Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Reflecting on New Moon


Time in Costa Rica strings together a little more seamlessly than its Northern and Southern counterparts; what with their prominent seasonal changes and fluctuations in day-length. For example, I recently finished my 3-month internship at Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica and instead of feeling like 90 days, chronologically played out, it felt more like one drawn out (and utterly enjoyable) day with some sunshine here, some rain there, 12 hours of day, and 12 hours of night. Sure, both the 6+ earthquakes and one violent tropical storm act as distinguishing points in time, but even their beginnings and endings fade into the larger scheme of things. In that sense, it’s always a good time for reflection to consider what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve changed, so that it too doesn’t blend into the illusion of time here. Perhaps a cob oven was built, a certification pursued, a tea garden planted, or labourous farm work accomplished – and maybe some serious fun was had throughout, not to mention all of the friends made and lives changed? That kind of stuff happens in an environment like the one at Finca Luna Nueva.


I would also like to gently consider the lunar significance behind the name: Finca Luna Nueva or New Moon Farm. What causes the New Moon anyways and what is to be found within this lunar event? Is it not the time when the moon roughly aligns between the Earth and Sun, basking in the light, not to be seen, but there nonetheless? And is this not a beautiful reminder for us to embrace the light, align with Nature, and see things…aNew? What, if anything, does this have to do with Finca Luna Nueva anyways? It is after all, a Demeter certified Biodynamic farm and Biodynamics not only offers tools for us to heal Mother Gaia, like lunar gardening, but insightful tools to heal ourselves. It is a recipe for positive change. New Moon Farm in this sense can been seen as a place of healing, and lest we forget the Sacred Seed Sanctuary and slow food movement so central to the earnest and genuine character of this farm.

So many things to consider within this blurry frame of time…


Another unique characteristic of this farm is its role as a jungle window. There’s good reason that plants and animals flourish in this farm and that’s because instead of closing itself off from the surrounding jungle, Finca Luna Nueva has encouraged indigenous growth and safe passage for birds, butterflies, monkeys, reptiles, arachnids, and even bacteria and fungi. It’s a like a small window in the jungle, lightly manicured, but raw enough to keep things real! There really is a special energy about this place that encourages expansion and connection.


Anyways, these are just some of my passing thoughts as I move on from this adventure to the next one, which has me back in Taiwan at the Tea Sage Hut. It really was a blessing of an opportunity to work in such an environment as the one embodied at Finca Luna Nueva. In particular, I was able to embark  down the very uncharted path of tea and biodynamics in Central America, a path I pursued with rapt enthusiasm.  Whether writing poetry on the subject, drawing pictures, pruning, weeding, planting, taking notes, making observations, or doing computer research, I was having the time of my life.  All the while becoming more intimate with the plant I’ve so dearly come to love, Camellia Sinensis. As a result, there is a new place for Tea at FLN, possibly even a new tradition, and I couldn’t be happier.



Thank You Finca Luna Nueva and everyone involved! That was a wild and spectacular 3 months.

Pura Vida!



Planting a Biodynamic Tea Garden


As an intern at Finca Luna Nueva, one of my projects is to install a new tea garden next to the yoga pavilion. The intention is many fold; we want to increase our tea production to run workshops and tours in the future and to sell tea at the gift shop here at Finca Luna Nueva; another intern is researching the certification and retail aspects of this future product; and we also want our guests attention, while practicing meditation or yoga in the pavilion, to be drawn along the flowing tea rows into the surrounding rainforest. Of course, we also want this garden to be practical and aesthetic, which is why the rows are planted on the contour for ease of harvest and maintenance.


This garden will also receive byodynamic compost preparations, and follow a sustainable harvesting and pruning routine following the biodynamic calendar. Each plant and row has been provided plenty of space for long-term development of roots and crowns, not the mention the zig-zag walkway installed to prevent erosion of the land. These tea babies have been seed propagated from a mother tree standing 40 feet tall, planted back in 99′, meaning they have genetic diversity and strong tap roots.
The bed has been officially installed as of yesterday (Sept 18th). It only took two days to plant 145 tea plants, and while some minor landscaping still needs to be done, the bed is in its nascent beginnings. Properly maintained and cared for, it should be harvestable in 3 – 5 years.


I’m actually already working on the next garden, which is quite different from the first one. No flowing contour rows this time, but I’ll save that for another blog update. I’m kept quite busy at la finca these days, trying to finish up the cob-oven project (which I’ll blog about in more detail later as well), designing and installing more tea beds, propagating tea, doing lots of Biodynamic research, tending to guests, making chocolate, hiking to volcano craters, and mapping out the logistics for my tea workshop in October, drawing tea pictures and writing agriculture poetry, among other enjoyable activities.


Pura Vida




Biodynamic Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

This 40+ foot tall tea tree is biodynamically grown and used as a mother to propagate by seed


In my last entry, I documented the process of making biodynamic black (red) tea here at Finca Luna Nueva, but what makes it Biodynamic?  First, let me lend you these summaries of Biodynamics to become better acquainted with the practice and philosophy:


“The Bio-dynamic Farming and Gardening Method has grown and developed, since 1922, on a foundation of advice and instruction given by the late Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher known for his world-view called Anthroposophy (wisdom of man).
The name ‘Bio-dynamic’ refers to a ‘working with the energies which create and maintain life.’ The term derives from two Greek words ‘bios’ (life) and ‘dynamis’ (energy).”

— BIO-DYNAMICS :- A Short, Practical Introduction


“Biodynamic agriculture is a method of farming that aims to treat the farm as a living system which integrates with the environment, to build healthy, living soil and to prouduce food that nourishes and vitalizes and helps to develop mankind. The underlying principle of biodynamics is making lifegiving compost out of dead organic material. The methods are derived from the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and subsequent practitioners.”

— Grasp the Nettle


“Bio-dynamics, though not disparaging of common sense, is concerned essentially with consciousness-expansion in regard to plants, animals and soil. The attempt is made to look into the deeper spirit of nature. Out of this deeper awareness, based on exquisite observation of nature, the approach calls for not letting things run their natural course, but for intensifying certain natural processes (creating optimal animal populations, making special compost preparations, planting selected companion plants at certain cosmic constellations), aiding nature where she is weak after so many centuries of abuse, short-cutting destructive processes, and instead using human intelligence, kindness and good will to foster positive developments.”

— Culture and Horticulture – a philosophy of gardening


Biodynamics is also a certifiable farming practice (Demeter), which is a broader certification than organics, so if you are biodynamic certified, you are organic by default, but the converse is not true, however.


So in one sense, the tea plants here are receiving biodynamic preparations through composting and spray applications, in another sense, we tend to them based on certain lunar cycles and relationships between the moon, sun, planets, and zodiac constellations, and in another sense still, these plants are also subject to the energies and good will generated by the stewards of the land: the farmers dedicated to healing our earth, growing healthy, living, fertile soil, ready to nourish us now and for many generations to come. In a nut-shell, that’s why our tea is biodynamic here at Finca Luna Nueva. It’s also very rare in the sense that this tea is grown sustainably from seed propagated trees whose roots tap deep into the the soil, drawing on the riches of this Rich Coast (Costa Rica). This tea has a living quality about it, a cultivated high vibration; qualities derived from farming practices that go back to the way tea was traditionally raised and revered well before Biodynamics was even defined — and that’s the beauty of Biodynamics; because like any spiritual tradition, it’s a bringing back, a returning, a revitalizing…


Biodynamic compost undulating with life and death – and mycellium! It really is like a living organism




Interning at Finca Luna Nueva: Day 10

I’m lounging up in a tower right now, some 60 feet high, well above the surrounding jungle canopy at Finca Luna Nueva, a sustainable rainforest eco-tour lodge and organic, biodynamic farm. Volcano Arenal lies to the West, dense jungle to the North, rainbows and lavender sunsets to the East, and the lounge area and pool to the South :) Cicada’s rattle, countless birds call, thunder shreds the skies, and the rhythm of the jungle breathes on in concert. Not a bad panoramic.


East facing rainbow from the tower

I’m one of the new interns at Finca Luna Nueva. This farm and eco-lodge offers 3-month internships where young adults can experience life on a biodynamic organic farm within a sustainable rainforest eco-lodge — it’s a good life. The internship program can be focused in areas such as biodynamics, farm work, construction, culinary, and even business. From what I understand, most interns have a hand in at least a few of these areas, blending the experiences together.


As for myself, I’ll be focusing on all tea-related aspects of the farm, from planting, harvesting, and processing, to pruning, propagating, and serving in casual ceremony. In just my first 10 days here, I’m already designing a new tea garden to be installed, spraying biodynamic preps on the existing tea garden, I’ve set date for a black-tea workshop in October that I’ll be conducting, and I recently had a skype conversation with my good tea friends in Hawaii which will help me to implement a sustainable harvesting and pruning schedule that lines up with the biodynamic calendar. And that’s not even accounting for all the time I enjoyed putting into the cob-oven project that intern, Kyle, has been spearheading for the last month (which still requires a few weeks of satisfying work).


Of course, it’s strange to call this “work” considering were given the opportunity to do something we really want to be doing, in returns for food and shelter. There hasn’t been a day when I felt like I was going to work, in the typical sense of the word. Not only will I do this work completely free of charge, but I’ll gladly do it with a smile on my face giving as much gratititude as I can for being given this opportunity to do what I love. Work-trading/WWOOFing should always at least be mutually beneficial but ideally should end in great friendship. The trick isn’t so much finding what it is you love to do, but cultivating the ability to choose to love whatever it is you find yourself doing. Whether I’m working with tea, or working on a cob-oven, it’s more so a choice to love doing it rather than doing it to see if you love it. In that sense, it’s going to be easy to enjoy any project here at la finca, which also has a lot do with the farm itself; all of the projects are a reflection of the sustainable, organic, eco-friendly, and caring nature of the farm.


I’ve traveled to a lot of places now, and had a lot of different work-trade experiences – all of which I’ve loved and learned volumes from — and already I can tell that this internship at Finca Luna Nueva is going to be a very notable experience. As far as internships go, I can’t think of a more conducive environment to learn and thrive in; one without micromanagement, one with an emphasis on self-directed projects, one with easily available resources for a wide variety of jobs, one within the realm of Nature, one with great food and caring staff, one that sets you up within a framework of success and allows for flexibility of content. The list could go on.

I still have a lot to cover, from the amazing tea garden that already exists here, to the cob-oven project in more detail, and a day in the life of an intern. But I’ll save those for future posts. For now, I might go enjoy the sunset again and take a dip in the pool before dinner…


Can you see Volcano Arenal?

Pura Vida


Finca Luna Nueva

My travels, adventures, and pursuit and personal development continue, this time at Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica: a sustainable rainforest Eco-Lodge with a certified Organic Biodynamic farm. The farm, as part of the slow food movement, attempts to grow as much of their food for staff and guests as possible. They grow an array of fruits and vegetables, raise some animals, make their own chocolate, pepper, coffee, tea, and also grow turmeric and ginger, among many other things. The farm and eco-lodge are host to a number of other opportunities and activities that can all be found on  their website by clicking the link above.

I’ll be taking part in a 3-month farming internship. I plan to learn all about growing food, raising animals, medicinal plants, the world of Biodynamics, organics, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. I will also continue my own self-directed study of Permaculture design, Natural Farming, and Biointensive Farming as a complement to this internship program. To add to that, I hope to help manage all areas pertaining to tea on the farm, from planting, propagating, and harvesting, to pruning, processing, and serving.

I’m really excited to return to Costa Rica, which is where my farming adventures all began well over a year ago. Not only do I get to learn even more about sustainable farming practices and lifestyles, but I get to work with Camellia Sinensis and continue acting as  a student of the Leaf (all of which will prove syncronistically practical for my adventures post-Costa Rica, but that’s for another post well into the future). Anyway, I’ll be updating my blog regularly about live on la finca. My internship doesn’t start until next week, but look forward to some exciting new posts.


Reflecting on Taiwan – Drinking Intention

In retrospect, I never gave my Taiwan travels a proper closing blog entry. After all, I was literally chased out of the tea village I had come to know so well by a great force of nature: the Typhoon! I actually had to scurry up to the mountainside tea factory, pack all my belongings in about 15 minutes, and flee back down into the valley – 5 days before my date of departure. This was all due to the heavy typhoon passing over Taiwan, of course, and had I not evacuated then, I very well may have been stranded due to road damage and landslides. It was difficult as it was what with vehicle sized boulders blocking sections of road and a 100-foot section of road was already washed away by the time I returned to the village. Luckily, an alternate gravel road had been opened up that connected back to the main road. Also luckily for me, I was welcomed with open arms at the Tea Sage Hut for the duration of my stay in Taiwan until returning to Canada.


In case you don’t already know, essentially I went to Taiwan as a student of the Leaf to learn about where my tea comes from, how it’s grown and processed, and who’s making it…and I wanted to gain that knowledge through first hand experience and community involvement. I offered my support in a tea factory and farm in a small tea village in returns for food, accommodation, and the experience to learn about the industry that is Taiwanese Oolong Tea.


This short documentary gives you an idea about what I was doing. In all my excitement in the first week (which is when the video was shot) I fumbled with words, but you get the idea. In particular I like my goofy comment on the smell of tea (which really is the greatest aroma I can think of), and my corny motto at the very end. Even though this video was shot only a few months ago, my outlook on tea has changed drastically. Much thanks to Wendy Wang who directed and edited the film, along with her crew.



This experience, as exhilarating and thrilling as it was, was actually quite challenging and draining. It wasn’t so much the long work hours, the extreme language barrier, or the complicated processing techniques that made things difficult; it was experiencing, first hand, farming practices that were in direct conflict with my love of tea as a natural product, a spiritual medium, and a connection with Nature. I was defining tea for myself by learning about what it didn’t mean to me. I was searching in the dark for the true light of tea. I really struggled at times, and wanted to make people aware of what I was learning about, but at the same time, I didn’t want to tarnish the image of tea, the image of any individuals, or the image of a country for that matter. As you can tell, I’m still being quite ambiguous about it all. I found there was no one to blame, not the farmers, not the salesmen, not the entity that is the chemical industry – it all came to no avail.  In fact, it is the farmers who are the first victim.


I now ask myself, is it more important to let people know that the tea they’re drinking probably isn’t raised in the spiritual  or natural manner to which they drink it (thus raising awareness), or to let them go on drinking it with such genuine spiritual intention, reaping the benefits inherent in their belief about the beverage they’re consuming. Either way, I feel damned if I do or damned if I don’t.


In some respects, I think people deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes of a large tea industry, behind the labels that vendors use to sell a product. And, I believe this can be done in a balanced and constructive manner. In another respect, I think certain information should be withheld because it’s the “knowing” about it that can exacerbate the “problem.” I’m not to say that ignorance is bliss, or that, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.  I’m kind of saying that, but from a very different angle, one that places great significance on the intention behind an action. In this respect, we’re no longer talking about drinking tea, but drinking intention.


The worst tea served with the best of intention is better than the best tea served with the worst of intention.

I once asked my teacher, what is the most respectful way to use conventionally grown tea. I didn’t want to throw it out, but I wasn’t sure if I should serve it to others? He told me that tea served from the heart and received in the same manner will transform the tea. This is drinking your own intention. If you receive this tea with your heart and fully intend for it to be a joyful, nourishing, meditative occasion, then your physical experience will follow accordingly, and that alone will generate a therapeutic energy of well-being. I believe the benefit in approaching (any) tea in this manner is of more importance than raising awareness about what’s going on behind the scenes. This is a form of empowerment. Approaching a conventionally grown tea with this intentional manner is of more use than not drinking it because you became aware of the conventional practices employed in raising it. Of course, there is a fine balance between some level of awareness and cultivating a mindful intention with respect to consuming tea.


I’m not to say you should just forget all about farming practices and their role in society and carelessly sip away with fairytale intentions. Nor am I saying you have to spend 3 months in the mountains of Taiwan getting to know the factory laborers or field workers on a personal level, or to witness the livelihoods behind the thousands of hands involved in the process of bringing tea from the soil to your cup. That’s not practical or necessary – or sufficient. While it might not be practical to source a farmer who’s tea is raised in a spiritually-like manner to which you drink it, it is practical to suggest that you source and buy Organic and environmentally friendly tea, which is the next best option – and a good one at that (like the Global Tea Hut’s Tea of the Month, for example). Then you can be confident that the tea you are drinking is not only inherently healthy for you, but healthy for the environment, and the manner in which you drink it is more closely aligned with the manner in which it was raised. Your intention in this case will even further the therapeutic benefits of a tea drinking occasion.


So in reflecting on my time in Taiwan I learned that tea can be perceived in many different ways; as a commodity, a beverage, a ceremony, a science, a cuisine, a livelihood, a spiritual medium, a garden, a monoculture, an art, a culture, an evergreen, a medicine, etc, and all of them have their place within certain boundaries. My perception is constantly shifting and changing to accommodate a blend of those ideas about tea. For now, tea is for me, prominently: a social art, a connection with Nature, an opportunity of transformation, and a Way. This is what I really learned about tea in Taiwan.


An old Tea Sage with Great Intention



Taiwan Oolong Study Tour – Day 3 – the journey of tea leaf

Wow, it’s going to be tough to even start this entry. Why? because somehow I have to summarize this: the day we made tea – which took until 2am – in Rui-Li, a small tea town on the famous AliShan range.

Our day began with clarity in sky. At 11oo m above sea level, the mountain range view breaks free from the ubiquitous haze that surrounds the lower valleys. Before any serious tea processing of our own, we first witnessed some nearby tea pluckers and introduced ourselves to the little angels in the tea garden: the green leaf hopper.




In this small mountain tea village, we need not travel far to see row upon row of tea evergreen. It’s similar in experience to looking out over the ocean with no land in site, but where the horizon once met the waters’ edge, it now blurs with the undulating flow of flushing tea leaves.

– If you’ve never seen smiling tea plants before, now you have –


It was time to do something most of us had never done before: process tea – all day. We walked back to the Dong Ding Tea Garden factory where two bamboo trays of freshly harvested tea leaves awaited each of us. We were about to begin making our own High Mountain lightly oxidized Oolong tea from the Chin Sin cultivar.


Meet Mr. and Mrs. Wang, the award-winning resident tea makers at Dong Ding Tea Garden. They’re young, open-minded, and hard-working enough to run this full-time factory while caring for their two children on a mountain range that requires 36+ complete switchbacks to drive up! Mr. Wang, at age 18, started to take over the factory for his father and now has 20 years experience as a farmer and tea processor. It’s interesting to note that most farmers don’t process their own tea, but rather pick it and sell it to a tea manufacturer for future processing. From the farm to your cup; making tea is more of a compartmentalized system of specialists; farmers, pickers, manufacturers, bakers, blenders, brokers, wholesalers, retailers, and finally, the consumer. This is the difference between a large-scale commodity like Taiwanese tea and the cottage industry of Hawaii-grown tea where farmers do everything themselves on a very small, manageable scale.


Blessed by light sunny weather, we gathered our tea trays and set them out to wither, but not before Mr. and Mrs. Wang showed us their electronically controlled shade and rain protection. Based on the heat of the sun and the feel of the leaves (gauged by the tea master and on-site Scientist), we shuffled our trays of tea leaves back and forth from sun to slight shade.


Withering (and singing)

This process is known as (outdoor) withering. The leaves gradually lose moisture and start to wilt because of the heat. The leaves initially lose moisture through the pluck of the stem and also pores on the back and edges of the leaf. The leaves become more pliable, lose their luster, and take on a noticeable change in aroma. Even more subtle are changes that only the tea master is experientially aware of.

To coax the leaves as they wither in stillness, our fearless leader and Taiwan Tea Ambassador extraordinaire, Mr. Thomas Shu, sang a beautiful Taiwanese tea song. Thomas Shu writes songs for each Taiwanese tea. Not only does he have a great voice, but he sings with all the warmth of his heart. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone as passionate about Taiwan and Tea as this gentlemen among gentlemen – possibly only his wife, Josephine Pan can rival him in devotion to Taiwan and Tea! As well, Thomas carries on the traditional name of “Tom” as the derivative of many famous names in the world of tea.

Once the leaves have reached a certain stage (maybe after an hour of outdoor withering, weather-depending), we “rock” the tea leaves. Back and forth, top to bottom, then we spread them out again. The tea master makes it look much easier than it actually is…

I believe such a step hardly bruises the leaves and more importantly shuffles them for uniform withering. After two sessions of “rocking the green” we took our leaves indoors and out of the direct sunlight.

This is an example of an outdoor withered leaf. It has become more pliable and the glossiness has faded, a sign that a new stage of processing is approaching.

I might mention here that the times for each withering and each step in between can vary greatly, so while in general it would be somewhat helpful to label the time intervals, I have left those details out because each step is ultimately subject to change by the variable factors that exist. Remember: Tea is about breaking down preconceived notions.  It’s really up to the tea master in that moment to choose what to do and when to do it. When Mr. Wang says rock the green – we rock the green.

And when Mr. Wang says, “hey, lets go visit my awesome smiling tea garden while the tea withers indoors,” we do that too!



I’ve always seen images of tea gardens like these (well…maybe not quite like this), but I didn’t actually think they existed like this. It was truly a joyful moment.


Indoor withering and tumbling

But, back to reality! we had tea that needed tending to. This was the process of indoor withering that I call tumbling. Actually, I missed something: first we did ANOTHER cupping and then Dr. Steve proceeded to show us how to properly tumble our leaves by hand. It’s a very meditative process involving circular graceful motions – like massaging each leaf. In a more scientific description, tumbling apparently ruptures the cells on the back face of the tea leaf, closing off one more of the three points of moisture loss. The first was the plucked stem, which oxidizes soon after plucking and naturally prevents moisture loss.

Nothing smells better than freshly harvested and partially processed tea leaves, except maybe the final product. I liken the smell to crisp apples, un-ripe bananas, and high sharp sweet notes. The aroma changes throughout, deepening here, softening there.


After three sessions of tumbling, each with increased amounts per session, we were ready to stop the withering process and CUP MORE TEA.

Now, if you’re still keeping track, and I don’t blame you if you’re not, but there is only one more point of moisture loss – the edges of the tea leaf. In order to stop withering, we amalgamated our tea into a slowly rotating bamboo chamber for some twenty minutes or so. This is an important step that distinguishes the difference between withering, not withering, and oxidation – with respect to tea. Chemically speaking, this tea is already oxidizing. Withering has to do with resting and moisture loss. Naturally, to stop withering, one would set the leaves in motion and stop moisture loss. This is where the bamboo chamber comes into play. It slowly rotates and tumbles the leaves continuously. This lightly bruises the edges of the leaves, causing them to brown, which prevents moisture from escaping. Thus we are putting a stop to withering!


I know this picture is not focused but notice the precise browning around the edges. It’s a very controlled and gentle process. The leaves are still fully intact and not torn at all.

oh yea, I forgot a session of cupping and dinner somewhere along the timeline…



Most people were pretty tired and restless by this time, but tea never sleeps! Onto Oxidation. Once the leaves were emptied from the bamboo chamber, they were weighed and stacked densely on bamboo trays to promote the build up heat which greatly speeds up the oxidation process. If you imagine cutting into an apple, this is the affect of oxidation, synonymous with enzymatic browning. There are enzymes and organic compounds found in tea that in the presence of oxygen, react to generate this browning effect.  This also required some hand tumbling (and more cupping…) before moving on to the next stage. The tea master decides when the tea leaves have oxidized enough to yield the desired outcome, in this case, a low oxidized, high mountain Oolong tea (Jade Oolong).


De-Enzyming, Panning, Rolling & Drying

Similar in concept to putting a stop to withering, so too we must put a stop to oxidation. In fact, this is possibly the most crucial of steps! The two main factors in defining a tea are the processing methods and the level of oxidation. You’ve either got a non-oxidized tea (green), partially oxidized tea (oolong), or fully oxidized tea (black). White and Yellow teas are a little more tricky to define, but still fall under the green or oolong category. Puer is also another animal all together, as it can be fully oxidized or not oxidized at all, and both go through a post-oxidation step called fermentation.

Since the enzyme catalyzes oxidation in the tea leaf, one must rid of the enzymes to stop oxidation. This is done fairly easily by simply heating up the leaves beyond a certain degree, effectively killing the enzymes. There are various ways to do that, as there all with all of the steps I am describing, but in this case, the farmers at Dong Ding use a panning machine. This machine heats the leaves to a very high temperature for a short period of time (~5 minutes). The leaves are removed and quickly taken to a high-pressured rolling machine that spreads and coats the exterior of the leaf with its own juices. Again, this is carried out for a relatively short time before being thrown into another panning-like machine but without any heat to aerate and separate the leaves. Finally, the leaves are taken to a drying machine that slowly heats the leaves on a series of conveyor belts. The first drying takes a couple of hours whereas the second drying is much slower to really drop the moisture content below a certain percentage.


Now, while one might think the tea is finished after the second drying, this particular tea still has to go through 36 hydrolic-pressured rolling steps. It was nearly 2am by this time and we didn’t actually conduct these steps in the processing. It was carried out for us the following day:)

The tea is packed into a large cheese-cloth like bag, twisted, rolled, and separated, twisted and rolled, twisted and rolled. The frequency of such high pressured steps is what gives the tea its final balled-like shape so common to Oolong tea. It slowly transforms from the twisted style as seen out of the dryer, to the tightly packed condensed style you see below.

You may have guessed it, and yes, you were right, we had ONE FINAL CUPPING of the night. It was nearly 2am about now.

This time around, however, we were cupping our partially finished product versus the farmers partially finished product. You couldn’t see it in most of my pictures, but while we were processing our own personal batches of tea, the farmer and his workers were also processing LARGE volumes themselves. The main difference in our teas was the hand tumbling step, which simply couldn’t be replicated on such a large scale for the workers. Ostensibly, the hand-crafted effect yielded a superior tea, but it’s all subjective I suppose! It’s funny; this post took almost as long as the tea processing itself and I still haven’t sampled the finished product!!


I’ll mention once again that all of the detail in this post is ultimately subject to change and could never be exactly replicated. I only went in depth this much for my own personal fancy (and to help recollect the whole ordeal that seems like a blur from the past now)


And if you thought the events from this post were outrageous, just wait for tomorrow (day 4)…seriously.






Taiwan Oolong Study Tour 2011 – Day 2 (part 1)

In Taiwan, people are growing tea everywhere. You can see farms and plantations in all different stages. Before heading up to AliShan (Ali Mountain range) we stopped at a tea plantation in it’s early stages of development. On this farm, small plastic bags are filled with well-draining soil where tea-cuttings will take root. The farm workers fill thousands of them!




As the farmer at WenShan addressed, cuttings from a mother plant are used to maintain consistent propagation. The farmer here pointed out a key feature of cuttings: that being the tiny little shoot between the leaf and the stem (it’s difficult to see, but it’s there in the picture above). As well, when choosing a cutting from a mother plant, a bottom portion of the stem should be brown and matured, while a top portion should be green and young. Only one leaf is required along with the visible shoot for growing to occur. Cuttings are usually shade-grown so the cuttings establish a root system instead of flowering.

We stopped by at another farm in the area where part of the farmers plantation was organic. Here are some good indicators that a farmer isn’t using pesticides!

I like being on tea farms. The bugs, the fresh smelling soil, the elements of nature, the flush, the fluctuations, the uncertainties, the honest work, the reward; it’s all appealing to me. As you sow the seed, so it shall grow. I’m not sure where tea will take me yet, or how it will influence my livelihood, but vocation or not, I’m just happy to drink tea, run soil through my fingers, and contemplate how those two things are interconnected. Sometimes, just drink tea for the sake of drinking tea, not because it’s healthy, not because it warms you when your cold or cheers you when your down, but for one moment, just drink tea and let it speak for itself. There need not always be a reason to drink tea – it can be that good.

Off topic! Here we go…back on the road to a TRES (Taiwan Research and Extension Station) branch above Sun Moon Lake. This branch has the only driveway I’ve ever seen  lined with tea evergreens – and a lake view! We explored the center, cupped a large number of different teas produced at the branch. This is actually amazing, why? because at centers like TRES, they are creating new cultivars that offer new flavors, aromas, colours, and environmental adaptability – amazing, I say! For example, TRES No. 18, otherwise known as Ruby 18, is a cross between a large-leaf Assamica variety and a wild growing Taiwanese tea plant. It can take about 21 years of research and experimentation before the cultivar-to-be goes through registration and appellation. Ruby 18 took more than 50 and was named in 1999. It has an outstanding spicy flavor profile with strong notes of mint, cinnamon, and even pepto bismol?

I’m going to leave it here and start the second part of Day 2 with some slideshow action.

>> Taiwan Oolong Study Tour 2011 (Day 2, part 2) >>

Taiwan Oolong Study Tour 2011 – Day 1

When both the hand of nature and the human hand care for the tea evergreen, it is said that all of the bushes are smiling. When green leaf-hoppers are offered environments ample in organic nutrients, it is said they are the little angels in the tea garden – responsible for Oriental Beauty. And when Spring arrives, duly followed by flushing tea-buds, it is said that some farmers, hand in hand, sing together among their garden.

The Taiwan Oolong Study Tour (TOST) is an intensive week long tea sojourn. This was the 4th year for this TOST program. We visit Taiwan’s tea gardens, factories, museums, tea-houses, farms and farmers, scientists, and tea enthusiasts alike. It is sponsored by the Taiwan Tea Manufacturer’s Association (TTMA) and led by Tea Specialist, Thomas Shu of ABC Tea and organized by Taiwan Tea Ambassador, Josephine Pan. Along with the volunteer help of Tommy Tang and Sunny Tang from Tea Talk – this year’s tour was outstanding!

Each day is packed full without a moment to lose – and day 1 was no exception. Beginning at 8am, we departed for WenShan Tea Farm. We met a representative farmer who geared us up and showed us a number of cultivars growing on the farm grounds. We strapped on a tea-leaf collecting bamboo basket and hat. While we did pick some tea, we mainly dressed up just for fun, but tea pickers still wear this apparel, along with longs sleeves and other sun protection. Depending on where you are in Taiwan, you either lie just above or just below the tropic of cancer – meaning it’s hot!






To clarify what I mean by cultivar, let us begin by saying the tea evergreen falls under the species Camellia Sinensis with two main varieties: Sinensis and Assamica (China bush and India bush).  So there is Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis and Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica. From the cultivated varieties, there exist cultivars, of which there are hundreds (and counting). New cultivars are ongoing in creation due to cross pollination of varieties and cultivars and experimentation. This is why farmers use cuttings for propagation to retain the qualities and strengths of a particular cultivar, whereas propagation by seed can lead to inconsistent resultant cultivars. This has the advantage of potentially generating new and strong cultivars over great amounts of time, but also the disadvantage of generating weak and less desirable outcomes. When consistency matters, cutting is the way to go.

After picking some leaves in a small garden, we took part in our first cupping. I should mention now that cupping tea is quite different from tasting tea. Cupping is more standardized in terms of the quantity of water and weight of dried leaf, as well as the temperature of water and the steeping time. The same cupping perimeters are applied to all teas. 3g of tea, 5 oz (150ml) water, steeped for 5 minutes, decanted without a fine filter to observe any leaf deposit.  Usually one will smell the steeped leaf and proceed to sample the liquor with a very petite cup, slurping to aerate the tea over the palate. Technically, one could also view the loose leaf, smell it, and even shake it in such a way as to reveal any crushed leaf – using that in the infusion to better gauge what the real product will look, taste, and smell like. This technique is used when buying tea; it brings out everything the tea has to offer, from astringency to aroma, bitterness to color, sweetness to body, and everything in between.

Cupping and discussion concluded our time at WenShan Tea Farm, but not before a group photo!

Surely not the end of the day, however; onward to Tsu-xin Organic Tea Garden for a power point presentation followed by lunch. The people at Tsu-xin help conventional farmers convert and make the transition to organic farming. The transition is time-consuming and costly, so farmers need support to make the effort because as it stands in Taiwan, going organic for the sake of health and sustainability isn’t enough of a motivating factor like it is in the West. Yield will almost always take a blow during the transition from conventional to organic because pests will accumulate in the absence of pesticides until equilibrium naturally takes place. Ruined soil has also shown to take about three years to reach a natural healthy state. That’s where the members at Tsu-xin come in, which is a great to see!!

A tea-infused meal was prepared for lunch. We had rice prepared in tea, tea powder for topping, and oolong tea jello, among an array of many more outstanding dishes! Some of the best food of the tour, and it was only the first day!

Our time wouldn’t be over without another cupping session and group photo.

Off to two more tea gardens where we dressed up again. I’ve forgotten, but I believe we were looking at examples of conventionally farmed gardens and transitional gardens (becoming organic). This one’s for you, Mo!

Then we finally made our way to one of many: Taiwan Research Extension Stations (TRES), a center where scientists and tea masters conduct study, research, and experiment with the intentions to improve tea plantations, develop new and better cultivars, and to educate consumers within the tea industry.

That was about it for day 1, minus the last cupping and group photo which I will leave out of this post. If I thought I knew anything about tea before, I learned quite a few more lessons on this day, and other things I “knew” were either confirmed or thrown out the window! Amazingly, the tour only got better from here – MUCH better.

> Taiwan Oolong Study Tour 2011 (Day 2 – part 1)


Cloudwater Tea: Bea on the Train

I processed tea ALL day today – what a Joy.

THIS is what my brain looks like now,


the most BEAUTIFUL images to me…


What do you really want, and what really matters?