A visit to Miaoli

Miaoli about an hour and half from Taipei by train, and generally speaking, not much there holds interest for a foreign tourist. I didn’t really go there for the sights today though, as I was there to see Aaron Fisher, most recently of the magazine Art of Tea fame, as he’s the Editor in Chief of that publication.

After picking me up from the train station, we went to his place and quickly got down to business… tea drinking.

We first started out with a Taiwanese oolong he picked up recently, I believe, from Lugu Village in Nantou County, which is a major center of tea production in Nantou. The tea, he says, is organic, etc, and he used his silver teapot to make it. It’s an interesting thing, because I think the silver teapot does achieve a certain concentration of flavour that you otherwise won’t get, although since I haven’t tried the tea any other way, it’s hard to tell if it’s a function of the pot or if it’s just the tea. The tea is very good though, sweet, clear, smooth, a touch grassy, very good qi, and overall very pleasant without the sort of overbearing aroma that I dislike in some Taiwanese oolong. It’s I think reasonably oxidized but not roasted. If I can get a hold of this, or similar tea, I wouldn’t mind getting some.

We then moved on to an aged oolong, a 60s Gaoshan Oolong, if I remembered correctly. Now, he whipped out his silver kettle, a gorgeous little thing, somewhat similar to the one I saw a few weeks ago, but with a smoother surface and a more refined look. I tried a cup of water from the silver kettle (before the water boiled) and it tasted sweet. Then, without thinking about the experimental implications of it, tried a cup of the same water without going through the silver kettle. Not so sweet. Very interesting. Various vessels do change the way a water/tea taste. I do wonder how reproducible this is, but I think it should be fairly reproducible. Then, it’s a matter of whether or not such things are worth the price of admission… and that I suppose depends on your personal preferences, priorities, etc

I’ll buy a silver kettle before I buy a big screen TV though.

Anyway, the aged oolong. As I’ve said somewhere before, I think all aged oolongs tend to converge in taste so long as it’s been stored properly and of reasonable quality. This one is the same — a very pleasant aged oolong taste, no roughness or harshness remaining at all, with that “old” taste that is so characteristic of a tea of this type. I am a big fan of aged oolongs, and I think anybody who hasn’t tried one should definitely try to get their hands on some of this stuff. It’s I think less of an acquired taste than puerh, and it is also usually without all the potential health worries that some people have with puerh, primarily because if an aged oolongs has any mould growing on it… it’s no longer good. Too bad such things are rarely available outside Taiwan, and if they are, they’re too pricey.

We took a short break, and then went back at it. This time it’s a dry stored puerh from the early 70s. I believe the dry storage claim, because though the tea is a reddish black, the leaves are very clean, it doesn’t smell of musty books, and it is very light, meaning it has lost almost all water content. The tea brews a clear ruby liquor, round, smooth, one might say fruity. Oddly enough, the brewed leaves are rather dark, but then, lighting was not bright in the room so it’s difficult to tell for sure what it is like, but whatever, it doesn’t really matter. One need not pursue such things too much as long as the tea is good in the cup. This tea lasted, basically, the rest of the afternoon.

Of course, during all this time we’re not just talking about tea, or teaware. Conversation wandered, and tea was just, in some ways, serving as a lubricant for conversation. Tea is fun, but it’s only part of the fun.

We went to one of the teashops in town that also sort of doubles as a vegetarian restaurant, and then ended up having a little more tea there — this time an 80s tuo, wet stored, but quite decent. It lasted many infusions, and is reasonably priced. Not dirt cheap, mind you, but perhaps worth considering. I’ll have to do some more thinking in that regard.

As if all that was not enough, my host sent me away with many bags of teas to try and experiment with, including some truly interesting pieces of tea (or bits, or balls….), as well as all three issues of the magazine in print and a cup that he designed. I felt ashamed that I didn’t have much of anything to reciprocate, the bad Asian that I am. I’ll most likely talk about all of these things in the not too distant future in detail, as I drink/use/play with them. For now, though, I must thank my host of the day for his hospitality, and I’m quite sure I will bother him again before I leave Taiwan.


Comments

A visit to Miaoli — 7 Comments

  1. Sounds like a fun day. I love both, trains and tea, perfect combo.
    Local train or new high speed link?
    That far out of Taipei .. you must be close to a tea farm
    I’m with you on priority of Silver kettle vs. TV (of any kind)
    Regards … john

  2. These silver pots are mostly old — from the colonial period.  They run anywhere from $1500 and up, I believe, although I’m by no means familiar with such pricing, and I’m sure it really depends on the individual piece, who you’re buying from, where, and…. etc. 

    There are also new ones being made, but those are awfully ugly.  I’d use a stoneware/earthenware kettle any day instead of that, or stick to my glass one.

    No, Taiwan’s shinkansen doesn’t stop in Miaoli, yet.  They won’t build a station there until at least 2011, I believe. 

  3. Your mention of The Art of Tea magazine prompted me to wonder if you’ve had a look at what might be seen as its competitor, Pu’er Jianghu? If so, as we say in New York, waddayathink?

  4. Pu’er Jianghu?

    Yes, 普洱江湖.

    It’s a Pu’er magazine, printed on heavy paper with excellent color. When I was in Kunming in May, Jake Caccia of Andao Tea was nice enough to give me a copy. My impression is that it tries to be hipper than Pu’er Teapot, for some value of “hip”. I think they mean Jianghu in the sense of fringe, underground, bohemia: something like that. Something like Outlaws of the Marsh?

    I wish I could comment on how good it is, but with my level of Chinese, it might take me a week of solid work to read one article in it.

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