea utensil shop in a modern metropolis inhabited by sophisticated tea people.
A tea person handles a favorite tea cup the same way a child holds a favorite toy, and woe be to anyone who breaks one of your most cherished tea pots! The time we spend at the tea table preparing and drinking tea, and the attention we pay to the selection and arrangement of pots and cups and tools, serves much the same purpose as play time does for children. Ni Kuang’s observation that the tactile and visual aspects of preparing tea the Chinese way are every bit as important as the tea itself is particularly astute, and so is his emphasis on the way we care for our favorite tea toys and use them to demonstrate our skills to others who play the same game.
People these days often complain about how busy their lives have become, and how there never seems to be enough time to get things done. Even when they don’t have much to do, their minds stay busy worrying about things they’re not doing. This constant busyness causes nervous tension and stress, and the rushed feeling of fallling behind time, with no way of ever catching up. This hyperactive mentality grows particularly acute during times of economic difficulty and social insecurity, but it’s also a cyclical phenomenon connected with shifts in planetary, solar, and galactic factors, which distort our arbitrary concepts of linear time and make it seem like time is moving faster.
With 5,000 years of history behind them, the Chinese have experienced all this before, and in the process they have developed a pleasant and effective way to deal with it on a daily basis. The Chinese way to stay cool when life gets hot and slow down when the world speeds up is to utilize the art and alchemy of Chinese tea as a counterpoint to the busy business of daily life in the rush of uncertain times, thereby providing a timeless pause that relaxes the mind, refreshes the body, and restores a sense of calm and balance to the day. Naturally this pearl of wisdom has been encoded into the Chinese language with the following words of sage advice:
Yo shih mang.
Wu shih ye mang.
Mang li tou sian
Pao hu hao cha
Busy with many things to do;
Busy even with nothing to do;
So take a break on your busy way
To steep a pot of tea each day.
Our tea friend Master Wu, whose elegant calligraphy has graced earlier issues of Tea Tidings, sent us another pearl of tea wisdom with a similar message, and this one reflects a Taoist view on life in general, suggesting that we tread slowly on the path of life and enjoy our journey on the way:
Leng shui shao cha:
Man man he.
To brew tea we start with cold water:
Take your time and drink slowly.
As the Sung dynasty tea master Tsai Hsiang states his
essay A Treatise on Tea (Cha Lu):
An element of quiet is necessary for the appreciation
of tea’s qualities, an appreciation that comes from a
man who can “look at a hot world with a cool head.