Category: TeaBlog

Counting down the days – China trip 2017

Hitch

There is always an excuse not to blog when you have a blog. No inspiration, maybe a writers block. But that’s not the case when it comes to this blog. Yes, it has been a bit quiet the last two weeks or so, but it’s because something cool is coming up.

Next Tuesday I will leave Amsterdam for Dubai. Bore myself for a couple of hours. And then board for the flight to Shanghai, China! It will be a little tea trip, and hopefully much more.

Now China is something special to me. It all started in 2010, when… No this is not going to be a three hour Hobbit-horror. I’ll keep it short, but I like to tell you a bit about my story with China and the upcoming trip. I’ve included some random pictures that I encountered scrolling through my albums the last few days and brought me back to the magic places and memories.

So, the story. In 2010 I got stranded in Australian floods and had to get back to Sydney, where I had spent over a month. I wasn’t really keen on spending a lot of time in Sydney again, and since my friend had to get back to Holland because of an health issue, I decided to shake things up. I called China Airlines, asked when their first flight out was and what the destination was and when I heard Taipei, Taiwan, I just said ‘Book it’.

The look on your face when a half naked lady approaches you and the whole train is watching. Never a boring day in China.

2013. The look on your face when a half naked lady approaches you and the whole train is watching.

Taiwan was my very first Asian country I visited and I liked it. A lot. I had a great couple of months and even returned a year later. Of course, I didn’t know anything about tea back then. I cycled half the island, passing the same mountains I now drink tea from. Haven’t seen any tea. Haven’t drank any.

2013. Going for an evening ride in Dunhuang.

2013. Going for an evening ride in Dunhuang, China.

A year later I decided to go to China, because Taiwan had sparked something in me. The Mainland was the next destination and it was a summer never to be forgotten. One day I can’t stand China because of all its problems, the other day I love it with all my heart. Because of its stunning nature, its bizarreness, but mostly because of the people. Yes, they can be overwhelming in numbers, especially in the city, but speaking to one in person they are the most kind, open-hearted, hospitable people I’ve met so far. Never have I been offered so many rides, so many dinners, so many places to sleep. And on top of all that, China was the place where my girlfriend and I met. In Chengdu to be precise. Almost five years have passed since.

2013. Ghost City Kangbashi.

2013. Ghost City Kangbashi.

During my two big trips and one short trip to China I wasn’t aware of tea. So growing an interest in Chinese tea the last couple of years, I regretted all the months I spent in China without tea. But I looked forward as well, to the moment I could go back to China. To travel again, and to learn more about tea.

Now that time has come. It’s going to be a short trip, around three weeks, and it will be very hard to really study tea in China in that amount of time. So let’s just say it’s more of a tea experience. Appreciating tea and the effort and skills the farmers put into every single leaf is of great importance when drinking tea. I want to see with my own eyes the work needed to make tea, and I want to feel the environment the tea is grown in. It will hopefully make me appreciate tea even more.

As you know I will fly to Shanghai on Tuesday and I will immediately go to Wuxi to visit a friend who, legend says, I once saved from drowning in a pool in Utrecht. Although it went more like this:
Li: How deep is the pool?
Jelmer: No idea, quite deep.
Li: Okay, maybe too deep for me. Thank you.
Jelmer: No worries. (Thinking: Boom! Saved the guy from drowning!)

Dutch pools can be quite dangerous for swimming if you're used to Chinese pools like this.

Empty Dutch pools can be quite dangerous if you’re used to Chinese ones.

Anyway, we stayed good friends all those years after he left Utrecht and went back to China. Now we finally meet again. Together we can hopefully make some visits to the Bi Luo Chun area and either Hangzhou (Long Jing) or Anji County (Anji Bai Cha). After that I’ll resume my travels towards Anhui (Huangshan, Qimen) and then go down to Wuyishan, the ultimate goal on my little tea trip. These plans are all really vague. I have some contacts I hope I can visit in the regions, but if I learned anything from my previous travels in China, it is to just go with the flow. Maybe you don’t see everything you wish to see, but your time will be great if you just take the opportunities that come your way. We’ll see how everything turns out.

I want to share as much as I can with you guys on Tea Leafster. Sharing the things I see and learn is a learning experience for me as well. But most of the content will come after the trip, as I’d like to enjoy my time in China as much as I can. I hope I know how to use some new camera and filmgear during the trip and if so, I’ll be editing a movie when I get back in Holland. You can follow my travels during the trip on Instagram and Facebook and I’ll give updates a few times a week on my blog.

I tried not to, but I’m afraid this piece is of considerable size by now. Going to wrap up, work on the last preparations and I’ll see you guys on Instagram, or once I’m in China! 

2012. Tibetan Monastery, Southern Gansu

2012. Tibetan Monastery, Southern Gansu

Tea Leafster Shopping Guide

TeaLeafster

With an uncountable number of teas in my stash I decided to have a little buy stop the last couple of months. I broke this promise to myself twice, for the new shop ISSHIN in The Hague and for a small Mei Leaf order because my mom wanted some new teas and it was impossible not to order a few Wuyi teas for myself, but overall I was able to control myself.

It is, however, tempting to order seeing all these great teas from other tea lovers on social media. To deal with my urge to shop and because I just love to share with you the places I like ordering my teas, I’ve come up with the Tea Leafster Shopping Guide, in which I will tell you about the companies or people that fill my tea stash. The next couple of days I’ll ask you on Instagram your favourite places to shop specific kind of teas. Please join in on the spreading of good teas and where to find them by sharing your shopping guide in the comment section on the Instagram posts or below this article.

I’ve divided the list in a couple of categories.

Taiwanese oolongs
Hau Ying Chen
My absolute favourite place to go to for Taiwanese oolongs. Mr. Chen is a tea grower and producer in Taiwan that shares his teas with people all over the world who contact him through Facebook or Instagram. Best Bug Bitten 2016, Alishan Jin Xuan, Mucha Tie Guan Yin, Shan Lin Xi… They’re all there and they’re all extremely good. Please contact Mr. Chen for the latest price list and teas available.

 

茶園裡滿滿的蝴蝶就像下雪般

Een bericht gedeeld door Hau Ying Chen (@hauyingchen) op

Eco Cha
I’ve had only good experiences with Eco Cha, a Taiwan based company selling Taiwanese oolongs. I can recall a great Dong Ding that was finished before I knew it and currently in my stash are some winter oolongs and a great Lishan I’m very fond of. They ship cheap, fast and well-packed, and they provide a lot of information on the tea and tea growers on their website.

Chinese oolongs
Formocha
This shop could be in both the Taiwanese and the Chinese section. I had two oolongs from Formocha and it was enough for me to say that this is a must-go-to-place when you’re in Amsterdam looking for a great oolong. The Dan Cong I had from Amanda was just amazing, and the traditional Tie Guan Yin I just finished is worth breaking the buy stop for. And that is what I might actually do. Formocha is specialized in Pu’er tea as well and is top-notch when it comes to quality.

Roasted Tie Guan Yin with da best Banana Bread in Town at Formocha!

Roasted Tie Guan Yin with da best Banana Bread in Town at Formocha!

Wudong Tea
I know a lot of people out there have encountered Sharon from the Instagram-account @wudongtea. She sells and sends samples all over the world with tea made by her parents on Fenghuang Mountain, where Dan Cong is made. Based on the samples I had this is a good recommendation for your Dan Cong teas. I’ve also let Shannon send a couple of teas to a Chinese friend who was very happily brewing them.

Pu’er
Crimson Lotus Teas
A seller I really like is Crimson Lotus Tea. So far every single cake or sample has been outstanding and I also purchased some tea ware that is on the same levels as their tea. Jingmai Love is my favourite so far, Midas Touch my favourite for flying high on my Pu’er cloud.

White2Tea & Crimson Lotus Tea

White2Tea & Crimson Lotus Tea

White2Tea
White2Tea is tea made hipster. Very nice wrappings for cakes, funky names, good teas as well. White2Tea offers next to Pu’er other kinds of tea as well like a few Wuyi teas, but I’ve sticked to the Sheng and Shou so far, and had a go at the Hot Brandy, a white and black tea pressed together.

Yunnan Sourcing
The place where I ordered to learn more about Pu’er. They offer a wide range of cakes, but most importantly for someone completely new in the Pu’er world, they offer 10g and 25g samples as well. This way you can get a taste of the many differences in Pu’er relatively cheap. I’ve also had a couple of great Dian Hongs from Yunnan Sourcing.

Green Tea
Thee van Sander
I enjoy the green teas Thee van Sander, a (web)shop based in Delft, is selling. Especially their Zhu Ye Qing, roasted and unroasted, is one I love because of its vegetal, sweet character. There are always some good finds in the store of Sander.

Obubu Tea
I’m through my stash of Obubu Tea by now but I had a lot of them and loved them for their unique characters. They sell Aracha, tea in the state before wholesalers blend teas from different farms. Selling Aracha means selling single farm teas like the ones from Obubu. In Holland these teas soon will be sold by Liset, who featured in My InstaTea Friends Book this week!

ISSHIN
A very recent discovery are the teas of ISSHIN in The Hague. I was served some tea that was outstanding and the ones I brought back home were mind-blowingly vivid, fresh, vibrant, sweet. Thumbs up for this Japanese tea shop.

TeaLeafster

All-rounders
MEI LEAF
Of course, as a big fan of MEI LEAF and Don Mei, MEI LEAF had to be included in the list. An all-rounder because they offer high quality, extremely delicious teas in pretty much every tea category. From Wuyi teas to Pu’er to green teas, I’ve had so many good ones from Mei Leaf I can’t even remember how many there were.

TeaLeafster

Tea’s Delight
My absolute favourite all-rounder in Amsterdam. For me, their Sacred Lilly Wuyi Tea together with a 20 year old Pu’er tops the list of the tea house. You can’t order online here, so another good reason to come to Amsterdam.

Hong Tong Wu of Tea's Delight

Hong Tong Wu of Tea’s Delight

 

Golden Triangle
Tea Side
Something different, and something good. Tea Side sells teas from South-East Asia and you’ll be surprised with what you get. I’ve had the chance to taste great oolongs and Pu’er from Thailand and Myanmar, teas I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered.

Shops I still need to try out and are on my wishlist:
Essence of Tea
Misty Peak Teas
Die Kunst des Tees
BitterLeaf Teas
Tea Drunk
Floating Leaves Tea

The challenge of Scottish tea growing – Interview with Monica Griesbaum

Tea plants

Besides the Sahara and a block of ice floating around the Arctic with nothing but a polar bear on it, the last place you’d expect tea to grow is probably Scotland. It’s a challenge even Barney from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ wouldn’t say to: ‘Challenge accepted!’. Monica Griesbaum, together with her husband Andy and four kids, did take on the challenge and are close to their very first batch of Scottish grown tea from the Windy Hollow Farm. Monica was so very kind to share her story on their beginning tea farm in Scotland, for which I thank her greatly.

As with so many tea geeks who have someone or something that triggered them going into tea, the idea of growing tea trees in Scotland was planted as a seed in the head of Monica and Andy by a friend. The family had just purchased 23 acres of nature in Perthshire, Scotland (about an hour drive from Edinburgh), and were starting to plant Native Scottish Trees on the land, when the friend suggested to plant some tea trees as well.

Monica watering the tea seeds © @windyhollowfarm

Monica watering the tea seeds © @windyhollowfarm

‘First we thought this was quite a crazy idea since tea planting is not very common here in Scotland where barley fields, heather and sheep dominate the countryside’, Monica says. But the idea was too fascinating not to act on and so the family started to investigate and learn about the tea world. By reading books and gaining information from experts in tea and organic farming. ‘And we really liked it. We love the camellia sinensis plant, the care tea growers take over it the fascinating processes and methods used to make wonderful tea and also the tea community across the world who seem extremely excited and caring about the product of tea.’

The challenge was, indeed, accepted and 2500 tea seeds from Nepal arrived in boxes. But the seeds weren’t really what Monica expected them to be. ‘Each one looked much bigger… What on earth to do with them? So we learned an immense amount about tea in a fairly short period of time. About planting them, about nourishing them and we learned that they get frostbites just like humans in the winter months! The seeds turned into lovely baby plants and then into lush looking toddlers.’

The tea seeds from Nepal © @windyhollowfarm

The tea seeds from Nepal © @windyhollowfarm

Biggest challenges

‘Probably to work outdoors in all weather, to avoid planting tea in waterlogged Scottish soil and to keep believing in yourself and your project on those dark gray days. Maybe also the pH level was a worry for us initially. We were advised that it may be too high and that we needed a lot of sulphur to be added to our soil. However we were quite borderline with our soil and the pH wasn’t too high but still on an upper level suitable for camellia sinensis. We therefore have experimented very much with plant based liquids to very gently lower pH in soil. This is important for the plant, otherwise it will find it harder to use and benefit from the nutrition in the soil. This has been a challenge, much work and energy has gone into this. However, it is very fascinating to learn about the chemistry of the soil and plant and then work with this knowledge using natural methods. That of course sounds like we have built a lot of tea knowledge already, but we know that there is so much much more to learn day after day.’

Growing is one thing. Making a good tea out of your plants is another. The Windy Hollow Farm is currently at the stage of figuring out which tea would be best to produce. Most likely the choice will be between black (red) tea or oolong. ‘It’s important to us that we don’t just attempt to copy the traditional and wonderful processes used in tea making for thousands of years in Asia’, Monica says. ‘But instead to learn from this and find our own way that suits tea plants grown in our climate and ways of tea processing that makes sense here in Scotland and on our farm. So it’s about exploring and adaption to our situation here.’

 

A few #tealeaves from 2016 these were plucked for experimenting. Such fun! #teafarm #tea #tealover

Een bericht gedeeld door Monica (@windyhollowfarm_) op

Where do Monica’s own preferences as a tea lover lie? ‘There are many teas I haven’t tried and would love the include like the intriguing frost tea and the tea bitten by bugs. Of those tried, I love oolong tea from Taiwan and my present favourite is tea from wild tea trees. I think they have an added taste of nature and individual flavour.’

No wild trees to be found in Scotland, but the first batch of processed tea of the Windy Hollow Farm is not far away. ‘This year our seedlings will be planted outside and each Spring time more seedling plants are added. We now have a mix of seedling tea plants from Nepal and Georgia, all camellia sinensis var sinensis.’

Monica invites people to join in on the adventure the family is on. ‘Anyone interested in visiting our tea farm, drinking our tea or working together on gaining tea knowledge, do get in touch. We would love to hear from you.’ Monica can be contacted on Instagram @windyhollowfarm, Twitter @windyhollowfarm and via the website of, you guessed it, the Windy Hollow Farm.

Little helpers © @windyhollowfarm

Little helpers © @windyhollowfarm

Organic farming

‘Integral to our work here is using the organic method. Our land has not received any pesticides or herbicides for many years and we have now started the conversion process with the Soil Association. This will last 20 months and we are then officially a fully recognized organic tea farm in about autumn 2018. For us organic means to try and support our tea plants in a natural way, with healthy and strong soil and making and using plant based homemade nutrition.

Instead of pesticides we encourage wildlife like spiders and toads which help to eat up all the creepy crawlers that want to nibble on our plants. Of course it is a lot of work to go the organic way, and picking up slugs by hand isn’t a very pleasant task. However, when you see the thriving tea plants it’s all worthwhile. In terms of watering we are very fortunate to have a Natural Spring on our farm that can be seen on an old historical map of 1867 already. We use this Spring water to water and nourish our plants and also of course for preparing tea. Much nicer taste without all that chlorine in tap water. 

We also are very keen to use renewable energy generation for the electricity needed for processing. So for example, we are keen to use solar and wind energy to power the heating appliances we need for processing. Exciting to put it all together.’

‘All tea drinkers out of the country!’

TeaLeafster

In these times of populism it’s quite common to hear someone yell to a certain group of people: ‘All of you, out of the country!’. But that group being tea drinkers was new to me.

Last week I was checking my Tweetdeck during work when I saw a tweet of Nico Dijkshoorn popping up on my screen. It said: ‘Tea drinkers out of the country!’ and contained a link to an item on the Belgian radio. Now most of you probably don’t know Nico Dijkshoorn. He is a Dutch poet/columnist, but to me columnist is the more fitting title. His columns are easy to digest, his topics very recognizable for the bigger public. Dijkshoorn has the right, entertaining tone to tackle tiny annoyances that many people feel and you really see, read and hear him everywhere you look: in papers, in magazines, on tv and on the radio.

Most of his columns are based on complaining. Complaining works in Holland, so Dijkshoorn works. He is your grumpy old grandpa being grumpy. And I have to say: although it is a bit shallow sometimes, he can be quite funny. Still I felt a bit offended when I saw that line on Twitter. All tea drinkers? YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? With sweaty hands I opened the link to the website of the Belgian radio and listened. With every minute, the ball of frustration that had formed inside my body shrank and by the end of the item I was completely calm again and actually not-disliked it for one single reason: without him probably knowing, he sums up pretty much what’s wrong with Dutch tea culture (and probably in more Western countries).

I have roughly translated a part of his column for you to check out. He is setting a scene in which he has friends coming over who don’t want to drink coffee, but ask for tea. Then this follows:

“Tea comes in 469 different flavors and so I have to ask: what kind of tea do you want? The answer often is: what do you have? But the problem is: I have no idea what I have. There is tea everywhere in my house. I collect all of them and lay them out on the table. They will stand next to me: well Nico, a black tea from southern Poland. What did you think, let’s go a bit crazy?

With every tea I have to say: I got it for Christmas, or, a really sick person gave it to me. Then they will laugh about all the different kinds of flavors and say: Mango & Passion fruit tea, I didn’t even know you could make tea out of that, how could you do that?

Next I have to boil the water, also very annoying. I have to look for a special cup for tea, that I have to wash for half an hour afterwards because Chinese tea colors the inside of a cup deep black within a minute. What I also find very annoying is the sociability that comes with tea. Just pay attention to that once: people who drink tea fold their legs under their bottom and nestle themselves in your couch. With tea in your hand you’re not allowed to laugh either, which has a big influence on the conversation.

I learned by now that I don’t serve tea anymore. If they ask me what do you have, my answer is NO TEA. In half a year I’ll only have friends who don’t drink tea. A very comforting thought.”

Some fact checking first: yes, tea comes in a lot of flavors (but is not flavored), no you indeed cannot make tea from mango and passion fruit. And by the way, Polish tea might not be the best pick, it is allowed to laugh while drinking tea, and it would be terribly painful for me to fold my legs every single time I’m doing a tea session. So I sit, legs down, just like you.

That being said this column does describe – except for the sociability – a bit of the mainstream tea culture in Holland. I feel Nico hates tea because he never had a good one. Weird flavors, stains everywhere. He just doesn’t know it can be different.

Nico

Nico Dijkshoorn. I think he will make a perfect Shu drinker.

Tea is such a popular drink here. Walk into a supermarket and you can choose between hundreds of options. That reminds me every time again that there really are two types of tea that have NOTHING in common: actual tea, and whatever they put in those bags.

I’ve been there. I drank Grandma’s Appelpie tea. And probably thought: yummeh, it actually tastes like appelpie, good job tea maker! Now I know how incredibly far away that is from a quality Yancha. Or a 20 year old aged Pu’er. It really are two completely kinds of products, not even a bit related to each other.

Now first of all, drink whatever you like. I’ll try not to be the tea snob raising his finger and saying: what you’re doing is bad! However, in these times of a growing consciousness of what we put in our mouths, tea seems to be overlooked. I believe that if the knowledge is more widely spread, people DO start to care about the tea they’re drinking.

If only people knew what high quality tea could taste like without any additives. If only people knew that all the flavors they get from those fruity tea bags, they can actually find in pure teas. Without the tea being flavored. A completely natural taste as a result of growing, processing, sometimes aging.

If only people knew about the garbage put in those bags. Two years ago a television show investigated what is actually in those teabags. Next to tea dust, they found all these unidentified tea objects (UTO) containing sugar and flavor additives. (For Dutch speakers: click here for episode).

'Tastes like chewing gum.'

‘Tastes like chewing gum.’

At the same time I ask myself: what products that I am consuming have a world behind them like tea? How can I stop choosing lower quality products and really dig deeper into the real thing? Although I found tea, I’m unaware of the capability of so many other specialty products. That’s something I have to get into very soon.

So far I am glad to have encountered high quality tea. And in some way I have to agree on Dijkshoorns column on tea. If it was up to me nobody would ever drink that UTO-tea anymore, although I presume the market for quality tea could never cope with such high demands. But instead of sending those tea drinkers out of the country, I hope I will encounter the people who love drinking tea but are unaware of the quality teas and share a cup with them. Maybe a world will open up for them as it did for me. And that world is góóóód, I can tell.

The most beautiful and most horrible place to drink tea – Tromsø, Norway

TeaLeafster

Last week I posted a blog with my Tea New Year Resolutions and more nature brewing was one of them. Now am I the now-or-never kind of guy when it comes to resolutions. If I want to exercise more and after two weeks I haven’t, the resolution ends pretty much there.

So when a few days in 2017 I, together with my girlfriend Janne, sat on a plane towards Tromsø in the northern part of Norway, I was totally ready for brewing in nature at a place where nature is at his best. I packed a gong fu cha travel kit, a 1,5 liter thermos and a range of tea samples to bring to the fjords. I would spend the few hours of twilight a day (the sun doesn’t come up in winter) enjoying the spectacular views which would let me enjoy the taste of tea even more. That was the plan…

Day 2. Exploring day. When we arrived on the southern tip of the island the view was breathtaking. The sun that never came up was setting and shined a fire red color over the fjord. The deep dark sea was smashing into the rocks with the white mountains being seemingly undisturbed about it. It was a memorable sight I’ve never seen before and I decided this was the time to start up a session. But it turned out to be a horrible, a truly horrible place for tea.

TeaLeafster

The place of doom.

Imagine winds blowing so strong that you are barely able to stay on your feet. Waves being smashed so violently against the island that it rains cold sea water. Feel temperature of what must be minus 25 degrees Celcius. Imagine deciding to do a gong fu cha session right there, right then. Lunatic.

TeaLeafster

Operation Tea.

I put my outer gloves in my backpack, and try to set up the set on a picnic table nearby. The winds are so strong that I have to secure the gaiwan and cups by digging them into the layer of ice and snow on the table. I bring out a bag of Mei Leaf’s Purple Bud but I wasn’t able to open the bag and if I would have, the purple buds would now be in the ocean, floating towards Svalbard. So I grabbed a white tea ball, threw it in the gaiwan, opened the thermos and tried to pour. As the water left the thermos the wind blew it everywhere but in the gaiwan.

I tried a few times and finally, with the right angle of pouring, the water went into the gaiwan. Boom. Tea ready in a matter of seconds. But the ball showed no sign of life. It was just floating there doing nothing. After a minute I tried to pour from gaiwan to fairness cup. Wind. Tea gone. Another attempt. Same result. Janne is laughing by now and starts taking pictures of my complete failure. Finally another one minute steep finds his way into the fairness cup, but even for a white tea the liquor turns out to be very light in color. I look at the ball and it is still… a ball. I take a sip of the cup and the water is icy cold. No way, Sherlock. Digging in your gaiwan in a pile of ice. That’s gonna keep those cups and the tea warm…

Fighting and being defeated by the elements.

Fighting and being defeated by the elements.

Lucky shot.

Lucky shot.

Even I now realize this is not the place to drink tea. I pack everything and start running for a little barn where I can find shelter from the wind. My hands are freezing as I haven’t been wearing my outer gloves for quite a while now. So, hot tea beats cold weather? No. Not 350 kilometers above the arctic circle in a gong fu cha session. I think any of you knew that, except for me.

Hotel session with Purple Bud.

Safe and warm. Hotel session with Purple Bud.

If you by now think I had a horrible week up north… It was incredible. In between the hotel brewing we led our pack of huskies on a sled through the hills and mountains around Tromsø. We stepped on a boat in stormy weather towards the open ocean and encountered 6 humpback whales and 3 groups of orcas at the end of a fjord in a feeding frenzy with herring all over the place. And yes, we saw the Northern Lights. Twice. Once even going all the way to the Finnish border to have some clear skies, because we had quite bad ‘Northern Light weather’ the days we were there.

It is as good and better as I ever imagined, even though we haven’t seen the best of it yet. The magical dance, waves of light, rolling curtains of green going from left to right on the horizon. Stripes of grey-green appearing and disappearing in the sky. Sometimes it even looked like there was greenish powder thrown from the skies towards earth (Matcha, is that you?). You will never see the Northern Lights as bright as on some of the pictures you’ll see online, because those colors most of us just cannot see. And yes, it can be a long wait, and yes, it’s cold, and yes, sometimes the light comes and goes so fast, but it’s a spectacle that tests the limit of your imagination and that is so worth it, even if you just see it for 10 seconds. We were so very impressed we didn’t tick off the Northern Light on our Bucket List. We moved it up again.

Some photos are made by Janne. She has a travel blog in Dutch (Pack Less See More) and has 2 lovely photogalleries on China and Russia up on jannecress.nl. 

_mg_5539 h1 img_1590 doggies
nl3 nl2 nl1

Where I came from (2016) – Where I’m going to (2017)

tealeafster

New Year’s Eve came so fast that I didn’t even had time to think of any resolutions for 2017. But while trying to sum up the for me very important tea year 2016 today by highlighting three major events/periods, I discovered that, in my head, I already had my humble goals set for the new year. It’s gonna be a big year and I hope you’ll be actively part of it! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Where I came from (2016)
Kyoto
During a six month trip going anywhere it’s hard to keep your tea focus. I had some teas in my backpack while traveling and working in Indonesia, but the conditions of storing were (of course) not ideal and as I didn’t had a gong fu cha-kit, I only used a tea strainer, which is… nah. The moment I set foot in Kyoto, Japan for a two month job in a guesthouse in Gion in exchange for accommodation, tea was back in sight again. With all the tea shops, tea houses and tea ceremonies in Kyoto and the Uji tea region around the corner, this was the place where I decided that tea was IT. Since experiencing such a tea culture as in Kyoto, my life is tea, tea and tea.

Tea Ceremony with Geisha's before the Miyako Odori

Amsterdam
Returning to Amsterdam in spring the self-study started. I decided that, although it would cost me quite some ‘learning money’, I wanted to try as many kinds of tea, from different countries, regions and of different quality. So I stacked up, first at ‘lesser quality’ sellers and then, finding my way in the tea purchasing world, buying better and better quality over the months. Very important in my study of tea, next to many books and videos, was Tea’s Delight. I would say the best (and one of few) gong fu cha-brewing tea houses in Amsterdam. Owners Hong Tong and Yiemie are so passionate about their teas that it’s hard not throwing yourself completely in the world of tea after talking to them. I’m a regular since my first visit in spring, visiting every one or two weeks for a great session and always a vibrant conversation on tea or any other subject.

Tea Leafster
The launching of TeaLeafster.com last month was the confirmation for me that tea is something for life. I’ve had passions but they came and went. The fact that I was able to work on a website on tea over such a long period without losing any interest, meant that I finally found a passion that is a keeper.  It was a big milestone for me and I’ve had very nice responses on the launch of the website for which I want to thank all of you.

 

Yes, it’s TeaLeafster.com Launch Day! Tea is just so cool and that’s why today, I officialy launch my new website on tea (sitting here with balloons and all in my house). TeaLeafster.com will start with tea reviews and blogs with the intention of evolving it into a more informative platform for tea lovers with interviews and articles. Lots of exciting things coming up! Over the last couple of weeks and months I wrote some content that is available on the website right now. Check it out and let me know if you bump into some problems with the website! #tea #myfirst #linkinbio . . . #tealeafster #tealeaf #teatime #teamoment #teaddict #teaaddict #teaenthusiast #tealover #tealife #teablog #teablogger #teaculture #teastagram #teaoftheday #instatea #amsterdam #anjibaicha #meileaf #teaholic #teacup #greentea #chinesetea #taiwanesetea #taiwantea #japanesetea #newblog

Een foto die is geplaatst door Jelmer (@tealeafster) op

Where I’m going to (2017)
More Outside Brewing
The experience of brewing in nature or city parks is memorable every time again. The fresh air and sounds of birdies flying over your head does make you appreciate the taste and origins of tea more. I’ve started brewing outside since winter so I can’t wait to go out there in spring and feel what it’s like when you don’t have you wrap yourself in four sweaters to survive a proper tea session. I’ve got a new 1,5 liter thermos that will keep the water hot enough to get me through a day of walking and I have a new little travelset in case I want to travel light.

Outside Brewing

Tea Trip
Yes, this is the year. I love China and I’ve been there 3 times for die hard traveling, hitchhiking, sleeping out in the open or in Tibetan monasteries, everything a young man does when in Into The Wild-mode. But I’ve never encountered any tea or tea region. Nor did I know about them back in those traveling days. Currently I’m researching the opportunities to go to China in spring for a tea trip to learn more about where the magic comes from, how it’s made and the people behind it. Of course I will share this with you via stories, videos and pictures. Keep you posted!

(I’m looking for people who went on a tea trip by themselves for tips and tricks. Please contact me, I would love to hear your experiences!)


A little impression of the possiblities.

Tea Community
It’s so much more fun to share a cup with other tea geeks. Together with two people (Guilia and Liset) I met at a weekend course on Japanese tea last year I unofficially started the Amsterdam Tea Movement. We’ll meet once a while to share a cup of our tea stash. In 2017 I hope to meet more people who are interested in tea or want to have their first tea experience. By organizing small Meet Ups, but also by just going out there in spring, sit in the park in Amsterdam brewing tea, and see if anyone passing by wants to join. And by inviting you to step by for a tea session in case you’re around. Always welcome!

Tea Leafster
Of course this will be a big year for Tea Leafster. 2017 is my year to go deeper into tea blogging. Not just by reviewing and sharing my experiences, but also by interviewing and by writing in-depth articles on the subject. This will slowly develop throughout the year, I hope. Stay with me in 2017 to see if any of these new year resolutions will come out. Curious now: what is your tea resolution for 2017?

Play with the rules of tea making – Hot Brandy

TeaLeafster

Tea has never been as hip as with White2Tea. Brilliant (mostly Pu’er) cake wrapping, tea names and, most importantly, brilliant teas. And now they let you be part of an experiment. Hot Brandy, a blended black and white tea cake, has seen the light this year and it’s worth playing around with yourself.

Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic but I imagine White2Tea to be the Sillicon Valley of tea. Where there are no bad ideas and nothing, really nothing, is impossible.  Just a creative bunch of people doing whatever comes up in their minds that morning. Days consisting of brainstorming and experimenting. Failing and succeeding. Playing with the rules of tea making.
TeaLeaffster

Every time I drink a White2Tea tea I am extremely curious about the tea maker. How must he feel, each day the White2Tea  guys walk in with another crazy idea. He shakes his head out of disbelieve. What is the problem with these people? Then he starts working on the idea and delivers an extremely fine product. Yes, this is all fiction in my head, but I like to think this was the case in the making of Hot Brandy.
TeaLeafster

Black & White
Hot Brandy is a tea made of both black and white tea, sundried leaves pressed in one cake. Now, when you combine a black and white tea, of course the black tea will be the dominant, in-your-face-tea of the two, while the white tea is a more subtle and gentle one. More hidden flavors you have to extract just by having a clear palette and by being able to enjoy delicate notes. So how do the two work together?

That’s the fun part of this tea: it actually just works. The typical Dian Hong citrus, honey and liquorice notes from the black tea, tempered by the mellow, lingering, sugarcane sweetness of the white tea. You’ll get the Dian Hong in your face and then, while enjoying, you’ll discover an extra dimension because in the white tea that follows. It’s a new taste, and it’s good.
TeaLeafster

But the best part of the Hot Brandy for me is the extremely thick soup. Be prepared to lick out your cup as you’ll not be able to get the last drop out by pouring. I have a bit of a sore throat these days because of the dry, cold weather, but this tea was so juicy that it was wrapping my throat like a warm, comfortable blanket. I drank the same leaves in the afternoon, evening and the next morning and it was still giving off all the flavors you want, even getting a bit more nutty, fruity and honeylike, with that sugarcane sweetness slowly fading.

As with almost every tea from White2Tea it’s all about the aging and I can’t imagine how this tea will develop. Will the black tea overpower the white tea and how will they affect each other? Nobody, even not White2Tea, knows how that’s gonna work out. 
TeaLeafster

A weekend of Japanese teageeking with a badass Gyokuro

Oscar teaching

When I’m drinking tea, I’m in the comfort zones of my flat or a teahouse. Alone or with people I know. Small groups of tealovers or people who think: okay Jelmer, you go being a teageek and I’ll just say I like it to please you. So, imagine that teageek walking into a classroom of more than forty teageeks for a 2 day comprehensive course on Japanese tea. That’s teageek heaven I can tell you!

It must have been my first time meeting so many tealovers at an event. Sort of my coming out you can say. It’s quite hard to find a teageek in the wild. On the streets. The people you meet are online or at events like this. So, apart from the fact that this was such a cool weekend on Japanese tea, it was also a way for me to meet people with the same passion.

Oh my... and we drank almost all of them

Oh my… and we drank almost all of them

During this weekend, hosted by the Dutch International Tea & Coffee Academy in The Hague, a heavyweight delegation from Japan came to Holland to spread knowledge on Japanese teas. I was just in a period of my tealife that I started to lose interest in Japanese tea. When standing in front of my tea collection, 99 out of a 100 times I chose a Taiwanese or a Chinese tea over a Japanese one. Which is kind of a waste, because I had about 20 teas I brought from Japan that had to be consumed pretty soon before it would turn devilish red. So this weekend also was a way for me to revive my interest in the kind of tea that not long ago dragged me into the world of tea.

The (first ever) weekend course was organized by the Japan Tea Export Council in collaboration with the NPO Nihoncha Instructor Associaton. Goal was to spread more interest and knowledge in Japanese tea, a tea that has some problems setting foot on the international market due, partly because of the high prices as a result of producing in a wealthy country. In the delegation was, next to Japanese tea superstar Matsumoto-san (the vice-president of Obubu Farms I met early 2016 in Wazuka), Dr. Yoriyuki Nakamura, director of the Tea Science Center, Seijo Okumura, director of NPO Nihoncha Instructor Association, Yuko Ono, tea adviser of Yuko Ono Sthlm, instructor Rika Ilmori and Oscar Brekell, of whom I will talk a little bit more further in this post.

Yuko Ono demonstrating how to brew Japanese tea

Yuko Ono demonstrating how to brew Japanese tea

The first day of the course was a going back to school experience: lots and lots of information and theory on the Japanese tea industry, production, history, culture and cultivation. Valuable and very detailed information which I just cannot share with you in a few sentences. The kind of stuff that would be perfect to share with your customers if you’re a tea seller, information that makes you a true expert on the topic. After all the classes we finished the day with an hour of quality assessment & evaluation in which we had to test three different kind of Sencha the way the Japanese test the quality of teas: sniffing the dry and wet leaves, tasting the brews in every stage, feeling the dry leaves for its softness and so on. I tested the teas and put them into the right order, until just before the answers were given I somehow changed my opinion and swapped A and B. Lesson learned (again): always stick to your first impressions!
Matcha

Day 2 was more practical and more about drinking tea. I was almost spacing it, so much tea we were offered during this day. First Oscar told is a bit more on the theory of brewing Japanese tea and then Yuko Ono showed how to brew it, before we had to do it ourselves. At my table Dr. Nakamura was helping us out brewing the Sencha, Gyokuro and Matcha the right way and he made one badass Gyokuro I will never forget. 10 grams of leaf, 60 ml of water, a super intense brew so concentrated that you got a bit dizzy while drinking your shot of Gyokuro. If you think Japanese tea is not complex: this tea was one of the most complex teas I ever drank. There were so many things happening in my mouth that I just couldn’t place them all.

To see Dr. Nakamura brew Japanese tea was maybe my highlight of the weekend. How he exactly knew when a brew was perfect by feeling the Kyusu, the weight and the temperature of it, and looking at the leaves. That’s an expert doing this thing.

At the end we received a beautiful Japanese certificate of completion (that makes me an expert too right?) before parting ways. To wrap up, a little shout-out to Oscar Brekell, the Swedish Nihoncha-instructor that presented himself as the perfect Japanese tea ambassador during this weekend. Such a young guy but what a great expertise he has. Representing Japanese tea with humour and most importantly a lot of knowledge. A true ambassador who can really spread the vibes on Japan Tea. I’m still impressed, go see him lecturing or teaching wherever you can!

日本語は下に↓ Pictures taken last weekend during the “Comprehensive two-day course in Japanese tea 2016” at the International Tea & Coffee Academy in The Hague, The Netherlands. What a great audience we had! It was very encouraging to see so many people with a great interest in Japanese tea. All the participants where very active asking a lot of questions. I really hope that I will be able to go back soon again. オランダのInternational Tea & Coffee Academyでの2日間の総合的な日本茶講座が一昨日無事に終了しました。参加者の皆様はとても真面目で質問が多く、日本茶に対しての興味と好奇心が良く伝わりました。 機会を作って、またぜひ戻って現地で講座を行いたいと考えています。

Een foto die is geplaatst door Per Oscar Brekell ブレケル・オスカル (@brekell) op

So do I drink more Japanese tea now? I actually do, I even finished some teas already. I experiment with heavy-brewed Gyokuro (never as good as Dr. Nakamura’s) and I hot and cold brew a lot of Sencha to develop my tasting palate for Japanese teas. It’s still not my absolute favorite, but it’s such a unique kind of tea that it can’t be missed. Standing in front of my tea collection now, I’m not overlooking my Japanese teas anymore.

A visit to the Obubu Tea Farm in Wazuka, Kyoto

IMG_20160317_144448 (1)

My two month stay in Kyoto gave me the last push into the world of tea and I couldn’t leave Japan without visiting (for the first time!) a tea farm. On a slow night in the guesthouse I worked I saw pictures of a visit of vice-president Matsumoto of the Obubu Tea Farm to the ICT Academy in Holland. A quick Google search learned that the Obubu Farm was just an hour of traveling away from Gion, Kyoto. This was a no-brainer: a week later I was visiting the farm in Wazuka.

Obubu knows how to market tea and definitely knows how to involve tealovers in the making of tea. Next to their Tea Club and plucking events, in which you can pick tea yourself, they offer three kinds of tours: the Group Tea Tour, the Hiking Tea Tour and the Guided Tea Tour. I took the Guided Tea Tour on a beautiful spring day. It turned out there was only one other guy taking this tour that day, Max from Germany, and we met in the bus on our way to Wakuza.

Me, Matsumoto & Max

Me, Matsumoto & Max

The quiet town of Wazuka is amazing to visit if you like to see nothing but tea fields. Because really, it’s mostly tea fields. Tucked in between houses, covering whole mountains… Amazing. After an introduction by Matsumoto in the office of Obubu (of course with one or two teas to taste) we went up to a mountain to visit (if I recall right) the Heavenly Tea Fields on one of the highest mountains in the village.

Not only were you given the chance to walk right through the tea bushes, you were also able to get great views over the whole tea region. After the visit to the tea fields we were taken to the factory in which the tea is processed (it was just before plucking season began, so not much activity yet) to see step by step how a plucked tea leaf turns into the finished product that you eventually steep.

The (tea soba) lunch is included in the tour and with a full stomach you will head back to the office of Obubu, where you will be given a  tea tasting, including Hojicha’s, Sencha’s, Matcha’s, everything you could wish for in a Japanese tea tasting. The tasting is in a very casual environment. The tea tasters will tell you in detail of the practices of the Japanese way of drinking tea, but not in a too formal way.  It’s just great fun to taste all these different teas with same-minded tealovers. Their best tea is the Kabuse Sencha, a partly shaded Sencha. Definitely worth it to take all the way home, so of course I did.

The factory where the tea is processed after plucking.

The factory where the tea is processed after plucking.

I really liked their way of presenting the Kabuse Sencha as a cold drink. They will put some leaves with ice cubes in a cocktail glass before the tea tasting starts and by the time you finish your tasting, the ice cubes turned into water that is full of the Kabuse Sencha-flavor. Loved it!

When it’s time to leave the farm you can buy some of their teas with discount. They do not push you to buy tea at all. I walked away with a Kabuse Sencha, a Sencha of the Earth and a Genmaicha (not a big fan, but hey, you’re in Japan!). Every brew of one of these teas in Amsterdam takes me back to this lovely day in Wazuka!

These covers are not to shade tea, just to prevent treetwigs and leaves to fall in between the teabushes.

These covers are not to shade tea, just to prevent twigs and leaves to fall in the tea field.

There are lots of factories around Uji you can visit to see how Matcha is made, but unfortunately I discovered that opportunity too late to book a date. From the stories I’ve heard (and because their Matcha is just the best there is in Kyoto) it’s best to visit the factory of Marukyu Koyamaen, totally free! Be sure to book ahead of your Kyoto trip!
Wazuka is not the easiest place to reach from both Osaka and Kyoto, but it’s Japan, so you can count on the public transport. From Kyoto, I took the train towards Nara and transferred at Kizu, from where you can take the train to Kamo. From there you can take bus #66 to Higashiwazuka. But hey, why try to explain the directions here when Obubu can do it so much better! So check out detailed information on how to get to Obubu here.

How I learned more about tea: 6 ways

6 Ways

There is so much to learn about tea that it might feel like standing at the foot of Mount Everest when you are new to it. But there are so many exciting ways to widen your knowledge on this topic! These 6 ways are how I learned about tea.

Books
An old-fashioned but lovely way to learn while drinking tea. My first book on tea was the ‘tea bible’ called ‘Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties’ from the Camellia Sinensis Tea House and I would recommend this for people both new and seasoned into the world of tea, as it has all the basic but detailed information on types of tea, regions, processing and tasting notes. A similar book to the one from Camellia Sinensis Tea House is ‘The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook’ from Mary Lou and Robert Heiss.

A book I truly loved as well was ‘The Art and Craft of Tea’ from Joseph Wesley Uhl. Beautiful pictures and although there is less text in the book, it contains unique information. Another book I can recommend for people who look for a bit more excitement in reading is ‘For All The Tea In China’ from Sarah Rose, a thriller-like story on the undercover mission of a British botanist Robert Fortune, whose ‘stolen’ tea seeds from China have led to the current te aproduction in Darjeeling. There are a lot more books on the shelve, so I’ll keep you updated on any other recommendations.

Tea Library

Videos
What I do love about the tea world is that there are so many people willing to share their incredible knowledge to the rest of us and two of them are Shunan Teng and Don Mei. Shunan from Tea Drunk takes you on the YouTube-channel of Tea Drunk with her on her incredible tea trips and gives you a really valuable and unqiue insight in the plucking and processing methods. Don Mei from Mei Leaf is an absolute tea star for me with his great tea tasting videos and easy-to-access but detailed information on everything about tea. The guys of TeaDB are always fun to watch when describing and discussing their teas.

Podcasts
There are 2 podcasts that I follow closely: Talking Tea and World Tea Podcast. In Talking Tea Ken Cohen interviews tea experts and lovers about tea and North American tea culture. Highly recommended. In the World Tea Podcast host TJ tackles a great range of different topics: from interviews on Japanse tea culture, to tea sessions with friends, to reports on the World Tea Expo, to book reviews, to detailed episodes on the five tasting senses.

Talking Tea

Samplers
You can read, watch and listen as much as you can on tea but eventually it’s all about the taste. So how to develop your palate and taste as many kinds of teas without spending a fortune on quantities you can never consume yourself? Samples are the way to go! There are many trustworthy high quality tea shops like China Life, Yunnan Sourcing and in Holland Thee van Sander and Tea’s Delight that offer you the opportunity to order 3-10 gram samplers to try out. Saves you a lot of money and closet space!

Social media
For me, Instagram is the best social media to get in touch with so many tea lovers out there. Beautiful pictures and valuable recommendations on tea sellers from seasoned tea bloggers. There is a vibrant tea community on Instagram that inspires me in so many ways. Must follow Instagram-accounts: @unyteaguy @teaformeplease @wudongtea @hauyingchen @liquidproust @lazyliteratus @theoolongdrunk @volkan_huoshan and many more that I will either add to this list or that you will encounter yourself on Instagram. Some of these people have blogs too, so check them out!

Tea Friends!
Nothing beats sharing your teas with others. Make tea friends, hang out with them or go to your  favorite tea house to talk and learn more from the people who source teas and have tasted so many of them. If there’s one thing for certain in the world of tea: the people who have a passion for it are always happy and willing to share that with others. Tea people are awesome people!