Since Thanksgiving I have held several classes at the ranch and we hosted our first overnight visitor, all the way from Hangzhou, China. There's something going on almost every weekend. Slowly folks are starting to congregate. It feels a little like the early days of Imperial Tea Court, when people from all over the world slowly gravitated to the store. I hate to admit how much I miss that original location.
We released over 150 koi into the pond this week, with plans for another 100 or so. I forgot to take pictures to show you how beautiful they are, but I won't make that mistake the next time.
Happy Holidays! We hope to see you at the ranch soon! Spring planting is still being planned...
"A vast selection of excellent teas are prepared lovingly, along with Chinese snacks and out-of-this-world hand-pulled noodles at this unique teahouse duo." Zagat calls the Ferry Building teahouse "soothing" and praises Berkeley's "lovely" garden. We rated "20" for food and "19" for both decor and service.
If you haven't visited lately, drop by for a warming pot of tea during the holidays and see why folks are raving!
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We have water! My neighbor Juan not only makes awesome organic olive oil, he is an awesome worker as well! He and his two men worked 13 hours a day to complete our water project in three days. They cut nearly 3,000 feet of trenches 2.5 feet deep and laid in new pipes all over the property. Now we are totally prepared for whatever irrigation project we need. Late Thursday I joined Juan for an "opening ceremony" where he hooked up the lines to his diesel truck motor pump and on the count of three, we turned the switch and it roared and started pumping. Using flashlights, we inspected the lines for leaks and watched huge amounts of water gush from our main 6-inch pipe. I jumped up and down and hugged Juan while Grace smiled and ducked safely away from the two crazy old dudes getting wet and screaming in joy.
Bringing in water is a major milestone. Since buying the farm I've gone through two managers and experienced lots of heartache. I've been disappointed by hired help countless times. But now, all the troubles seem to have faded into the past. I'm seeking bids for organic compost that we'll spread across the property along with soil amendments, to ready the soil for planting. We're also planning a garden to grow organic vegetables for the teahouses and we're in discussions with Doug at Prather Ranch about possibly raising free-range chickens or turkeys for him. The hope is that the poultry would help keep the soil fertile while enjoying a healthy and happy life amidst the tea plants. If this idea works out, it could pay for a full-time employee to keep the place running.
The next immediate projects are composting, activating the greenhouse, and importing tea seedlings that will live in the greenhouse until spring planting. Things are starting to happen and I am soooo excited!
Photos below: (1) the main 6-inch pipeline from the aquaduct; (2) late at night: water!; (3) water gushing from the new pipeline; (4) the smaller diameter pipe that irrigates the orchard
According to Roy, the pronounced differences between the 2010 and 2009 harvests are the result of the cold spring, which froze the plants' earliest leaves. The bushes essentially got off to a late start, yielding leaves that, at harvest time, are less mature and therefore have more youthful intensity than a typical yan cha crop.
The selection includes a rich da hong pao with pronounced honey tones that lighten up this often weighty variety; a sweet and fruity bai ji guan; a prize-winning old bush shui xian with creamy texture and lush notes of honey, fruit, and flowers; and a yan ru that Roy thinks exceeds last year's popular edition. The unfired samples we tasted were tantalizing; Roy's firing will improve them by concentrating and refining flavor and aroma. Oolong lovers stay tuned: some of the best tea of 2010 is coming soon. We'll let you know as soon as these intriguing teas go on sale.
This past week, serious work began at the tea ranch. After months of negotiation with our neighbor, various contractors, electricians, and PG&E, we finally managed to start work. PG&E agreed to bring power to the spot where the new pump will be set up to draw water from a nearby aquaduct. A 1,200-foot line was trenched across my neighbor Juan's organic olive orchard to bring 6-inch pipe into our property. Juan agreed to do the trenching so we didn't have to beg the contractor, and with amazing speed, he worked from early morning to late night for two straight days and miracle! The project required over 3,000 feet of trenching and now all the new pipe has been laid. Along with our two wells, this will provide all the irrigation we need to plant tea and any other produce we want to serve in our stores (as well as the Fong household).
I am also ready to prep the future tea field with organic compost and plant a cover crop to ready the soil for early next spring, when we can finally plant some tea. Now I'm concentrating on bringing in tea seedlings - another hurdle to be crossed! I am really excited, things are started to happen...
Photos below: (1) the nearby aquaduct, our water source; (2) the 6-inch pipe that will bring water to our tea plants; (3) my neighbor Juan, trenching through his organic olive orchard; (4) the long trench enters our property; (5) and extends the length of it, all the way to the almond orchard.
On a rare occasion when staff from both stores took a break for Labor Day, we held an all-American BBQ at the tea ranch. Over 25 people braved the long drive and congregated for a huge feast. My neighbor Juan contributed his organic olive oil and some locally grown wines from his brother. We ate, drank, and were very merry until late afternoo, when we reluctantly returned home, wishing that this kind of Labor Day wouldn't end.
One of the benefits of the Qi Zi Bing bundles is that some of the cakes are ready to drink now, others can be enjoyed now or later, and still others will age spectacularly if stored away. Each bundle comprises more that 5.5 pounds of tea that you can start drinking immediately and continue to savor for years to come.
Roy selected the tea in the bundles (which were produced exclusively for Imperial Tea Court) from the 2006 harvest and it rested in the factory for a year before being pressed into cakes in 2007. Then, at Roy's direction, it aged for three years in Yunnan prior to being shipped to our Oakland warehouse. Mountains represented in the bundle include Ba Da Shan, Nan Nuo Shan, Jing Mai Shan, Bu Lang Shan, Ban Zhang Shan, You Le Shan, and Wu Liang Shan. Each mountain's tea has a distinctive flavor profile.
For those who can't attend, stay tuned, we'll be offering the Qi Zi Bing collection for sale in our online store in the near future.
To accommodate as many students as possible while still keeping the classes intimate and interactive, Roy will offer the same class twice, once in the evening and once on a weekend morning. We'll be finalizing the mid-September times and dates shortly, so stay tuned to the blog or email us to join the interest list.
Currently Roy is growing dragonwell and other green tea seedlings. Later he may add oolong and perhaps a few puerh seedlings to the mix. The countdown to growing tea at the tea farm is underway!
My pot was a gift from a tea-loving friend a few years back and whenever we got together to brew tea we enjoyed noting how its rich patina was developing over time. In the almost magical way that the right pot can interact with its preferred tea and improve it, this pot seemed to love tie guan yin and could be relied on to balance flavors, remove any harshness from overfiring, and release a delightful aroma cloud when the water hit the leaves.
Given all of that I should have been more patient and cautious when brewing, taking extra time to slowly bring the pot up from room to brewing temperature before adding leaves. A tea boat might have helped. But, eager to drink the tea I expected the pot to deliver, and perhaps overconfident from my experience with sturdy zi sha and ping zi ni yi xing teapots, I poured hot water right into the pot, causing it to crack like a dropped egg.
The pot is still intact (although with visible cracks) but it will never again brew a fine pot of tea. I'll keep it on the shelf, looking handsome with the soft glow of many happy tea sessions in the past. It will be a gentle reminder to take extra care when brewing tea in zhu ni, and alway have a seasoned backup teapot in the cabinet.
"It is more difficult to use an yi xing teapot with this tea. Often, you get more concentration with yi xing, which dampens the floral aspects. You would have to use a pot that is less porous and carefully select the right combination of tea and temperature in order to do well. On the other hand, with a gaiwan you have a larger opening, which makes it easier to detect the florals. It also provides better temperature control."
Aha, now I know why so much Taiwanese teaware is either glazed or porcelain. Bottom line, for carefree brewing and best results, go with a gaiwan when you prepare these popular, fragrant oolongs.
Meanwhile, Grace has been busy at the tea farm setting up a tea shop in the large, lofted garage. She says it could open to the public this fall. Then we can throw open the gates to the farm and invite tea lovers everywhere to enjoy this beautiful patch of land where Roy is on track to put the first tea plants in the ground before the end of the year.
I used to live within walking distance of the famed Temple Street, where vendors sell everything from underwear to phony Rolexes. Some of the best meals Grace and I ever had were here, where street vendors and small eateries abound. Temple Street was named for Tin Hou (Queen of the Heavens) temple. During the 1800s, this area was near the shoreline and Tin Hou was known to protect fishermen and sailors. Eventually a temple was built and Tin Hou has resided here for over a century. While Temple Street has grown and changed, her temple has not. I also visited a medicinal herbal tea shop. They don't sell real tea, only bitter herbal formulas. I always say that if you can drink these bitter beverages with gusto, you deserve to get better!
I also visited the famous Wong Tai Sin (Great Immortal Wong) temple. In Chinese mythology Wong Tai Sin is not one of the most noted immortals, however, in Hong Kong, he reigns supreme! Young and old alike flock to his temple to pay respect and pray for fortune and to have their prayers answered. The evening before the first day of the lunar year, hundreds of pilgrims gather. As soon as the door opens, the rush is on! Everyone fights to put the first joss sticks of the year in the temple urn for good luck.
During this trip I marveled at how fast the world has changed and the breakneck speed at which China has changed. Young DJs on Beijing's radio stations switch back and forth between flawless English and Mandarin. Chinese and English pop songs play on the radio and everyone takes it for the norm, which it now is. Now I'm in Hong Kong, known for its modern ways, yet I find Temple Street virtually unchanged. Amazing...
I brought out all the samples of Wu Yi oolongs that I collected in Fuzhou. My friend Mr. Wang drove all the way from Wu Yi Shan to deliver them because I didn’t have time on this trip to run up to see him. The list includes this year's Da Hong Pao, Bai Ji Guan, Yan Ru, Old Bush Shui Xian, and several others that I am not too keen about. I set up and cupped each one while Mr. Yang watched. He finally got tired and went to bed, but I kept going.
Although severe spring frost damaged Wu Yi Shan's tea (along with most of the spring 2010 tea crop from the East to the South), there are still good teas around if you look hard enough. This year's Bai Ji Guan will be up to our standard and the Yan Ru is simply amazing. The Da Hong Pao continues to impress and the Old Bush is delicious. After carefully cupping them several different ways, I called Mr. Wang with the final firing instructions and called it a day.
My body is telling me that moving towards home is probably a good idea now, however, I still have to go to Taiwan to attempt yet again to make frozen tea.
Description of photos, from top:
New tea factory building in Ning Qiang County, Shaanxi Province
A green tea production line is being installed
Another view of the green tea production line
My tea farm property in Ning Qiang County, Shaanxi Province
The moon gate in a tiny local temple dedicated to the Jade Emperor
The Jade Emperor's temple
As I've said so often before, China moves at amazing speed! What was a big dirt lot just a few months ago is quickly taking shape. Four brand-new factories have been built and two companies have already moved in. Ning Qiang County is starting a 150,000-square-meter industrial park for processing "green food," situated a kilometer away from the future station for a high-speed train that will be activated in about two years. Roads are going in right before our eyes.
I also signed a letter of intent to take over about 35 acres of beautiful tea farmland, pending soil studies and, again, that little thing called money, which always gets in the way!
The possibilities are enormous and exciting, but given the way I feel now, I'm not sure I could start a boxing match with an ant, much less a big undertaking like the opportunity in Shaanxi. The reality dawned on me as I was signing papers and drinking with the mayor (no, we weren't drinking tea). I'll have to get home and take a few days off before finalizing all the commitments. I still have a California tea farm to get started! if anyone wants to volunteer to pick almonds and plant tea in October, raise you hand now...
Two types of tea trees: the kind found in Yunnan, where multiple stalks emerge directly from the ground (top) and the kind found in Guangdong, where a single stalk grows up and branches out above ground (bottom). The famous dan cong variety is this latter type. Both of the plants pictured here grow in Mr. Wang's forest on Gu Dou Shan in Guangdong Province. The top plant is an import from Yunnan, while the one pictured below is the native bai yun cha.
In any case, I made the tea for him and his employees using lower temperature water, but stronger than his preference. I thought it tasted fine, but he is entrenched in his own ideas. He didn't say anything, but obviously he didn't agree with me, so both of us wisely left it there. The tea brewed by my method tasted good, with nice flavor and texture, however, it isn't very refined. Mr. Wang could improve it with better production techniques, but he isn't someone you can persuade. After having built one of the largest construction companies in his area he feels like a king, and perhaps rightly so since everyone around agrees with whatever he says and does.
No matter, his efforts are admirable. According to Mr. Wang, Gu Dou Shan means Old Mountain and bai yun cha only grows here. Similar to dan cong and Yunnan tea, bai yun cha can grow into a big tree. He is also growing some Yunnan varietals. All of his tea trees are thriving.
Now I've moved on to Ning Qiang, in Shaanxi Province. Yesterday I visited the tea farm here and fell and almost broke my back. I also visited the site of our future tea factory. It is very exciting. The site is being developed as a "green food production campus" only a kilometer from the future high-speed train station targeted for completion in 1-2 years. On the campus, four people have already built processing factories and two have started production. One facility belongs to the biggest tea producer in the area, who has a 200-acre tea farm and 25,000-square-foot factory and brand new production line.
Our future tea farm looks more awesome each time I visit, although it isn't being maintained because the farmers there know the farm is going to us, so they are not doing any upkeep. The opportunity is amazing. At around 1,000 meters elevation with fresh running spring water, I think we can grow some great teas! I'll post pictures and more details soon.
Photos of bai yun cha near Tai Shan. Top: tender seedlings get their start in the shade. Bottom: with Guangdong's hot, humid climate and fertile soil, tea plants quickly adapt to the environment and flourish. Note the "single trunk" similar to dan cong: the plant emerges from the ground in one trunk that branches off higher up the stalk.
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- Roy's Thoughts on Taiwanese Oolong and Yi Xing Tea...
- Roy Returns from China
- Roy Strolls Down Memory Lane...With His Camera (Pa...
- Roy Strolls Down Memory Lane...With His Camera (Pa...
- A Nostalgic Stop in HK Before Heading Home
- Exciting New Wu Yi Yan Cha
- Photos from Shaanxi
- Documents Are Signed for the Shaanxi Tea Farm and ...
- Single and Multiple Trunk Tea Trees
- King of the Mountain: More on My Visit with the Ec...
- Photos of Wild Bai Yun Cha
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