Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Return to Zhuyeqing Garden

The Freshmen Class 1 invited the Gap Guys and me to go pick tea with them at the Zhuyqing Garden. Pick tea! Great idea.

Mr. Frank and Ms. Jennifer dropped by our apartment at 0900 on Saturday and we walked back up the hill to the Live Plaza where several of the freshmen were waiting for us and transportation. The Gap Guys, Jennifer and I took a rented car to the garden while the other students took a bus to Emei City and would get a taxi.

Here is Jennifer waiting for the car while we visit with the other students.

The Welcome Sign at the entrance to the Zhuyeqing Museum and Garden.

We had a good time introducing the Gap Guys to some of the other students as we waited for the rest of the freshmen to arrive.

The "koi" and gold fish were especially active this morning so I had to get several shots of them. They looked pretty hungry.

The Zhuyeqing Rock is always a good place to take a few pictures. Still waiting for the others to arrive, we looked for things to keep us entertained.

Finally the rest of the class arrived and Ms. Freda arranged for us to meet our tea lady who took us over to the tea plantation to pick our tea.

The tea lady, Ms. Yang, went around and helped us understand which tea leaves we needed to pick. Here she trains me on what to look for in picking tea. Do I have what it takes to be a professional in the tea industry? With her guidance, I may have a shot at it.

Ms. Freda picking tea as quickly as she possibly can. Actually she was not picking the tea that quickly. I looked into her bag a the end of the picking and I counted 42 leaves.

Bless his little tea picking hands - Admon.

More pickers slaving away at trying to fill up their tea bags.

If one looks closely, one can see the newly formed teabuds among the mature tea leaves.

Ms. Yang seemed to really enjoy training the "waiguo ren" as he attempted to become a professional tea picker. She could speak a little English and we had a great time trying to get me to understand what leaves to pick and what leaves to leave. Leaving the correct leaves seemed to be the key to picking the correct leaves. She was a delightful teacher.

This is what we were looking for according to Ms. Yang. One small leaf attached to the unopen tea bud. These were the best tea leaves to pick.

A great picture of a newly opened tea leaf.

Here two students are bothering me for pictures as I try to fulfill my destiny as a tea picker.

After an hour of picking tea, these three students got bored so they started taking pictures and having a good time. Tea picking is boring!

Here, Mr. Jack, joins the bored trio for picture taking and none tea picking activities.

More freshmen clowning around not doing their class activity of picking tea. Guess none will sign up to the advanced tea picking class coming up soon.

Jon, one of the Gap Guys, conned these students into picking the tea for him. I looked into his tea basket and he only hand 33 tea leaves. No wonder he had to have guards with him all the time.

Here are some of the guys on the other end of the tea rows. Notice their empty tea baskets and bags. No wonder there are no professional men tea pickers. Only women have the hands that are small enough to get to all the good tea buds. Only women have the ability to pick tea from dawn 'til dusk. Only women do not goof around and take stupid pictures. Women also work together with the others in the group and do not wonder far afield and clown around when they are supposed to be picking tea.

This is the official Freshmen Class1 Tea Picking Picture. I will print a couple of these out and have the members of the class sign it and then we will present them to the Gap Guys.

Here is the sum total of all the tea the class picked. The basket is really very small so there is not much tea in the basket. In fact, we did not have enough tea for the tea cooker to mess with. We will have to fry it ourselves. I eventually ended up with the tea for Sunee to fry next week after she gets back from Thailand.

Mr. Frank thinks the fresh-picked tea smelled really good. Or did he? I forgot to ask.

As we walked back to go through the museum, I took these pictures of some of the girls posing for pictures. Not too bad, huh?

Mr. Jack is overwhelmed by the aroma of the freshly picked tea. Or was he? Me thinks he might have been acting, which he is famous for doing.

Here Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Freda pose by a flowering tree. I kept asking what kind of tree it was or what kind of flower. All I got was that it was a PINK FLOWER.

One of the flowers identified as a PINK FLOWER!

Inside the Zhuyeqing Museum

I got to watch the show again and, again, I was not impressed with the length. The whole thing took about ten minutes. I did try to get some better pictures of the lovely lady doing the gaiwan thing which she does here.

This lady obvious has done this before. She pours the water from a pretty good distance from the gaiwan cup. Seen it before and actually done better at many of the local tea shops.

The Sichuan style of pouring water into the gaiwan. This demo lasted about three minutes. I tried to get some good shots but my camera takes longer than three minutes to get ready.

A porcelain figure representing drinking tea in China. Notice the tea stuff around the guy.

The Gap Guys, Jon and Dave, discovered that this wood thing was actually a giant tea pot. I missed this the first time around.

Dave here is doing a really lousy impression of the Sichuan style of pouring tea. He made it appear to be very painful. I fear he does not have a future in the tea industry.

Each exhibit had English translations for us foreigners to read. Here Jon checks out the English to find out what the heck the exhibition is about. Actually Jon was just looking blankly at the Chinese.

Ms. Freda does a very poor job of faking caligraphy. I tried to get her to be more realistic but it is obvious that she is a poor actress. Maybe she is a good caligrapher!

Shopping area in the museum. The tea here was not cheap. In fact, it was very, very expensive.

The "what is it, what is it" photo I had so much success with the week before with Giselle, Cecilia and Taunis. Same picture, different models.

The garden and museum was fun and educational. Afterward we got vans back to the university where we had a typical Emei Shan lunch. Kind of a hot pot thing with chickens and taro floating around in a spicy liquid. Not bad but the chicken was full of bones and took a lot of effort to eat.

A final picture of Ms. Freda enjoying our lunch.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thailand Doi Mae Salong No. 17 Oolong

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am very interested in the oolong tea now coming out of Northern Thailand. Specifically the tea that was produced at Doi Mae Salong.

Back in the 1980s, my Thai family and I made the trip to Chiang Rai and then on up to Mae Salong via the newly constructed road. It was a strange place with modern cars and fairly expensive looking housing. The people there were all Chinese and spoke Mandarin fluently. We walked among the buildings in the village (all pretty much on both side of the newly constructed asphalt road). We ate lunch at the main tourist building and visited with the sales ladies who were selling tea and other items, mostly Chinese. It was a strange experience because the ladies were certainly friendly but the men were rather scary. In fact, they all reminded me of the gangster movies from Hong Kong. These guys were bad, really bad.

We ended up buying three bags of their tea. When we got back to Bangkok, we found the tea to be really bad - almost fake tea. The people up at Mae Salong were not tea growers at this time and it was obvious that the whole thing was a scam to get the government off their drug dealing backs.

At that time, I did some research and found that this group of Chinese were the remnants of the Kuomintang's 93 Yunnan Division and were members of the 5th Army. They had moved out of Yunnan Province during the 1950s after NOT surrendering to the Red Army in Yunnan. In Burma they had become involved in the drug trade (opium) and were eventually forced out of Burma and into Thailand where they set up residence at Mae Salong around 1961. Their drug connections were still very much alive and well when we visited there.

I remember reading how the King of Thailand had worked with them to trade crops from opium to tea, cherries and other fruits. When we were there, we were told that these people had successfully used the program and were now honest tea growers. I did not believe it for a second! Their tea really sucked.

Now it seems after more than twenty years, they have become successful tea growers. Do a Google search about these Chinese Yunnanese and you will find that they have developed a pretty impressive tea. Seems they went to Taiwan and brought back some of the hybrid teas that Taiwan had developed and become famous for. Taiwan Oolongs are some of the world's best and compete favorably against the Oolongs coming out of Fujian.

Well, now it seems that these Chinese in Thailand have done exactly the same thing. I have read several articles which praised the Oolongs out of Doi Mae Salong and Doi Tung in Northern Thailand. When we went back to Thailand during the Spring Festival break, the tea from this area could be bought at several different locations. It was not cheap but reported about half the price of Taiwan's best. Sunee was not interested in it as she feels strongly that Thai tea (other than the traditional iced variety) pretty well stinks. She would not let me buy to try any of this tea. I did, however, steal a few grams from her sister who had paid nearly 900 Baht for a very small bag of it.

Now I have heated the water up and have tried this tea. It was labeled Number 17 from Mae Salong. Research found that this Number 17 is the hybrid number from Taiwan and is Thailand's best tea along with Number 12. Let's see just how good this Thai tea really is.

The tea looks like the standard oolong from Fujian or Taiwan. The smell was fresh and the color was a deep green.

Up close, the tea looked to be tightly wrapped and quite heavy. Again the color looked really good and it was obvious that the tea was fresh and well preserved.

I used my little teapot to make the tea, rinsing the leaves once before pouring the boiled water from my water pot. The first infusion was rather light but pleasant. The second and third I left in for about a minute and the result was superb. This tea is good! Really good. I got no hint of astringency and the front and back tastes and sensations remained pretty much consistent throughout my drinking experience - smooth and tasty. The liquor was a honey golden color and did not darken much even with longer infusion times. The taste became stronger with the longer times but the color was pretty consistent.

This is the second infusion and was very refreshing. Something tells me this is a great tea and the price indicates this as well.

I did not think I put much dry tea in my little pot, but when I emptied the pot into a small cup, the teapot was jammed full of the leaves. The spent leaves were huge and mostly unbroken. They were also very shiny and bright. Once more, Thai tea from this area is as good as any I have tasted from Fujian. Kind of nice having a good tea being grown when one plans to eventually retire. Try this tea. You will not be disappointed.