Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The New Year for Global Tea Hut

We’ve lifted the cap on our Global Tea Hut membership in an effort to both improve your GTH experience, and moreover, to materialize the building of our new tea center: Light Meets Life. Check out this video to hear about all the amazing changes happening in 2014 and help us reach two thousand members by 2015!

HAPPY NEW YEAR

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Workings of a Tea Industry

In addition to my last post, I would also like to share some observations about large, established tea industries.

While it is fashionable in the West to think any type of tea (green, oolong, black/red, puerh) can be processed from the one and only species: Camellia Sinensis, this is only true to a limited degree. Particular tea varieties and cultivars have become very suited to certain growing regions and processing techniques over great amounts of time and adaptation, which in a major tea industry, largely dictates what tea will be processed and where. It is true that you could make a green tea from a cultivar suited to making oolong, or that two completely different varieties can be processed exactly the same, but this isn’t taking into account the countless and volatile factors associated with terrior (soil, climate, elevation, sun exposure, cloud cover, rainfall, latitude/longitude, etc.) and farming practices (organic, biodynamic, conventional, intentional, etc) which will greatly determine the quality and taste, and in a well-established tea industry with lots of history, you’ll be hard pressed to find the support needed to maintain such unconventional business practices such as making BaoZhong Tea in Meishan Township, for example. While it could technically be done, most people here would say that doesn’t even make sense?

In a large tea industry, you can’t just set your own price based one what you think the market will endure. There’s a lot of people growing tea here, that would be too crazy. Instead, they enter their tea into major competitions for at least one main reason: to determine a legitimate price within a standardized system. When you enter a tea competition, the price at which your tea can be sold is in accordance with the rank it receives. Your tea is sealed and certified by a third party based on the results of the competition so that consumers can be confident the price matches the quality. This quality, however, is an assessment of a standard, which doesn’t take into account the emotional experience often associated with tea. It’s a scientific approach to tea versus a natural enjoyment of tea. It’s someone telling you this tea is good so you can enjoy it, instead of cultivating the skill to create an environment conducive to the enjoyment of any tea.

In the picture above, you’ll notice the boxed-up tea, which after being ranked in a competition was packaged, sealed, certified, and ready to be sold to the public at a market where everyone is doing the same thing.

So a large tea industry, while very restricted in one sense, is very refined in another. Everyone plays by the same rules, which means fair-play, but possibly at the expense of creativity. Not to say people here aren’t creative. Taiwan is known for its beautiful tea ceremony where visual presentation, skill in preparing tea, and experience outweigh any rank in a competition.  My arguments here are definitely askew because I’m learning about tea within the industry, and not as a student of preparing tea in ceremony, for example.

Let’s look at Hawaii as a counter example, where a large ingrained tea industry doesn’t exist, but rather, a cottage tea market in its nascent infancy. Farmers can generally set their own price within certain realistic boundaries, not based on rank in a competition, but based on what they think of as quality, the time of harvest, cost of living, volume of tea, experimentation, etc. There is no well-defined market to tell the farmers how much their tea should cost or what tea “can” be made, so they are in the process of setting the market price and establishing tea’s of a regional terrior (I call this terrior status), essentially telling consumers how much they should be paying and where to go to buy it. And let’s face it; consumers don’t know how much tea “should” cost yet, which is fine. I’m sure most tea industries started out like this. I’m sure there are so many other factors that I’ve overlooked; I don’t mean to insult any of the hard working Hawaiian tea farmers out there! I’m no business student, so please correct me if the information I present here is drastically off.

And again, these are only my limited observations after spending over two months in Taiwan now, and collectively spending six months on tea farms in Hawaii. There are exceptions to everything I’m saying and everything is changing.

I only have a couple more weeks left in Taiwan before returning to Canada. I’m off to visit a teacher of tea, art, and meditation this coming week, and will thoroughly enjoy my final week in the tea-mountains of Taiwan. I have a couple more blog entries I’d like to address; one on being a tea-driver, and another on all the wacky adventures a language-barrier sets you up for!

TLC

What It Takes To Make Taiwan Oolong Tea: A Tea Saga

Looking back, it all seems like a blur…

I’d like to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making Taiwan Oolong tea, so that we can appreciate why so many hold it in such high regards.

Making tea is a tradition, an art, a craft — and an enduring one at that. I speak not from a journalists’ perspective, but from my own, as someone who took part in the enduring process and marveled at the work carried out by each tea maker. I say “each tea maker” because there are many more than just the ones who own a particular factory. Tea factories are massive and expensive and most tea makers (of which there are many in a tea village) can’t afford one, so they rent the ones already in place. It’s a very interesting relationship between farmers, field workers, and tea makers. One day you’re helping make tea for one tea maker, and the next, he’s helping make tea for you. Sometimes two or three tea makers are using the same facility at the same time! Those are wild days to behold. I should also say that while there are many tea makers (just like there are many cabinet makers, for example) the title of tea master, a title that goes well beyond certification and one I don’t use leisurely, is reserved for the undistinguished few.

Back to the point! During these intense and sometimes sacred times of harvest, there is a lot of raw material to be processed (into a commercial product). The tea might get to rest during times of withering – but the tea maker doesn’t. One must constantly monitor the weather, the humidity, the look, touch, and smell of the leaf, and know when to change to the next step accordingly. It’s all about withering and knowing when to move on to the next step.

Withering, both outdoor and indoor, takes all day (about 12 – 15 hours), which requires constant monitoring. Next, tumbling and oxidation might only take a few hours or so. Also keep in mind that hundreds and hundreds of pounds of raw leaf are being handled, so the labor is taxing. There is a lot of running around, spreading of leaves by hand, moving tea-covered tarps indoors, tumbling and re-spreading of leaves, and shuffling of tarps on the withering platform. As you can see, were already at 15 – 18 hours of work in just one day. Depending on the volume of leaf, it’s usually about 1am – 3am at this point and we usually start around 8am. There’s lots more to go and this might go on for up to two weeks straight.

At this point (around 2am-ish), the tea is passed on to a night worker, who kills the enzyme halting the oxidative process, and sends the “panned” leaf though a drier. This takes all night/morning and the mid-processed tea lies in heaping piles by about 6am – 7am. The tea maker is up by this time to sample the tea, but more importantly to prepare for withering the next batches of freshly harvested leaves, which come in throughout the morning and afternoon. The mid-processed tea is once again passed on to daytime workers who shape the tea under high pressured rolling machines and lightly heated panning machines. This shaping process, which transforms the tea from a spindly twig-like shape to a compact semi-ball shape, requires about 12 more hours. From here, the tightly rolled tea is stemmed by hand, dried again (and again!) and still has more work to be done, from grading, more stemming, and baking, to sampling, packing, and selling! It’s easily a 40 – 50 hour nonstop process.

While the tea maker isn’t necessarily involved in every step of that two-day process, he is involved in the most crucial steps of each batch: withering and oxidation, and that’s always going to take at least 15 hours for as long as there is tea to be harvested. Considering these tea makers are human, who have basic needs like food, water, sleep, and most of whom have families to care for – this is an enduring tea saga from which they make a livelihood.

And also know that I haven’t even mentioned the work conducted by the field workers, harvesting tea by hand, hour after hour, day after day, in the humid tropical weather of Taiwan. There’s good and practical reasons they wear the apparel they do, and it’s not to look festive and “Asian” for pictures in books. Nor have I included the task of collecting the tea from the pickers and transporting it to the factory — not an easy task. I have personally carried 78 pounds of raw leaf (large in volume) on my back, for about 10 minutes, down a hill-side to the car for transport — twice in one day. Often it’s much easier, but sometimes even harder.

Trust me, it's steeper than it looks...

All physical and mental reserves are exhausted by the end of the harvest, and most tea makers, in an often hilarious and always sleep-deprived state, wonder why the heck they’re doing this. Lying there, next to the bamboo tumbler at 3am, for the fourteenth day in a row, intoxicated on lack of sleep, wondering: why on earth are we doing this — and why is this crazy Canadian here, wearing Taiwan army pants?

Of course, it doesn’t stop there; there is always cutting back to be done (a huge job considering the sheer size of tea crops), business to conduct, and lots of preparation for the next harvest! Keep in mind that I’m speaking for just one type of Oolong tea, of which there are hundreds and maybe thousands. Oolong tea processing just so happens to be one of the most involved, so other teas definitely require less work.

What I’m also currently learning is that a great deal of effort goes into preparing tea for competitions. For the last week, Mr. Wang has been baking and sampling his tea day after day to come up with just the right look, aroma, and taste to enter into the competition. It’s next Saturday and will my first tea competition!

So if you’re ever wondering why tea “seems” so expensive, consider this blog entry (and the fact that mark-up in Western retail stores is monumental). Tea is actually really cheap considering the amount of work that goes into it. Not to mention it’s made on such a large scale and labour is less expensive here in Taiwan. $50/lb for tea is dirt cheap, depending on the quality, which is always the difficult part I suppose. Don’t compare 1lb of tea to 1lb of coffee; 1lb of tea might last you a year.

So buy good tea and enjoy paying a fair price for it, knowing that regular hard working people are making it under taxing conditions for you to enjoy – and for them to make a living. I will close on this note: buy (and thus vote for) Organic tea. I’ll elaborate more on that in a future post.

TLC

Tea Livelihood

Well, my tea escapade continues! I’m going on three weeks here at the tea factory, but I’ll backtrack to the first two weeks for a brief summary of what life has been like in a tea village where I can’t speak the language, and where I stand out so much that locals actually take pictures of me.

Community

Here at the factory, there is a pervasive sense of community. The tea makers’ mother and grandmother live and offer their support here in the factory and out in the fields. There are four generations living in this factory. Both tea makers (Mr. and Mrs. Wang (pronounced more like Woughng, not Wahng, not Wong)) work directly with the laborers in the factory and field. They do everything the workers do, not to mention they feed them and care for them in other personal ways. It’s all quite seamless and natural, on a large scale, but not so large that Mr. and Mrs. Wang don’t take part in every small detail of labor, production, quality control, and distribution. Not to mention they have two young children to care for! I don’t know how they do it all – oh wait, yes I do – they work countless hours every day and night for weeks on end during the harvest. This is the life of a tea maker.

Name

It would seem, not only is my name difficult to pronounce in Japan, but so too here in Taiwan. “Shane” has become a marriage between “Chen,” “Shin,” and a french dog. At least no one is calling me Sean for once. The offspring of that marriage has matured into a sharply pronounced, rising toned, “Sheen.” And if I don’t respond to that, “hello” is often used as a substitute (because that always gets a foreigners attention, right?)

Tea Charades

While I do speak the universal language of Tea, my Taiwanese is limited to searching for words in my pocket phrasebook, which is actually in Mandarin. This has lead to a lot of funny scenarios as one might imagine. I had predicted a lot of handwaving and laughter – and it has been so. About five main words are used to communicate with me, my “name,” “one,” “yes,” “no,” and “hello.” That combined with hand gestures has been all I’ve really needed to get by. It might seem a little arrogant of someone to go to a country – for three months – where they don’t speak the language, but I go with the best of intentions and no one seems to mind, plus I’m studying the language while I’m here of course.

Documentary

Little did I know (because no one could tell me) that a documentary was scheduled for my 3rd day here – and apparently I was to be the highlight of the film. I felt pretty lucky, but the film director told me that she was the lucky one to have such an interesting story to cover. Thinking back, documentaries and books were the only mediums through which I knew anything about tea and tea production, until I began tea farming in Hawaii and taking a tour to Taiwan in 2011. I’m not sure when the documentary will be finished, but I’ll be sure to post it here when it is.

Pictures(?)

I put a question mark after “pictures” because usually when foreigners travel to a foreign land, they’re the ones taking pictures. In my case, however, it’s the locals taking pictures of the foreign white guy working in a tea factory on the mountainside of Taiwan. It’s quite humorous; some people just can’t believe it. Actually, I could hardly believe it in the beginning either; the experience was just so over the top it hadn’t really sunk in during the first two weeks.

Livelihood

One theme that became prominent in my first two weeks was that tea is livelihood for so many people, particularly in a tea village. When you grow up here, you’re sure to be involved in the tea industry in one way or another, which is why so many people find it strange that I would come here to experience that livelihood. I too would think it strange of someone to travel halfway across the world to volunteer in an apple orchard or a wine vineyard in the Okanagan.

We have this fantasy image of farming, harvesting, and making tea, but it’s not nearly as glamorous as it’s made out to be, unless you choose to adopt the perception of glamour even in its rouged-ness. It’s not all green rolling gardens, spring harvests, and fantasy mountains in far off Asia, although those images are real. I myself am guilty of selling and perpetuating that incomplete and ideal tea image because until now, I had not experienced what tea life was really like – and I still have much more to learn. While I’m sure everyone involved in the tea making process is happy on some scale that this infusion can offer a spiritual and relaxing experience to so many around the world, I think more prominently they’re just like you and I, trying to make ends meet and pay the bills through means of work. (that’s a lie; I don’t pay any bills).

Anyway, don’t get me wrong; harvest time can be very sacred and making tea is an ancient tradition and a beautiful art with a rich and cultural history, but it’s also a commercial product at the end of the day, grown unnaturally in massive monocultures to meet the market demand and fast pace of our current times. I’ll elaborate more on that in a future post.

In my next entry, though, I’ll be elaborating on what it takes, physically and mentally, to make Taiwan Oolong Tea during a major harvest.  It’s an amazing process and there are many facets involved that we don’t often hear about in the West.

TLC

Quotes, Poetry, and Prose (II)

“Nature Does Not Hurry, Yet, Everything Is Accomplished”
– Lao Tse

“I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis however much beloved, as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it. Indeed I have had no choice but to act in this manner.”
– Charles Darwin

“The healthy social life is found, when in the mirror of each human soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the community the virtue of each one is living.”
Culture and Horticulture

“Any perception can connect us to reality, properly and fully. What we see doesn’t have to be pretty, particularly; we can appreciate anything that exists. There is some principle of magic in everything, some living quality. Something living, something real, is taking place in everything.”
– Chogyam Trungpa

“We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a ‘movement’ not to bring anything about”
– Masanobu Fukuoka

“The body manifests what the mind harbours,
If the mind harbours but pure, harmonious, compassionate thoughts –
So let us purify our minds”

“You Must Become The Change You Want To See In The World,”
– Mahatma Gandhi

“If our mentality becomes our reality then changing the way we view thought and it’s relationship to the physical world must precede any advancement and enhancement of our own current condition.”
– Kent Healy

“No Written Word, No Spoken Plea
Can Teach Our Children What They Should Be,
Nor All The Books On All The Shelves, It’s What The Teachers Are Themselves”
– TEDTalk

“Apprentice yourself to nature.  Not a day will pass without her opening a new and wondrous world of experience to learn from and enjoy.”
– Richard W. Langer

“There is no one so great as the one who does not try to accomplish anything”
– Masanobu Fukuoka

“It’s not how many times your breath wanders, but how many times you bring it back. And it’s not how many retreats you attend, but what you do in between them.”
– Mark Y

The snow-covered mountain path
Winding through the rocks
Has come to its end;
Here stands a hut,
The master is all alone;
No visitors he has,
Nor are any expected.
 – Sen no Rikyū“From the moment you enter the dewy path until
it is time to say your goodbye, you should esteem
your host with the utmost respect, in the true
spirit that this very encounter will occur but
once in your lives.”

“Advanced Techniques Are The Basics Mastered”
– Derek Hansen

“The ultimate measure of human beings is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

“Everything is unfolding as it has to unfold. We can’t control what is happening but we can choose how we will respond.”
– Kurt Spellmeyer

“We Cannot Do Great Things On This Earth. We Can Only Do Small Things With Great Love.”
– Mother Teresa

“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

——————————————

A Cup of Tea

Nanin, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nanin served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nanin said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

——————————————

– Intelligent people can solve many different problems. Wise people know which of those problems to solve.
– Ajahn Sona

“The more elaborate the countermeasures, the more complicated the problem becomes”
– Masanobu Fukuoka

“Wisdom teaches me that I am nothing.
Love teachers me that I am everything.
And between the two, my life flows.
– Gil Fronsdal quoting a Tibetan Buddhist Teacher

“Every event that happens has small probability, but it happens. Physics tells us about the universe: it’s big, rare events happen all the time – including life – and that doesn’t’ mean it’s special.”
– Lawrence Krauss

What is Zen Anyway?

A Japanese corpse
serving tea
– Poetry by Natalie Goldberg

“Ultimately, meditation can allow us to have happiness independent of conditions and that is one heck of an awesome claim”
– Shinzen Young

Compassion
Like the Earth’s surface
Is willing and ready to receive all leaves that fall

“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be”
– Einstein

“Enlightenment is not a process of learning, it is a process of unlearning”
– Dr. Kat Domingo

“Nothing external to me has the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. I may not be in total control of what happens in my life, but I certainly am in charge of how I choose to perceive my experience “
– Jill Bolte Taylor (My Stroke of Insight)

“But let the mind beware that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious!”
– Jack Kerouac (Dharma Bums)

“Knowing yourself goes far deeper than the adoption of a set of ideas or beliefs. Spiritual ideas and beliefs may at best be helpful pointers, but in themselves rarely have the power to dislodge the more firmly established core concepts of who you think you are, which is part of the conditioning of the human mind.”
– Eckhart Tolle

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on Earth…I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

“Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds. Shine!”
– Buddha

“Creativity is not thought driven. Seeing something free of thought – THAT is a creative moment!”
– Rodney Smith

Exerting the mind to empty the mind is no way to empty the mind
– Psychology of Zen I

“Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside: candles at four o’clock, warm hearth rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without”
– Thomas De Quincey

“As an elixir of sobriety and wakeful tranquility, tea is also a means of spiritual refreshment and the ritual of preparing and partaking of it is an occasion for spiritual conviviality.”
– New Tea Lovers Treasury

“If we offer quiet to whatever arises, then whatever arises will not expand beyond what it is.”
– Rodney Smith

“We can watch our tea, using it as a mirror to reflect the ways in which our every action, in all that we do, is affecting the tea. Any change we make in our daily life will cause ripples across the surface of our tea liquor; and if we just listen carefully, the tea itself will guide us to the balanced place where the times of being an ego and the times of stillness are in harmony. Then we don’t even need to watch or reflect on the ways our lives affect our tea, because at that time our lives will be tea, and tea our lives.”
– Henry Taiki Takahashi

“The artist who aims at perfection in everything, achieves it in nothing”
– Eugene Delacroix

“As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man”
– Ernst Fischer

“What makes us discontented with our condition is the absurdly exaggerated idea we have of the happiness of others”
– French Proverb

“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
~ Khalil Gibran

TLC

Mycellium Running

If you haven’t already, anyone interested in mushrooms, cooking & medicine, nature, old growth forests, soil, gardening, composting, farming, saving the earth, and remediation of all types should seriously consider Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets. He’s blazing a path where no one has before and using his findings in the best interest of Nature.

I was interested in trying my hand at cultivating cardboard spawn as per the recommendations from Stamets’ book. I chose the stem-butt and corrugated cardboard approach to run with mycelium.

I chose to experiment with the Phallaceae mushroom, or Stinkhorn, which grows here on the tea farm. I noticed they have a root-like system called the rhizomorph so I thought they might work with this germinating technique. I’m also running with the King Oyster mushroom that the farmer bought for cooking. Even though this oyster mushroom was lacking its root-like rhizomorphs, the mycelium are still running on the cardboard; I was surprised as the book really emphasizes having the rhizomorphs intact, however, it still seems to be working. My only guess is that the spores from the mushroom are what are germinating in this case.

This is an example of the stinkhorn mycelium running on the corrugations of cardboard after about two weeks.

These thread-like networds are essentially what Stamets can use in revolutionary large-scale remediation and filtration projects, among a heavy list of other applications.

I’m not sure what I plan to do with these ones yet. I could simply inoculate more cardboard to make a larger batch of mycelium, or sandwich the already inoculated cardboard between two burlap sacs filled with fresh woodchips, or I could inoculate a layer of fresh woodchips to start a mycelial lens used as a mother patch for transferring mycelium to various locations around the farm. It’s all pretty long term and I won’t be on this farm for that long, so this is really an experiment in the beginning stages of running with mycelium.

Here are some shots of the corrugated cardboard in a durable plastic container. I actually lost these ones a while back and have started cultivating new ones, along with some other mycelium I found around the farm attached to some sticks.

 

It’s great to see how easy it is start a network of mycelium, and to learn about the various applications they serve, from mycofiltration and mycoforestry to gardening, eating, composting and much more.

 

TLC

SPOIL

 

Well, it’s not about Tea – but it is about Love and Care.

 

Please watch THIS documentary on British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest and then sign THIS petition to stop supertanker traffic and crude oil spills from destroying it.

 

TLC