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On the porcelain road

29 April 2013

at 11:09 by Seb

Modern style Gaiwan from Jingdezhen

The bumpy country road, in an ancient bus, with incessant smoking and honking, brings us to this dusty (due to the mass production of pottery) and crowded town that is Jingdezhen. While not the most inspiring city at first glance, there is a strong and dynamic artistic community present.

I had an appointment with a certain Li Wen Ying who keeps, with his brother, a master potter, a retreat for artists in the countryside on the outskirts of the city. What a wonderful surprise to set foot in this place that breathes art where many visitors come for several weeks to be inspired and learn new techniques. The center is comprised of several buildings made from recycled materials, a stream crosses the land, the countryside is peaceful. We have had several pleasant meetings including two American art teachers from Kansas with abundant moustaches, a bearded Australian and a Canadian painter I met at Camellia few years ago for an art show preview in which we participated offering tea. Small world.

Ceramist studio in Jingdzhen

People from the art center have accompanied me to the city to show me different styles and different qualities of ceramic teaware. Though there is much “chinoiserie” and uninteresting low quality porcelain, our long day of exploration enabled us to find some up and coming young potters from Jingdezhen University (probably the largest University of ceramics in the world with some 10,000 students!) as well as more traditional pieces which have been produced in this region for centuries (white porcelain decorated with cobalt). A number interesting pieces will be in the boutique in a few weeks and there is definitely a huge potential for the years to come.

On the road in Lincang!

23 April 2013

at 10:15 by Seb

Town of Lushi on the tea horse road

For a week this spring we toured the Lincang region in Yunnan in the company of Olivier and Peishan. Our trip to this region of China was longer than usual and had, amongst other objectives, the gathering of visual material for our forthcoming book on Pu Er. Being passionate tea enthusiasts we go exploring the old town of Lushi, a living vestige from the time of Chamagudao , the tea horse road. Our journey has also led us to the oldest tea tree in the world, estimated at 3200 years old, a beautiful force of nature north of Fengqing.

While in this city we also visited the factory known as Fengqing since the time of large state enterprises, now producing its teas under the banner of the Dian Hong group. It now produces primarily black tea, some of it very high quality sold for over $150 per 50g! This huge center of transformation also receives its teas as a raw product from its 84 small factories in the region, to be sorted, assembled and packaged. The company also produces around 6000 tons of tea per year, placing it among the other top two major producers in the province, Menghai and Xiaguan.

Maocha tasting in NanhuaPart of the trip consisted of meeting the farmers and producers in the area to absorb their terroir and to know better their processes of transforming leaves into maocha. Olivier and Peishan, based near Lincang for two years know the area well, we discovered a great location with a magnificent valley from where we chose two teas for our 2013 selection. So this year our menu will be enhanced with a wild tea tree white tea and a cake of Pu Er from Nanhua village. yum!

Wupperthal’s Rooibos Cooperative

15 April 2013

at 5:45 by Seb

Church in Wupperthal, South Africa

High in the rugged Cedarburg Mountains of  South Africa’s Western Cape is the lost valley of Wupperthal.  Cut off from the world, this tiny village community of thatched church and cottages was founded by German missionaries back in the 1830s among a small group of Khoikhoi families.  They introduced both Christianity and European farming practices to the valley and the community grew.

The local people had been using rooibos for at least 600 years as a medicinal herb and infusion.  As the popularity of this plant spread both nationally and overseas it became the focus of the region and today a cooperative of 93 farmers from Wupperthal and the surrounding villages are still producing a high quality, traditional, hand-harvest rooibos.  Camellia Sinensis has been buying it for many years.

P1070489Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) from the legume family took its name from the Afrikaans word ‘rooibosch’, meaning red-bush, from the deep red it turns toward the end of its life.   It is a small hardy bush adapted to the unique conditions of these mountains, enjoying a symbiotic relationship with regionally specific root fungus and bacteria.  In fact it has become so specialized that will not grow anywhere else!  The soils are rocky and largely sand, the weather conditions extreme with periods of heavy rain followed by months of scorching hot sun.  The surrounding vegetation is adapted to these semi-desert conditions: scrub bushes, succulents and small sturdy trees.

Pile of rooibos in processEach farmer works a ‘field’ about the size of one or two tennis courts.  During the January to April harvest temperatures are often in the 40s. A young bush will be productive after 3 years growth then turn red and die after around 9 years. The bushes are still cut with the traditional scythe, removing the top 30-50% of the foliage leaving the bush healthy for the next harvest. The cuttings are then taken to the processing unit in Wupperthal where the stems and leaves are shredded in a simple cutting machine.  The cuttings are then spread in a large walled ‘tea court’ in a pile around 30cm deep where it is crushed, sprayed lightly with water and left to oxidize for 10-14 hours before being spread out in a thin layer to dry in the sun.  A sorting process separates the stems and leaves giving varying qualities and a short pasteurization by steaming removes any risk of bacteria before it is dried and packed.

Kevin Gascoyne

Intoxicated by expensive teas.

8 April 2013

at 13:18 by Seb

A typical scene illustrating the tea market in Jinghong, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan.

Our adventure in Yunnan begins with a day of tasting in the company of Ms. Wang in her shop in Jinghong. With an efficiency and obvious passion she makes us taste her freshly selected teas from different mountains in the region. The gaiwan are filled with Maocha which she rinses twice, and the infusions follow one another without our cups being empty more than a few minutes.

While sipping, we muse over the pulse of the Pu Er market and price trends. She tells us how every year more and more wealthy come to buy large quantities of sought after harvests, pushing up their prices dramatically. Less well known mountains saw the price of their Maocha multiply rapidly under the effect of compulsive buying. For example, this year a man bought 3 million yuan of leaves from the village Banpen, whereas a few years it ago its leaves cost 2.5 yuan per kilogram now the price has reached more than 1,000 yuan per kilo! The famous Banzhang sells this years leaf at 25% more than last year, at 4000 yuan per kilogram.

Tea tasting in Yunnan.

While some more fortunate are ready to pay the price, we are always in search of quality tea at affordable prices to bring to Quebec. That is why we taste certain teas, comparing side by side to validate our choices, and make the most of the current situation. The body has its limits, we encountered our own five hours later, completely intoxicated and feverish, after enjoying more than 30 teas and using 18 litres of water!

We continue our journey to the heart of the mountains of Xishuangbanna before exploring the less famous region of Lincang , offering hidden treasures.

The passion for fire of Matthew Huck

2 April 2013

at 10:44 by Seb

Chawan signed Matthieu Huck

Wood firing is the most ancient of the methods of firing clay. It generates unique shades of colour and texture on the pieces, thanks in part to the flame, ash and characteristics of the furnace and the wood used. Matthew Huck shares his experience.

Fascinated by the art of fire since the beginning of his career as a potter, Matthew Huck soon moved his research towards the teapot and tea bowl. Initially exploring their sculptural potential he soon focused on the functional aspects of these dignified objects. Since 2005, wood firing has become essential to his work. First deepening his knowledge with experienced potters, in 2009 he moved to the countryside and built his own oven.

“My interest in this art of fire is kindled by the action of the flames, the changing atmosphere of the furnace and the wood ash deposits on the pieces. The results are marked by different shades, creating natural decorations, mineral and unique … Each firing is an adventure during which a communion occurs between the participating pieces, with each other and with the oven. “

The pieces he produces in a wood furnace, made from earthenware or porcelain, are primarily intended for tea. Firing takes about twenty hours to reach 1300 degrees Celsius. It requires a large amount of wood, constant attention and careful preparation. The pieces, with or without glazes must be accurately placed in the oven according to previous research.

Matthieu Huck

Matthieu Huck graduated from the Bonsecours Ceramic Center in Montreal in 2003 and went on to hone his craft in collaborative projects with various well-known potters (Gilbert Poissant, Quebec; Jeff Shapiro, USA; Claude Champy, France). Specialising initially in high production throwing, he gathered experience in wood-firing in the kilns of fellow potters.

He has been the recipient of several awards, grants and distinctions, including the Chawan award given by the Montreal Urasenke School of Tea as part of the 1001 Pots exhibition in 2011 and first prize in the category “Jarre à thé vieilli” of the  TERRE & THÉ competition hosted by the Camellia Sinensis tea house in October 2011.

LOCAL POTTERS

Meet the Quebec artisans who are passionate about the objets and art of tea. Every two months, pieces by a different designer will be presented in this unique showcase, giving you the chance to enjoy the great quality and diversity of the work of some of our local potters.

 
 

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Here you will both find Teaware and Teas created by some of Asia’s most talented craftsmen.

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