Posts Tagged ‘processing’

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

 

 

TLC

Advertisements

Biodynamic Organic Black Tea

 

In preparation for our Black Tea workshop** in October, we made Finca Luna Nueva’s first Biodynamic Organic Black Tea last week. (It should really be called a Red tea, but for the sake of simplicity and parlance, we’ll refer to it as Black Tea)

This harvest gave me a chance to put all of my previously learned tea knowledge to the test. Reflecting back on my experiences in Hawaii and Taiwan working on tea farms and in tea factories, and simply listening to the tea plants — as is so important to Biodynamics and the Way of Tea — I put together a simple processing method including indoor withering, hand rolling, de-enzyming, and drying.

When working with such high quality and high vibrational raw material, it’s tough to go wrong. These plants have been propagated from seeds that stem from tea trees ranging between 20 – 40 ft tall here at Finca Luna Nueva. Their root systems tap deep into the riches of the soil, drawing on nutrients and energy not available to younger tea evergreens. Those deep-rooted resources, combined with the intention and benefit received from biodynamic practices, lay the foundation for a materially and spiritually rich tea garden. Que Rico.

We harvested the tea on a mid-afternoon Fruit day during the ascending and waxing phase of the moon according to Stella Natura’s Biodynamic Calendar – 2012. If you’re not following this – don’t worry! We’re just experimenting with lunar cycles and zodiac relationships that will hopefully bear bountiful, healthy, well-keeping harvests.

The tea essentially went through a 19 hour indoor withering period in a room with good circulation, followed by an hour and half of hand rolling to shape, bruise, and coat the leaves with their own juices. Oxidation ensued for three hours. Fixation in an oven brought oxidation to halt, and the tea was dehydrated into a stable state. Considering the climate here, and as I learn more about Biodynamics and the Leaf, I will definitely tweak some small steps in the process, but all in all, we were very pleased with the final product.

Of course, I will almost remember the first infusion: once crisp leaves infusing audibly without, anticipation behind a mask of patience, humid air breathing in and out, aroma developing, profound colouring – earthen orange clay – a moment paying homage, rising to the altar of my lips, steam waving in the immediate environment, smiling satisfaction, what riches…

 

**At the workshop, guests will be able to process their own black tea, learn about cupping vs tasting, become more intimate and personal with Camellia Sinensis, walk the biodynamic tea gardens, and be served in ceremony.

 

TLC

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

 

TLC

Meishan Tea

Quick update here from the tea-mountains of Taiwan. It’s going on two months that I’ve been living here in a tea factory, tending to the leaf, running my hands through volumes of Camellia, both before and during harvests, all through processing, packaging, tea competitions, promoting tea – the works. Nothing has compared to the intensity of the Spring Harvest in my first two weeks, but work has maintained at a steady pace nonetheless. While I have come here to learn all that I can about tea through hands-on experience and volunteerism, I have basically just been involved in the day-to-day workings of a tea-family, at times helping with chores that might at first seem unrelated to tea, and yet, as a family whose livelihood revolves around this brew, everything is interconnected with the leaf in one way or another.

After helping with a short video promoting tea in the Meishan Township area the other morning (different from the documentary made when I first arrived), the producer told me that every township has to make a film promoting their tea. Each township and each community relies on the promotion of tea in order to bring in the revenue necessary to keep their local economy and status stable. This reveals a very strong tie between people of a particular area and the tea in that area. Tea affects everybody, to the extent that people’s livelihoods are completely reliant on it as a commercial product, which indirectly means everyone is reliant on the farming practices conducted here. So as one grows up in a certain township, they drink the tea from their area. Period! This is very different from North America, where we want to drink tea from around the world and where our local economy isn’t reliant on our consumption of any one tea. In areas of Taiwan, you drink, promote, process, grow, and in one way or another, support the local tea culture because your community depends on it. In that sense, you enjoy the tea on a very different level, not necessarily because it’s the tea most suiting to your palate, but because it’s the tea most suiting to the stability of your village, for example. It’s not as if you are forced to enjoy it, but you make sure to enjoy it because it’s a part of your local culture’s identity. And in that sense, you do enjoy it, just very differently from enjoying a tea based on taste and experience alone. When you ask someone here what their favourite tea is, it’s the local tea in their area, not Maccha from Japan, not White tea from Hawaii, not Masala Chai from India, not BaoZhong from Wenshan – it’s Oolong tea from the Meishan Township because that’s where you live. Of course, there are always exceptions: some people don’t even drink tea! Haha, which is fine; I’m just speaking from my own observations in one small village in just one area of one mountain range in all of Taiwan.

*btw, if you watch the tea video linked above, the connection between “My Sunday” and “Meishan Tea” is that when pronounced in Taiwanese, “Meishan Tea” sounds very similar to “My Sunday.” It’s actually pretty catchy.

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

Brandy Oolong Kombucha and Sweet Roast Lei Cha

On the left, we have Lei Cha, a ground up medley of nuts, seeds, grains, tea, and tea powder brewed in hot water traditionally drunk by the Hakka people of Taiwan. (Click here to see my previous post on Lei Cha with pictures).

I used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, Taiwanese high mountain Jade Oolong Tea, and ground up Sweet Roast (to a fine powder) from Mauna Kea Tea. These ingredients are ground together using a mortar and pestle. This hearty broth is actually quite enjoyable and filling. The batch I made here is a little more crude than the Lei Cha we made in Taiwan, but it’s a good Hawai’i version to start with :)

Pictured above right and below, I made some Kombucha using Ruby 18 Brandy Oolong Tea from Taiwan. Kombucha is a fermented beverage often made with tea. It becomes quite carbonated and takes on a sweet and sour or sugary and vinegar-like taste. This particular batch was my first and it turned out great. I’ve now tried other batches with different tea, but Ruby 18 has proven superior and I will continue to ferment with it.

 

Amatuer Tea Processing: A Day In The Life

Huh, well wordpress has implemented a new gallery interface, that apparently doesn’t show the descriptive text associated with each picture… Here is a link to my facebook profile with the same album and all of the descriptions for each picture.

 

TLC