Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tea at Tao's - an Intro to Pu-erh

On a windy and snowy Saturday morning, I had the privilege of attending a special pu-erh tea tasting at Tao Tea Leaf.  It's a lovely tea shop located just south of Rosedale subway station that definitely has some of the finest Chinese teas in Toronto.

Tao Wu, the proprietor and a fellow certified tea sommelier, had invited his friend Raymond Wang, a pu-erh tea aficionado to lead a small group of us in this educational event.

What's that you say?  What's pu'erh?  Oh pu-erh (pu-er, pu'er, puerh, pu'erh -  pronounced poo -arh), as most Cantonese Chinese know, is the typical Chinese tea that's served during dim sum ...  you know, that dark brown, almost black coloured, earthy tasting, barnyard smelling murky brew.

That's what I grew up thinking too... but I have since learned that this ancient tea (the only one that can be aged)  like wine,  can be quite complex and interesting ... as Raymond and Tao showed us that morning... which I will in turn show you in future posts to come...

So please come back again, the table's set and waiting for you ...

Some of the different pu-erh teas and snacks to be enjoyed

Updated on November 29/10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

You Had Me at Tea ...

In 2006, while flipping through the George Brown College course calendar, I came upon a new program on Tea Appreciation. This four course tea appreciation certificate would later be expanded to become a more advanced Certified Tea Sommelier Certificate program.

One night a week like clockwork - I would go to class and sip, slurp, and spit tea.  (Hey, tea's got caffeine you know!  I still wanted to sleep when I get home... ) .  We examined all sorts of teas - teas made from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) to herbal infusions (also known as tisanes) from around the world.

Sampling of teas and tea tasting cups 

Leaves ready to be examined.  Teas ready for tasting.

One course became two ... then three and so on until finally in 2009, I would become part of the first group of tea sommeliers ever to become certified by the Tea Association of Canada.

Now why would I take on such an endeavour in the first place, you may ask.  Oh, because George Brown College had me at TEA. 

Seth Godin, in his book, Purple Cow, describes (page 79) the Japanese term "Otaku" as "something that's more than a hobby but a little less than an obsession.  Otaku is the overwhelming desire that gets someone to drive across town to try a new ramen-noodle shop that got a great review."  Well, that pretty much describes how I am with tea.

I am a tea otaku...  yes, I admit it ..... I am a tea addict.

I'm not sure whether all those courses fed the otaku in me or I already had this huge passion beforehand.  All I know is I could be innocently walking on the street and as soon as I see a tea shop, I would stop in my tracks and go in to check it out.

I could be on a family trip in China and see the Chinese character for tea and you'd better grab a hold of me or at least my wallet so I don't buy the whole shop! 

Tea Shop in Suzhou, China
Tea wares in the teashop
                                            No tea plant is safe...
 Longjing tea.  West Lake, Hangzhou, China  (by Mark Fong)

As a Certitfied Tea Sommelier, I will act as your ambassador and guide as we journey though the exciting world of tea.  So please join me in my travels, near and far, as we learn about all things tea.

And maybe eventually ... I could have you ... at TEA.

Updated on November 23, 2010.

(All photos unless otherwise noted were taken by Rita Fong)