Tasters

Hugo Américi

Taiwan 2016

Japan 2015

Taiwan & Vietnam 2014

Taiwan and Japan 2013

Vietnam - Taïwan 2012

Taiwan and Japan 2011

Japan 2010

Taiwan 2009

Taiwan 2016

Another great tour of the beautiful island of Taiwan.  Fascinating exchanges with our tea producers that surprise us every year.

Japan 2015

An Asia trip devoted solely to Japan this year.  New producers in the South near Miyasaki, many more in Shizuoka and the discovery of some beautiful teaware in Tokoname.

Taiwan & Vietnam 2014

This year was Hugo’s 12th buying and research trip to Asia visiting producers in Vietnam and Taiwan.  Follow his trip through his photos.

Taiwan and Japan 2013

Accompanied by Catherine, our "in-house" ceramics expert, I had the opportunity to make this, the 11th voyage, in search of fresh and original teas and to further explore the world of pottery.

With a minimum of 2 or 3 meetings each day it is not always easy to write an account that will do a trip justice but here is a summary of the highlights.

 

Friends in Taipei
Over of many years I have received help from connoisseurs, collectors and producers of tea in Taiwan. Our journey therefore began with a small meeting with several of these friends. With the help of Mr. Lin, we organized a friendly gathering and passed on a copy of our latest book while tasting great teas and chatting.

 

A Harmonious lady
In our objectives this year was the famous Bai Hao. This fabulous Taiwanese tea is desired worldwide! 

We have been happily working with Mr. Xu (Bai Hao of Mr Xu) for nearly 8 years now and planned to meet with Ms. Lin, a new producer we had heard about. Ms. Lin has been making Bai Hao for over 20 years from gardens that use no pesticides or herbicides. Her teas are as spectacular as the beautiful garden they grow in. A must! (Bai Hao of Mrs. Lin)

After further meetings, including Mr. Fu, our producer of the Pinglin Bao Zhong, we made several visits to manufacturers of teapots.  Specifically for the newest edition of our Camellia teapot before taking the plane to Japan.

 

Of Men and of Tea 
I am always amazed by the passion of our producers. It takes only a few quick questions to start the flow of information and initiate a long discussion on the characteristics of a particular tea. They often find the advanced level of our questions surprising. After 10 years of visiting Japan, we have quietly raised the bar!

 

For 
Catherine the most impressive highlight was Mr. Sakamoto, our producer of our Senchas Koshun and Tuyuhikari for his quiet strength, and M. Sugiyama, producer of Sencha MobataYamabuki, and Mine, for his infectious madness!

 

Clay
It is nothing new make teaware from clay Japan we still find these age-old traditions alive and well. While visiting Tokoname and its artisans this year, we were lucky to meet some exceptional potters. Craftsmen who have molded clay for over 50 years and who, despite their age, are still turning and passing on their knowledge.

In the next few months of 2013 and 2014 we will receive many of these artisanal creations, coming from the workshops of Gyokko, Mizuno and Murata (Read the blog on  this subject). Worth checking out: three different styles and dozens of models that are either in the making, en route or already in store!

 

Fire 
To conclude, I invite you to take a look at our blogs on Shino and one dedicated to our 11 years in the field, which we wrote during this last trip.

Vietnam - Taïwan 2012

Every Spring, before leaving for Asia, I take a little time to reflect on what a rich expérience it is to meet the artisans of tea regions and select thèse rare batches of fresh leaf on location. For this, my 10th buying trip, Vietnam and 'my island' Taiwan were on the menu.

This year I was accompanied by Sabrina from the Camellia team, who offers us another insight into the voyage on the Taster's Blog. We began the 2012 trip in Vietnam.

One of the Vietnam objectives this year was to find other styles of tea than classic rolled leaf produced in the North. Research before departure and on the ground, once in location revealed producers working differently.

We were lucky to get our hands on a very interesting batch of tea. The producers we met in a tiny tea operation up North, were making a 'snow tea'. On a tour of the garden we realised that they were using the shoots from wild trees of between 100 and 300 years old. The tea they were making is called Tuyet San, rich with buds.

The producers, Mr. and Mrs. Hai, charmed us with their no pesticide, no herbicide approach that they believed was the only way to make an authentic tea.

The Tuyet San is best tasted with a focus on the very original aromas and structure. From old trees, the leaf of this unusual green tea would make an excellent Pu er style tea. We could not help hatching a scheme to connect with friends in the Yunnan of China just over the border and create some Pu er cakes from the leaves of these ancient trees.

While in Vietnam we also explored the traditional lotus tea that we have never bought in the past due to its disappointing flavour and very high prices to labour intensive manufacturing techniques.

Towards the end of this leg of the trip we met Mrs.Hiep and the women of her co-operative who produce the excellent Tan Huong, Once again these women struck us with their dynamism, honesty and efforts to produce superior teas. One new direction they are exploring is wulongs. We were lucky to meet Mr.Xu, a consultant from Taiwan, helping the co-op to develop this. For the first year the results were very encouraging and we picked up one of the teas that come from this collaboration: Tan Huong wulong.

There were other meetings and discoveries but we should leave some space for Taiwan. We practically circled the Island as we do each year. This time we took the time to visit Mr.Fu to see how his twins, now almost 2 years old, were doing. I am happy to report that he survived! Yet again he had put aside a magnificent Pinglin Bao Zhong. that he and his father had made especially for us.

Back on the road we headed for the quiet East Coast, largely unknown but producing some very interesting teas. For over 5 years now we have worked with Mrs.Nian and Mr.Peng two precious collaborators. Every visit these producers line up their superb teas for us, teas such teas as the Mayuan Shan the Hualien Feng Mi or the unusual Pomelo Wulong.

In Ali Shan we met with one of our most vénérable producers Mr.Chen who, year after year, offers us the almost perfect Wulong. Then a few days in Luku, a beautiful Island village that feels like home! Surrounded by friends such as Mr.Nen Yu, Chang Fu Chin and Mr.Lin we spent some time tasting, visiting gardens and spending time with fellow tea lovers.

Other highlights included a meeting with Mme.Lin who teaches Gong Fu Cha and another meeting with Mr.Jian Hong, potter from Luku, who offers us his beautiful and authentic celadon cups.

Encore une fois, une chance inouï de parcourir le monde, mais sans cette fascination et cette passion réciproque que nous partageons avec vous, nous n'aurions pas autant de plaisir.

Once again, what a rich experience to travel the World in this way, exploring our passion for this fascinating leaf and to share it with you the client.

Thankyou!

Taiwan and Japan 2011

Once again, another action-packed trip! Over the years, in addition to developing our relationships with tea producers, we have explored more and more of the fascinating world of pottery. This year, my 9th trip to Taiwan, began with the discovery of some quintessential white porcelain while visiting New Chi. This company specializes in high-end teapots and cups created by Mr. Wang, a multidisciplinary artist, who really raises the bar when it comes to form and originality. A few examples are available in our stores, I highly recommend you take the opportunity to pass by and admire them.

In another, more affordable, category, I worked on finishing our 500ml teapot project! This elegant porcelain teapot of our design, with a cracked white glaze should arrive this fall.

As for the tea in Taiwan, it was an excellent harvest. The cold spring slowed growth, giving more time for the leaves to gorge themselves with "flavours". In the news from the field: this year M. Yu Nen has a new garden in Shan Lin Xi (in my opinion the most beautiful place in Taiwan to grow tea) this year's tea comes from a very young garden (very young trees, 5 years old ...). We have a new charcoal roasted Dong Ding from Ms. Lin (moderately roasted), simply delicious. With Nicolas, one of my colleagues, we also explored the areas of Lishan and Dayulin. These 2 regions are important to keep an eye on as the limited quantities they produce are becoming increasingly popular in China which will doubtless affect future prices and availability.

We continued our trip to Japan. Naturally we were anxious to visit our producers to get a feel of the situation following the terrible events of last March. For more on this read the blog articles on the field and on the testing protocol.

A good year for quality in Japan although the quantities available were low, mainly due to a rather cold spring, which did not help Japanese producers (unlike Taiwan).
Among the memorable moments of this trip was having the chance to make tea by hand (Temomi cha). Hard work but very satisfying. See the article by Nicolas on the subject here

As the trip drew to a close I went to meet several Raku pottery artisans. I finally got to see all the steps behind this 450 year old technique. I established links with two of them, M. Sasaki and M. Kawasaki, (respectively 4th and 8th generation master potters) and you can now admire more of their bowls in our stores.

Japan 2010

Last year, with Vietnam on the list I had to skip Japan so this year Japan was calling me.  I couldn’t wait to see my favourite producers and continue to explore the fascinating world of Japanese ceramics

Spring was short in Japan this year with unusual cold spells effecting certain producers.  Some said the cold had been “just enough to stress the plants a little”. Others such as Mr.Sugiyama (Sencha Aji/Mobata )had had the worst harvest in 40 years…..

My journey began with a visit to the Isshinen family on the island of Kyushu in the South.   This family has been producing tea for 3 generations; their ancestors have been turning the soil here for 15 generations! 

There are magnificent gardens in many parts of Nabeoka. Some have been organic for over 17 years with JAS(Japanese Agricultural Standard). Making the most of my visit a part of my time was devoted to continuing my research into Chawan and tea cups.  I visited a few artisans in the Hagi a centre for ceramics.  After many disappointing, soulless industrial operations I finally came across Mr.Nakahara.  With over 30 years of experience a master of several styles (Kairagi, Oni-hagi, Hime-hagi etc.)  Exceptional quality and fair prices.

Mr. Nakahara collects his own red earth on the small island of Mishima.  He uses both gas and wood-fired kilns.  His pieces appear rough and heavy but have a surprising lightness once you pick them up.

After a couple of days in Hagi, I left for Kyoto-Uji-Nara to meet a few different producers of Matcha, Sencha and Gyukuro.   I also checked out more ceramics with Mr. Kamada, celebrated artisan of Tenmoku, unique tea ware with stunning glazes.

My favourite discovery of the year was in Saitama with the family Miyano.  The area is famous for hand-made teas (Temomi).  Yes!  Every part of the process from plucking to sorting is done by hand.  To make 350g it takes 8 hours without even a 15minute break!!  This crazy labour of love is all destined for annual regional and national competitions.

I had often heard tell of these teas.  The deep green leaves look like pine needles.  A 40 degree celcius infusion and only a few drops of water.  In the cup the few rich drops reminded me of a green vegetable broth.
After only 2 small cups a fixed smile began to form on my face.  Pierre, my translator, was getting the giggles and told me that he was unable to translate!! Finally we asked our host what was going on and he explained that many clients enjoyed this tea for its magical euphoric effect as much as its exquisite taste.

Unfortunately, he had only a small quantity to sell and at prices that were a little out of our budget.  ($2000-$15000USD/kg).  The 2 teas that I bought in small quantities the Sencha Hinpyokai Tokugo and the Sencha Hinpyokai Ichigo have a delicate floral perfume and astonishing persistence…

Taiwan 2009

Vietnam-New Horizons

Leaving Hanoi for Taipei I ask myself « So, how was Vietnam? ». Well, quite surprising!! They have a style of their own and their own unique approach to tea. They are not producing the top « grands crus » but some very solid standards.

I visited four « producers » or « co-operatives », all focussed on green tea, in the North of the country. They are turning over up to 7 or 8 harvests annually, beginning in February. All I visited were organic. All I spoke to claimed to be. They are hard workers and their system is efficient. Instead of working the land individually, they operate communally harvesting and transforming the tea of each family as a co-operative group. Each day they will move to the field of another member. In the Thai Nyugen region every family has a tea field. The plants are mainly a cultivar named Trung du la Nho (Small tea leaf in the middle) though hybrids have also been developed.

This year we present you with 2 tea from this region. One is the Che Tom Soi Vang (Tea-small shoot-village) from a fine pluck. The other the Tan Huong Lt (Name of group and cultivar) Classic pluck. They are both, bold and fall in character somewhere between a Dong Shan and a Kamairicha. Invigorating teas!

Taiwan 2009

This year I had the chance to meet 2 very specialised producers from 2 different research centres. I had many unanswered questions about the subtleties of cultivation and manufacture and wanted to know more about the development and evolution of Taiwan's cultivars which now number 1700+. Thanks to their generosity and depth of knowledge I was able to get up to date.

I also finalised the work on our first Camellia Sinensis signiature teapot! A 700ml, perfect pouring, ceramic wonder. Available in 2 colours from the end of August. I also expanded our range of gong-fu teapots and accessories, as well as some articles from the Purion Series.

Leaf-wise, our 2009 Taiwan selection of wulongs, black teas and green teas is way up there! A meeting with Mr.Fu in Pinglin was one of the highlights, a small lot of 10.2kg of his Bao Zhong, delicious! Also among the high-points was the audacious Mrs.Nian of Hualien, enormous quantities of small and diverse lots. One high-mountain wulong leapt out and a delicate green tea with a very sweet finale. I also couldn't resist the aged Lao Cha of 1982.

Mr.Nen Yu produced a couple of great teas, the Tung Ting and the Shanlinshi. Mr.Zheng also deserves a mention for his Lishan, Shanlinshi and Si Ji Chun. The selection goes on but I will stop there. It is amazing to see the efforts made by the producers to bring us teas of such quality. After 7 years of visiting them they really make an effort to save us the best they have. We are definitely not their biggest buyers though we are surely their most particular!

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This article is part of our Collection Series where you can find rare teas and teaware from some of Asia’s great craftsmen.

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