Humbleness and Hospitality
Thinking that yesterday (tea processing until 2am on Alishan) must have been the climax of this tour, we were in for an unexpected surprise on this day.
Tommy and Sunny, the two amazing volunteers on our tour, are heavily integrated in the world of tea. Little did any of us know just how involved they really were, and the direction in which they were spearheading Taiwanese tea.
They and their family own a completely green and eco-friendly sustainable teahouse. It was probably the most beautifully decorated and designed teahouse I’ve ever seen. It’s quite different from other teahouse’s that might initially come to mind. It’s both a house for living and also hosting lavish tea ceremonies with themed rooms from a number of different tea cultures.
The afternoon began with a well-spoken introduction given by Sunny, followed by a tutorial on baking tea, given by our very own Tommy, who unknown to us, turned out to be more than just a great photographer, but also an award winning champion tea baker.
I don’t know much about tea baking, but Tommy demonstrated different baking methods in contemporary oven-like units and traditional bamboo units. He discussed the affect of baking on caffeine levels, aroma, and aging properties in tea. At one point in the baking process, the caffeine in tea actually crystallizes into a white powder that collects outside the vent near the top of the baking unit. As you can imagine, it’s quite bitter!
Following our introduction and tutorial, another cupping awaited! This time, however, we were fortunate enough to cup six of Tommy’s baked teas. Not only that, but the layout of the cupping event was contemporary and artistic, unlike the usual standardized display of white porcelain cups on stainless steel counters. Tommy and Sunny treated us with glass cupping cups – gorgeous! The loose leaf oolong tea was displayed in wine glasses to exhibit its colour and aroma. The concave design of wine glasses was not only beautiful, but practical for offering the aroma, just as it would be for wine itself.
Of the six oolongs, the sixth tea had been aged for twenty years. I was four years old when this tea began its aging journey. This was easily the most enjoyable, long lasting oolong I have ever had. It is said that what separates good tea from great tea is the aftertaste, or the “returning sweetness.” Where some tea exhibits a flavour and body which soon after trails off, tea like Tommy’s might last for minutes, hours, and even days later – never really leaving ones memory. Drinking tea like this is really a heightened sensory experience; the aroma breaches the hull of ones olfactory receptors; the taste envelops the tongue and swells the palate; the sight imparts a smile upon the retina; the hands of this tea weave a quilted patch, fabricating the whole body with its warmth and returning sweetness.
Okay, there’s still more, but I have to run!