Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reference: Tea Jargons & Tea "Chi/Qi/氣"

Marshaln was kind enough to share his Chinese tea jargon knowledge with those of us who are at times overwhelmed by the language barrier (myself included). Click here for his list of Chinese tea jargons.

As a result of his list, a discussion on cha qi [茶氣] -- roughly translated as tea's energy, an elusive concept to the uninitiated as well as to experienced tea drinkers -- ensued under Marshaln's post. Interestingly, the discussion leaned towards comparing cha qi with the French winemaking philosophy of terroir.

Please click on the comments link below (or here) to read the discussion transcript.

1 comment:

~ Phyll said...

Toki: Using the angle of a Wine Advocate: Robert Parker wrote about something very similar to "Cha Qi", the French concept of "Terroir". Parker quoted: " The ability to reflect the place of origin." A terroirist will argue that a particular piece of ground contributes a Character that is distinctive and apart from that same product grown on different soils and slopes.The suggestion of terroir is merely one of many factors that influence a tea's style, quality and character. Soil, exposition and micro-climate (terroir) most certainly impart an influence, so do these matters: Rootstock, yields and tree age, harvest philosophy, processing techniques, storage conditions, region climate and most important the passion and commitment of the producers. Phyll might be able to correct me if I am off.

> Phyll: Tim, before I rant about terroir, I'm *not* sure if the elusive term "Cha Qi" has the same implication as "terroir." Stéphane Erler's Tea Masters blog has an interesting discussion about Cha Qi (click here).

As far as the definition of terroir goes, I think you're dead on correct. Long ago, however and imho, the term "terroir" didn't include "rootstock, yields, tree age, harvest philosophy, processing techniques, storage conditions" and other attempts by the winemakers to control the end result, no matter how passionate or not the winemakers were. With globalization, commercialization and competition, there has been a huge shift in the philosophy of winemaking to include man-made related factors into the philosophy of "terroir." More and more "great" wines are no longer made in the vineyards, and FWIW Parker has as much to be praised as blamed upon. Monsieur Aimé Guibert of Daumas Gassac in Nossiter's wine documentary "Mondovino" said "Wine is dead!" for the very reason I just mentioned.

As for teamaking philosophy, my understanding is a bit choppy, and I would like to learn your take on it. I guess it wouldn't be far off from the general concepts of winemaking philosophies. Both are, after all, agricultural commodities elevated to art by aficionados like yourself and others here. My 2 cents.

>> Toki: I'm glad that we started this illusive topic of "Qi". Wine connoisseur has been long documenting the properties of wine in western manner. Unfortunately, tea culture is still very young to the westerner. Learning from wine advocate might shed some light into this century old culture. Comparing cha qi verses terroir the theory in my opinion is very similar. Most important is the soil and micro-climate/environment where the vine or tree grows. Cha qi to my understanding referred to more older trees in their natural environment. Terroir also referred to vineyard which is more ancient and unpolluted. Tea harvesting from this natural environment produce more character/qi. This is an effect of its natural habitat. for example Pu-erh tea eg.: Camphor tree, orchid flower, bamboo and other natural habitat growing around a big-leaf amber tea tree. All these examples produce the characteristic of a wild amber Yiwu tea.

We can also draw parallel to traditional herbal chinese medicine, for example, wild grown ginseng in korea produced much medicinal effects than a cultured commercial specimen. This is because of the rare earth consumed by the ginseng plant in wild environment. Cultivated lands are more alike to lack this properties because of commercial harvesting. Similar to wine, a new cultivated vineyard is likely to produce the balance and refined body of a historical vineyard.

Just acquire this information from a Wuyi tea farmer that cliff oolongs from Wuyi are divided by two main categories: older tea tree and newly cultivated tea tree. 30 years old trees are now considered as "Old Tree" and said to produce more cha qi / higher quality than the younger planted trees. And the difference between 200 years old trees from northern cliff to the 30 years "Old Tree" is night and day. This is only my humble experience from research.

>>> Marshaln: That sounds right. I just drank a lot of the Lao Banzhang, and I have to say it's got one of the strongest qi I've tasted in a while. It was very obvious, very present, and doesn't go away even after quite a few infusions. This is definitely stuff that you can't fake. Even if the leaves look right, if you taste it and the qi isn't there, you know it's not what it claims to be. I'd imagine the Taisui cake from Best Tea had amazing qi?

There can only be so many old, wild tea trees, everywhere. Some are bound to be older than others. Who's really old tree, and who's sort of old tree? That's part of the reason I'm getting more into tasting these younger puerhs -- to learn about these differences. Soil, climate, all that affect the tea. The most obvious is the TGY from Fujian and the TGY from Taiwan. Same plant, different flavour.

>>>> Toki: Don't get me wrong. The High mountain Taiwanese have a lot of Qi or terrior as Stephane mentioned. Specially from DYL and Li Shan or overall higher ground harvest. The climate contribute to slower growth, another words, longer mature state and higher qi in the tea. That's why it can only harvest 2 times a year instead of 4.TGY from Anix are different then Wuyi. Anix TGYs and most high mountain Taiwan TGYs are both under the category of Min-nan tea, a soil based tea. Wuyi is rock based. Different plant, different character, but same idea for cha qi.

>>> Phyll: I concur with everything you said in the 1st and 2nd paragraphs above, Tim.

Wines made from grapes coming from older vines do have more complexity, balance, intensity, and character. Everything else being equal, the taste of of a wine coming from older vines (15+ years) is very different from wine produced from young vines. Bear in mind that the life cycle of vines is much shorter than that of tea bushes and tea trees. A 100 year-old zinfandel vine, for instance, is considered quite ancient and its fruits are highly priced and sought after. There will be a point of decline when the vine becomes too old to produce fruits with enough "qi," if I may say so. You could also say that a balanced "qi" is required for a wine to age gracefully in the bottle over a long period of time.

I think this is parallel with what you mention above, Tim. Sorry I'm throwing in too much wine talk in a tea discussion. And thanks for the tea insight!!!