29 March 2019

Master Big Way's "Way!"

“I am going to transmit the essence of my teaching to you, and you can translate my teaching for the benefit of others.  To make good tea, you begin with your best intentions and your inner wisdom. You put your best into the tea that you will serve.”

Master Big Way smells your cup after you drink from it, and from that, he can sense your tea level, and possibly your level of personal cultivation, too.  A tea friend was so shocked by Master Big Way's divinations regarding her life that she jokingly asked Master Big Way if he is a shaman.  “Yes, Yes I am a shaman.”  Wow!  He claims to be able to sense your intentions, mood, maybe even some base-level thoughts from the energy you and your cup give off, as well as the scent from your cup. He’ll ask people present to pass around their cups so that they can all compare the difference scents.  There are noticeable differences in the traces of tea aroma in each cup.  Some are weaker, some are more floral, some smell like a different tea altogether. 

I can’t explain it and frankly the “why” is less vital to me than the how.  “Master, please teach us how to brew tea like this!”

There’s been a big, contemporary shift towards mindfulness in recent years.  Brewing great tea starts with mindfulness.  In the moment, there is no anxiety, fear, expectation or ego.  One loses the neurotic sense of time; the continuous notice of time’s progress, of the death of each second and the apprehension of tracking, archiving and judging the events that pass during that time.  Each moment contains just “thusness.”

When I practiced Qigong, the first two things we did at the start of each class were called Jing and Ding.  Jing can be translated as quiet or tranquility, and we would begin the class with silent meditation.  Then we would naturally progress to the next step, Ding, which can be translated as stillness.  With our bodies and minds quieted, we can achieve mental and bodily calm.  According to Master Big Way’s teaching, brewing great tea also starts with tranquility and stillness.

From the stillness, we bring forth our best intentions and happy thoughts, and spread the positive intention to the tools we use.  To the cups and pot, to the water and to the tea leaves.  Many things begin in our minds.

Master Big Way has many students around the world who have enjoyed his tea brewing and lessons for decades.  He said he has already transmitted to me the essence of his teachings, techniques and understanding, and those teachings have now been shared with you. The rest of the details will reveal themselves with practice and reflection.  Use the best water, pot and tea that you have, be mindful before and during your tea sessions, and channel your good intentions into the pot and cup.  Try it for a few months and see how your tea turns out.  More importantly, try this for a few months and see if YOU change.  The real magic may turn out to be that you refine yourself, not just the tea.

15 March 2019

Meeting a Tea Saint - Master "Big Way"

“Imagine that you are dealing with royalty, with a delicate, regal, but moody princess who has just woken up.  She’s not a morning person.  You throw boiling water on her face, do you think she would like it?  Do you think she would be pleasant to be around after that?”

Of course not, I’d actually be exceptionally grateful if she didn’t order my beheading!

We must remember to be thoughtful and gentle when we brew tea, understanding that some of them are delicate or particular.

Master “Big Way” has been brewing tea all over East Asia for over 30 years.  He has quite a collection of pots and charcoal braziers to heat water with.  One of his favorite pots was made by an old acquaintance of his, using a dark, dense type of clay that can withstand higher temperatures than a typical clay pot.  It is noticeably heavier than a “regular” teapot of the same size, and retains more heat as well. 

So maybe you’ve learned that a light oolong needs water heated to between 180-195 degrees and should only be brewed for about a minute to release the best flavor.  Or that you should not use more than 6 grams of tea in a small pot (for fear of the tea turning bitter).  Or that a lightning bolt will blast you in the forehead if you brew a pu’er in the same pot that you’ve once brewed black teas in.  

Master Big Way will tell you many of these “so-called rules” are nonsense.  He put an aged oolong of mine into his pot, filled it with boiling water, and placed it over the charcoal fire for over 5 minutes.  It tasted fantastic; smooth, rich and creamy.  I’ve brewed that tea at least 50 times and it’s never tasted anything like the cup he made.  Shiuwen was shocked by how different the tea tasted, too. 

It must be the pot, you say, or sorcery.  Master Big Way admits that the pot and the charcoal fire help improve the taste of the tea, but the amazing experience begins before the water even enters the teapot.  I jokingly told him that he cheated and added MSG to the water.  He said he added something to the water that’s even better.

What’s the magic ingredient?!  Find out in Part 2 of our story about Master Big Way’s technique.

01 February 2018

When a Tea Reminds You of Fruit Loops, but in a Good Way!

“Guess what tea this is, I bet you’ve never had anything like it before!”

I hear this all of the time and it’s usually true.  Really good teas are memorable and unique.  Great tea makers often have a signature taste or note, but whether this is done on purpose or is a product of one’s technique is a delicate matter to bring up with the tea’s maker.

Mr. Noodle used to be a farmer.  He grew vegetables that were, in his estimation, the fattest and most delicious in all of Nantou county!  He also loves to eat traditional Taiwanese foods, like minced meat rice and stinky tofu.  But he really loves to eat noodles:  beef noodles; egg noodles; dan dan noodles; vermicelli noodles with oysters, on and on.

师出高徒 - A famous teacher produces talented students.  This is a well known Chinese idiom and students search for great teachers to help them transform into great artists.  Mr. Noodle’s first master is very well known and has won a ton of awards.  His teas are expensive, easily triple the average market price for each type of tea he sells.  He is a tea genius.  One would not be wrong in thinking that Mr. Noodle is, too.

“My master wouldn’t teach me how to finish the tea, though, so I had to leave him and go learn that elsewhere.  But me?  I would teach anyone my technique.  Whether or not you can learn and master it, though, is up to you!”  

With a big grin and a booming voice as he speaks, Mr. Noodle pours hot - but not boiling - water into his pot for the 6th infusion of his high mountain oolong.  He specializes in high mountain tea, which is his favorite type of tea.  His technique utilizes a very high temperature and multiple roasting cycles to give his high mountain tea a characteristic floral fragrance and ripe-fruit taste.  Most high mountain oolongs are floral; some have light fruit flavors (like Lishan).  His tea has ripe-fruit flavors that are usually found in moderate-to-high oxidation oolongs, like Dong Ding or Hong Shui, except that the body of his tea is not deep and rich.  

In my own tea roasting experience, I have never been able to turn a low-oxidized and relatively delicate high mountain oolong into something that has both a mild body and ripe fruit flavors, all the while keeping an intensely fragrant floral aroma.  The Younger, a tea distributor that I’ve known for years and who has taught me a lot about tea making, says that Mr. Noodle is pulling my leg.  “I have been making tea for over 20 years.  I have touched every type of tea you can make, and I’m certain there is no way to roast at the temperature and duration of time that Mr. Noodle stated.  You will make charcoal!”

I don’t know what the truth of the matter is, but Mr. Noodle’s tea is pretty tasty!