Rare Teas

Notes from the Field: Tea Adventures Zhengshan Xiao Zhong

At Tong Mu Village, where the original Zhengshan Xiao Zhong was made and later became known as the Lapsang Souchong in the West. As foreigners are not allowed to go into this region, we had to get a permit, and Mr. Zhang, the villager who makes the tea, had to run around 11 times to get the government officials to agree. You see, from sheer effort alone, we know there are zero real Zhengshan Xiaozhong out there. So let’s let those teas continue to be called Lapsang Souchong- what the villagers don’t know, won’t hurt them right? They don’t know that people send smoke into low quality black tea to create that pine smoke flavor, or how possibly carcinogenic that is. They don’t know that although they make some 300-500 lbs a year for the entire village, worldwide there are literally a ton of Lapsang circulating the globe. Why did…

Know Your Tea: Taiwan Beauty Oolong

At the turn of the last century, a tea farmer from the center of Taiwan decided to take his bug bitten tea to the market anyway, since his livelihood depended on it. Other villagers laughed at this farmer, as his tea was rather runted and undergrown and ugly, for once the bugs have bitten the leaves, they stop growing. Undaunted, the farmer went to market, and to his surprise, his tea received raved reviews, and completely sold itself out. Beside himself with joy, he runs back with this victorious announcement, only to find that the other villagers did not believe a word he said. Tall tale, they said, ‘Pong Feng’ cha was what they called it, meaning a puffed up, B.S. tea. To this day, the locals call what is now Taiwan Beauty, one of the most absolutely unique teas in the world, ‘Pong Feng Cha’.  It is now the…

The Rarest Teas in the World: A Look at What is Truly Limited

The words ‘rare teas’ have become common place in the greater industrialized tea world.  Anything but CTC or machine made teas have been called ‘rare teas’ by marketers, justifying such usage to mean ‘not infinitely available nor blended into blandness’.  But in the artisan tea world, rare teas are single lot, often made in small batches of less than 100 lbs.. In addition, the rarity must be attributed to conditions that limit possible additional production, either by nature or nurture. Some are dependent on a confluence of conditions, such as the Leaf Hopper bitten Taiwan Beauty of Taiwan. Some are grown on such high elevations, like the Dayuling at 2,500 meters or higher, that by nature of the limited growing areas, the teas are few in yield. Still others, like many Phoenix teas, are harvested from single, antiquated tea trees that are hundreds of years old. In the Yunnan region…

Duck Poop and its sensationalism

Off to Phoenix Mountain in a week or so, and hoping that the rain gods have mercy on the harvest this year, I am hoping to be able to procure another batch of that sublime Phoenix Ya Sai oolong, which literally means Duck Poop in the local dialect. The fact that the family who owns the tree complained that neighbors have been stealing clippings to plant in their own gardens for decades, if not…

The problem with quality, is that it is a singular and lonely…

The problem with quality, is that it is a singular and lonely road. You can keep striving for another higher level, just to look back and realize you are by yourself and not many people in your wake. Everything about quality means a deep, rich experience you offer others that you have given blood, sweat, and sometimes years for. But when others are not at a level to appreciate what you do, then how can your quality be of service to others?
Not that Marukyu Koyamaen has that problem. For the last 300 years, they have maintained their status and quality as the finest matcha in Japan. As recent as this generation, they have won more first place awards- or not, when they are the judges. It’s just that the perfection that is their matcha, and the levels they achieve, can not be understood by mere Chanoyu tea ceremony (mistranslation! Not ceremony, according to Mr. Koyama),nor matcha consumption for health. That sophisticated ratio of shibumi, umami, and amami sweetness, along with intense kaori (fragrance), is not something a philistine can argue about. And so, my tour group catches a glimpse of the richness and expertise that a family took to master over 300 long years- why, longer than US history! …..and with that Occidental viewpoint, one will never understand tea.

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