Language and Tea Research

I was just going over some of the materials I picked up on my trip to Taiwan to glean a little something to put on the Tea Geek wiki and I was struck by how important language fluency is to getting good information about tea.  I already know that the English-speaking world gets some basic information wrong because of the translation of Chinese word 發酵 (pronounced “fa jiao” according to four dictionaries, but everyone I’ve heard actually say it would be “fa xiao” in pinyin)–in Chinese it can mean either “ferment” or “oxidize” and is often translated one way when the other is more accurate.  Thus, we get black tea being called “fully fermented” when it isn’t fermented at all.

But then there are translations that just are bewildering.  This is the description, in English, that I found about how Baozhong tea is made:  “The tea-making process requires the undertaking of tea soot picking collection, shrinkage and fall by sunlight, indoor shrinkage and stir mix, tea cream stir-fry, kneading, and dessication in order to complete the strip-shaped Paochung Tea characteristic of Pinglin.”

Now, I’ve seen wulong production and I generally understand what steps they’re talking about but I’m confused why some of those English words show up in that description.  For example, “tea cream stir-fry”?  That sounds like a weird entree or something.  Imagine that your local tea shop sees that description of the process of making this tea and doesn’t have any recourse to either (a) someone who has seen the process, or (b) knows a Chinese speaker or knows a little Chinese themselves.   What stories do you suppose they’d tell their customers and/or other folks in the tea industry to show off what they know about tea?

"Kill Green" machine at the Tea Leaf Processing Demonstration Facility in Nangang.

(By the way, the “tea cream stir-fry” process is, I think, the “kill green” process where heat is applied for a few minutes to stop oxidation in the leaf; this pamphlet didn’t include the Chinese characters to double-check.  Some teas like Longjing/Dragonwell have “kill green” done by hand in an actual wok much like stir-fry.  Other teas are made using what looks like a very deep industrial clothes drier.  As to the “tea soot picking collection,” I think they mean “tea shoot picking collection” rather than some process where ashes are spread over the fields or something… although there does seem to be a craze where bamboo-charcoal is being added to all kinds of things as a cure-all.  Not sure how much science there is behind it, though some of the claims I saw were at least possible.)

Back from Taiwan!

I’m back from my trip to Taiwan! Actually, I got back a few days ago but jet lag and catching up at work and home took center stage. We went all over, met some great farmers, drank fantastic tea (and some that wasn’t so fantastic–there’s bad tea even in countries of origin, unfortunately) and learned a lot! I’ll be writing bits here and on the Tea Geek Wiki for many weeks to come. Quickly though, here’s a run-down of the places we visited (some aren’t tea-related, I know, but I figure I’ll give a brief overview here and later posts can be more tea-specific).

30 October: Taipei (National Palace Museum, Taipei City Hall, Taipei 101)

31 Oct: Jiufen (shopping, eating, and a really great teahouse, the Jiufen Chafang, and the Shilin Night Market–one of my favorite days)

1 Nov: Yingge (Yingge Ceramics Museum, teaware shopping, and Free Ceramics with your purchase of Beef Noodles!) and Sanxia (Zushi Temple–another favorite–and the town’s Old Street)

2 Nov: Taipei (Camera Street, The American Club, and failing to get up to see the Grand Hotel because it was heavily guarded for the visiting dignitary from the mainland)

3 Nov: Taipei (Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, rain, Chinese Handicraft Promotion Center, more rain, Longshan Temple, Snake Alley <shudder>, and Ximending Night Market)

4 Nov: Taipei (National Museum of History), Huayuan Xincheng (tea oil noodles for lunch), Wulai (brief drive-through tour), and Maokong (teapot museum, dinner, and a temple complex overlooking Taipei)

5 Nov: Tainan via high speed rail (walking tour of temples and other historical sites)

6 Nov: Tainan (more temples, including Koxinga and Lady Linshui) then to Jiayi (the temple of the City God, and the city’s famous turkey rice for dinner)

7 Nov: Alishan (picking, watching the processing, comparing different days’ products from the same farmer–LOTS of learning experiences and another favorite of the trip)

8 Nov: Alishan (hiking the mountain trails, then back down through the tea fields, returning to Taipei via Jiayi)

9 Nov: Taipei (engagement banquet where we were drafted to represent family members of the groom-to-be who were unable to get to Taiwan) and Bitan (teahouse with yummy snacks and a great view, and dessert at Chocoholic)

10 Nov: Lugang (visiting a tea club, two temples, and more food), and visiting a friend’s family’s ancestral home nearby.

11 Nov: Taizhong, Nantou (studying plant varietals and more at Dong Ding, visiting an ancestral home, visiting a 200-year-old tea plant–shown above–and eating dinner on the edge of a bamboo forest near the base of the mountain)

12 Nov: Pinglin (Pinglin Baozhong Tea Competition entries, tasting tea with another farmer, and the Tea Leaf Museum only because the weather was too bad to pick and see the process in real life)

13 Nov: Northern Taiwan (Yangming Shan, Jin Shan’s Old Street, one of the more famous beaches, Danshui, Ba-Li, and more)

14 Nov: Nangang (Tea Processing Demonstration Facility), Taipei (re-visit of Longshan Temple, and dinner at a friend’s home), and then the airplane home.