INTERVIEW – In Conversation with Jeff Fuchs, The Tea Explorer (Part 2)

Interview jeff 28.Being from the west, you’ve good access to superior tea varietals. What did you feel was missing and what drove you curious?
JF: All of my tea instruction and mentorship began in Taiwan almost twenty years ago and I learned Mandarin primarily so that I could understand more tea vocabulary, so for me everything has its base close to where the tea has been growing for centuries..  Asia was my great instructor and remains so, and the culture and efforts surrounding tea are embedded so when I began to read and hear how tea was taking off in the west there was a kind of excitement in me.

Throughout the years I met with, sat with, sipped with…and sipped some more with locals who were bound to the leaf and cultivated, harvested and created teas and one thing that came through consistently was the lack of pretension and fanfare when they communicated about tea. Though many haven’t got the data, or the scientific names for flavours’ origins, they knew the soil and could explain the history that tea has had with mortals.

For me, I found these stories vital in any talk of tea but there was very little of it really being made available. You learn a lot from the people involved in creating a tea. Every good tea has a great tale, and great people that participate in making it available and those tales and people need some reverence and some recognition and that is, I suppose, one of my main drivers…and a driver that will continue motivating me…and my palate.

9. What is your ‘way of tea’ and how it is an important element of your life?
JF: Ahh….now into the belly of it all. My life is largely on the road so having rituals is vital for me to keep time and space relatively grounded. It is a way that is simple, repetitive and it is a time that I guard voraciously. I cannot do a lot of talk and ’stuff’ until I’ve quietly gone about my tea making and taking.

I’m never without either a flared cup or a clay tea pot, and of course the accompanying leaves. More often than not I’ve got two teas with me. One is inevitably a cake of ancient tree Puerh. This is my morning ritual and it is usually spent alone with a thought to where the tea is from and the hands and personalities behind it.

The preparation of the tea (and my prep is inevitably very simple) is a kind of meditation of sorts. I wake, stretch and then there is my first morning tea and then a second and then I’m ready (or convinced that I’m ready) for whatever the day brings. If I’m at home I tuck into my tea storage and decide which tea will merge me into the day and I prepare it on an old bamboo tea table that is stained with years’ of offerings.

10. What do you think is the biggest issue/challenge in the current global tea industry?
JF: a) There needs to be ways in which the little family run tea zones have an ability to get and continue to get their teas out to a wider public and profit. It is most often the teas produced by such little gardens that I consider to be ‘rippers’ – absolute stunning teas, who are not under the threat of minimum yields or over-harvesting schedules.
b) If hand-picked teas that are carefully made are to have a future, then the workers who pluck and produce the leaves need to have fair compensation and treatment, particularly by tea companies.
c) Changes in the climate are causing many huge alterations in the way food is grown and where it is grown. I’m a huge advocate of the principles of permaculture and bio-dynamics and allowing nature some time to adapt rather than us humans dictating through sprays, GMO’s and adulterations. Tea too can benefit from this kind of foresight.

11. How are the rare teas from the remote parts of Asia that you’ve discovered different from the mainstream commercial teas?
JF: Biggest difference is that with some of these small yield, small production harvests is that they are a kind of beautiful one-off that exists once in one vintage and then is gone. You’ll have a small hand-crafted yield that is unique for Spring, and then one unique for Summer, rather than huge industrial amounts of teas.  Yes consistency is great but I’m a fan of some of those little productions that exist in a small brief offering.

Another stunning part of these off-the-grid teas is that when you sample and sip, you can – after a while – start to feel and taste a master’s hands and preferences. One is able to begin to determine flavours that are inherent to a specific region’s soil, precipitation and to a specific set of hands and preferences. This for me is something that touches the soul aspect of a tea. The same principles can be said of other foods and consumables.

Trying to negate an inconvenient flavour isn’t the right of any industry. Trying to funnel the masses into consuming or enjoying the same family of flavours isn’t something I see as good, though perhaps it might seem more convenient for some mass producers. It is in the slight differences and nuances that the magic happens and that the palate can develop.

12. Tell us about some of your favorite high mountain teas that you’ve discovered.
JF: I’m a big fan of a few teas, with raw Puerhs being my favourites so I’ll start there. Naka produces some wonderful ancient tree tea offerings from southern Yunnan. Fresh vegetal bite that ages beautifully.

He Kai is another favourite of mine from the Bulang Mountains of southern Yunnan Province and it is one of my go-to teas to take on expeditions into the mountains. It never fails to keep me zinging and it grips the teeth with its force before gently letting go. Though I’m astounded at the prices being charged, a good Lao Banzhang always seems to impress, though it depends on who is producing it. There is a Mr. Gao who taught me much who makes teas that spoil the palate.

My formal tea education began in Taiwan, and I’ve always loved the teas from Dayuling in the mountains of central Taiwan – true high altitude Oolong that is not always simple to find. Gorgeous tea. As for Darjeeling, though there are many stunning teas, I’m partial to Jungpana for its utterly warmth and butter.

13. Which are some of your favorite teas and your personal morning favorite?
JF: The above teas I mention are all favourites but right now I’m really enjoying a He Kai old tree raw (Sheng) Puerh offering that was produced in 2008. Seven years has developed it into something absolutely wonderful and I can drink this tea all day, every single day…anytime.

Another current masterpiece is a 2010 Bang Pun raw Puerh from ancient trees that again, has hit some wonderful notes. Jing Mai Mountain also seems to offer up sumptuous Puerhs season after season.

The latest favourite though is a new Spring 2017 He Kai from Man Mai Village – it is a potent fresh and almost explosively green Puerh that lights up the blood and system. It is a beam of light every single morning for me. I wake, do some breathing and then prepare a Man Mai every single morning and for the last months it has been this raw He Kai.

14. The tea culture globally is way progressive and advanced than the tea culture in India. What tea experiences do you feel people are missing on?
JF: What has always shocked me about Indian tea culture is how so very few Indians I’ve met are able, or have access to, their own wonderful teas. Darjeeling was built up to export but we’re so far past those days that I think that India could well develop a real domestic love of its very own Darjeeling brews. Assam teas dominate the spectrum of what is available but there are so many aspects that could be built into a new Indian chapter of tea enjoyment of its very finest. The leaves are present, the skill sets are available and the terroir exists so why not develop some white teas, more Oolongs, and some greens or heavily roasted offerings even. The industry in India I think could do with some re-evaluating of values and perhaps some young blood to take a few risks. Tea can be taken in new directions directed by and influenced by Indians with some risks.

Having just said the above, the first thing I do when arriving to India is track down a potent offering of Masala Chai….I’m entirely hooked when in India and I do understand the love of a traditional cup local chai. But, I’d love to see India enjoy some of its very own superior teas and have it available to a wider range of people.

15. Being in the industry for so long and having explored the unexplored, what would you like to share with the urban generation of tea lovers?
JF: Ultimately a deep wish is that more people realize that great teas are and can be very ‘simple teas’. Simply made, with a minimum of manipulation where the leaves taste not of something concocted or synthetic but of the soil and the minerals themselves.

One thing that has always encouraged and delighted me with tea is that the great teas are never far from the hands, nor should they be. Great teas need human hands and touch at every stage. They need the intimacy of the masters and dedicates who don’t simply shove the leaves in one end of an industrial machine and collect it at the other. Teas should be the domain of the small curators and the large and there should be enough audience and sippers for all models. We shouldn’t expect that every single year a tea will be consistent – we should expect and encourage characteristics that are unique to seasonal variations. Though I like consistency, for me the magic in tea always lie in variations and experiments.

16. Travelling gives us liberty and making new friends on the way makes it enriching and worthwhile. How have your experiences changed you as a person?
JF: Experiences can and should, I believe, refine and develop the mind and heart and in my own time I’ve edited down the ‘basics’ in my life and learning to enjoy with less. To enjoy a moment deeply, the mind needs to be ready and willing to open and receive, so in preparation, I suppose I try to be as mindful and present as I can.

My life has been particularly affected and moved by many of the elders of the Himalayas, and those who still live in communion with the land and who haven’t forgotten how to live with and within the elements.

I’ve learned too, that there are very few moments that do not improve with a good cup of tea and the mountains nearby.

Don’t miss the Part-1 of the interview

INTERVIEW – In Conversation with Jeff Fuchs, The Tea Explorer (Part 1)

Interview jeffJeff Fuchs is an award winning Himalayan tea explorer, entrepreneur, author, mountaineer, ambassador of The Ancient Tea Horse Road, ambassador of The North Face, Asia traveller, documentarian and ‘the pursuer’ of rare teas grown in the ancient, remotest routes on the planet. In an exclusive conversation with LoveforTea Jeff talks about his intimate relationship between mountains, indigenous cultures and tea and the experiences that have fuelled his purpose to search beyond. Recently named one of the top ten “tea influencers” in the world, Jeff’s most awaited work with award-winning filmmaker Andrew Gregg,“The Tea Explorer”, that experts are calling the “documentary of the year” airs on CBC documentary channel, on 23rd of July, at 9:00 pm EST.

1. Jeff, tell us about your journey from an entrepreneur to an award-winning explorer of far-away lands. Where, when and how did it all start?
JF: Not sure I can point to a beginning point so much as a pathway that has continually led me from one mountain world to another, from one character to another, from one tale to another…and of course from one sip to another. Mountains and tea have long held me and I cannot imagine being without or away from them for any amount of time. My father once said to me when in my mid-teens that he didn’t expect me to do anything I didn’t care about, and these words coming from an ex-professor to my ears at a very impactful time in my life lit up the fires even more and allowed me to wonder about a life of wandering and following paths.

The idea of exploring the trade routes and trying to find the last travellers and traders of these routes was important to give some context and lifeblood to their vital influence on culture, economics and the world of faith. It was like a kind of karmic circle where each thing led me back to the other. These journeys that traders and pilgrims took, required weeks and months and the characters along the routes have in many cases maintained their oral narratives and tales of the life. From my perspective documenting these tales and characters (which remain one of the least told aspects of the Himalayas) is vital to understand the mountains themselves.

2. You’ve explored the rare routes in China, Tibet, Nepal and India. How did you decide the destinations, routes and manage to travel to some of the most undocumented routes?

JF: There is a wonderful saying on the Tibetan Plateau about travel and life, “There are no straight lines through the mountains”. This sums up my motivation: to participate in this movement and record how life is/was lived in such landscapes and spaces. Mountains are nature’s editors and through them, one must pass – and survive – in order to thrive. My wish has always been to track as many of these great routes as I can to access the stories, the precious people and the landscapes and spirit of the heights. What struck me was how little was written or taken down about the old trade routes of salt and pashmina and tea, and so interviewing people and finding them became the journey itself. I realized when interviewing these wonderful characters that they too needed documenting. Once there was a vision to seek out these routes, it was a question of engaging with the “ancients”, the remaining traders and muleteers and travellers who remember still when the only way to move was by foot.

With deciding on the routes, came through discussions with the elders. Once recalling their journeys, they would point out another route that they had travelled hauling yet another item. I remember one old grizzled trader in Tibet explaining that he did seasonal work and often shifted what it was that he traded and sold. “One year I only traded salt and the next salt and tea. Then I traded pashmina and tea because of the value. But always tea was the most valued of all commodities”.

3. What specific routes have you explored so far? Please share some tea experiences that you’ve had which are memorable.
JF: One of the beautiful aspects of the trade routes is that there was seldom a set finish point. Lifetimes would be needed to find the ultimate destinations of every wandering trade…and it seems fitting that way. These routes were in large part only found out about through repeated visits I made to interview elders or old traders.

The Tea Horse Road (known to the Tibetans as Gya’lam, or ‘wide road’), has long occupied me with its various strands. Some of these strands completely leave the main trunk and act as access routes for valleys, regions and even different cultural hubs. A decade was spent travelling as many of the passages of it as I could track down. Another of the great journeys I was part of was a 40 days trek following a long forgotten salt route in southern Qinghai (Amdo) Province that was used by nomads. It was simply called ‘Tsa’lam’ or Salt Road, and though there were many such routes, this one was particular because of two vital elements. It circumnavigated the sacred Amye Maqin mountain range and thus was a also an important pilgrimage route, and secondly, it cut through the lands of the fearsome Golok nomads, who, even for the hearty and strong were a risky threat to risk encountering.

Most recently there was a trade route I followed that hauled tea through the magnificent kingdom of Mustang along the Nepal-Tibet border. These trade routes were lifelines and news-pipelines rolled into one. Post, migrants, villains, armies, pilgrims and commodities all followed these paths, while culture and traditions, as well as DNA, all found their way from leagues away. Nothing though would have any colour or vibrance without the elders and their oral narratives and memories of such journeys.

4. Tell us about your most awaited documentary ‘The Tea Explorer’. What do you plan to share through your film?
JF: The film is peek into the journey tea took from the tea bastions of southern Yunnan province onto the Tibetan Plateau – a journey that must rank as one of the great underrated adventures of the world with its passage through the Himalayas and beyond.

It also delves a little into some of the magnificent characters of the Tea Horse Road. The film too seeks to shed some deserved light upon the odysseys that tea was part of on the overland trade routes. The tea that travelled by schooner from India and China to western Europe is relatively known, but the great routes through the skies and the endeavour necessary to make those journeys are the stuff of legends. I suppose the film is immersed in tea’s origins, part re-tredding along the routes themselves and part mountain lore of one of the great unknown routes of history with a delicious little bit of time with an old trader.

5. Tell us about your book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’. What experiences inspired you to write about the oldest trade route in the world?
JF: The book is a kind of combination of journaling and a leap back into history of this great trade route. One huge driver for the book was to introduce the Tea Horse Road to a wider audience, and the vital role it played in building not only the Himalayas but to Asia broadly.

The book is largely based on my own 7.5 month journey along the route and the characters who filled my ears and heart with their tales. Woven into this narrative is some of the experiences with the origins of all tea, Yunnan. Ancient tea tree forests, wonderful tea-stained and tea-fueler characters that served and preserve so much of the tea culture….all of them fill the book.

Lastly, the journey and book focus on the last generation of traders that we could track down and speak with. Their memories are the lifeblood of the route and without their words, and thoughts there would be very little flavour to the stories. A book of mountains, memories, and a green leaf.

6. Tell us about your recent exploration in Nepal and what teas have you brought back home this time.
JF: Journey was along an old trade route along Mustang’s eastern flank. Extraordinary isolation and a space very much consistent with so many of the landscapes along the trade routes, with nature ruling with her moods.

One of the pleasures of the journey was based on a promise I had made to an old tea trader two years previous. I had me this man, Konga, when we were filming the documentary and I loved his spirit and passion for the days of trade. We ended up filming him speaking of his past days of trading and of the risks of travel along these routes through the sky. He became like a kind of uncle to me. When our trek finished in northern Mustang I tracked him down and we had time for tea, to reminisce and of course to present him with a brick of tea I had brought from China. It was a very warm reunion for me because he personified so much of what made the traders and muleteers special.

I brought back some Jun Chiyabari tea, which is wonderful….though I’m a happy slave to my raw green Puerhs still.

7. How do you prepare yourself to travel at such high altitude?
JF: These routes are all about the land and the precious souls who live upon them and within them every single day. Preparations are wonderful segments of time. Training is usually an enjoyable thing with weighted packs and ascents with the odd bit of up hill sprints. Ascending anytime is something delicious as it forces the tendons and lungs into a kind of enjoyable stress.

Living well is a training of sorts and I don’t really change too much before a trip other than to make sure the tendons and joints are stretched well and mobile with isometric exercises and long easy stretch sessions in quiet places. There are some visualization exercises that I’ve started that I’m enjoying as well as much for to prepare the mind for long slogs.

Most of my journeys are around a month or more so what one needs is an ability to “enjoy the experience” as a whole. Living 24/7, where one is sleeping, eating, day-in-day-out requires some passion and love of elements rather than just being outside for temporary bursts.

A lot of Tibetans refer to the idea that they see the mountains not necessarily as barriers and walls and challenges but as guardians and corridors. They don’t force themselves on or through the mountains and I try to be very mindful of that philosophy both when in the mountains and when in preparations for them.

Interview continued in Part-2

8 Lifestyle Changes to Detox Your Body

detox-lifestyle2-1Even the most careful and health-conscious of us are guilty of putting unhealthy items in our bodies in our daily lives. A cleansing of the body or as it is called, detoxification, helps us combat the problem by getting rid of all the toxins we subject our bodies to.

Detox refers to cleansing the body with organic, whole and fresh foods by abstaining from toxic or unhealthy substances. While it may not be possible to practice abstinence in our daily lives, some simple steps can be effective to the end. So instead of taking to occasional, short-lived measures, adopt these small changes in your daily life:

1. Increase fiber intake – The kidney and liver are crucial for the filtration of the toxins in the body and thus promote overall cleansing. Include plenty of fiber in your daily diet such as organically produced fresh vegetables and fruits to aid them in their function. Radishes, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, parsley, grapefruit, beets etc. are all high on fiber and make for excellent detox foods. Avoid unhealthy items such as processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars.

2. Increase Vitamin C intake: Vitamin C is especially helpful for detox since it induces the production of glutathione, which is a compound that flushes toxins out. Include fruits and vegetables high on Vitamin C such as bell-pepper, lemon, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya etc. in your daily diet.

3. Drink herbal tea blends – Herbal infusions are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are high on health benefits. They offer an excellent alternative to black and green tea, not just in terms of flavor but also owing to their natural detoxifying and energy boosting properties. A tea detox consists of two parts: one being the morning ritual where you take teas to refresh and the second being the evening where you take tea to cleanse the colon. Look for ingredients such as ginseng, gotu kola, ginger, peppermint, licorice, spearmint, lemongrass and  cinnamon in your tea.

4. Do yoga – Yoga is one of the best detox techniques as it cleanses your body, mind and spirit when practiced daily. Choose from the hundreds of yoga asanas to strengthen and detox your body.

5. Hydrotherapy – Hydrotherapy consists of a wide range of methods. One simple yet effective way to do it daily is to alternate between hot and cold water during a shower. Exercise hydrotherapy by taking a hot shower for five minutes daily, allowing the water to run on your skin. Follow the same with cold water for about 3 seconds. Repeat this thrice and hit the bed for the next 30 minutes. While hot water relaxes blood vessels and dilates them, cold water stimulates them. This alternating between the two is useful in decreasing inflammation, removing toxins from tissues and naturally, stimulating blood circulation.

6. Exfoliate – Remove toxins present in your skin and induce greater circulation through daily oil massages and skin brushing. You can also dry-brush your skin or go for foot scrubs and baths to remove toxins from the pores. Before taking a shower, dry brush your full body. This will stimulate greater blood circulation and will augment the process of toxin elimination through the skin.

7. Sweat it out – Hit the local gym or sweat it out in the sauna to help your body eliminate waste through increased body temperature and perspiration. Sweating rids your body of a lot of toxins and is a great daily detox tool.

8. Drink lots of water –Water is a catalyst to all the above mentioned detox techniques. So stay hydrated all day and have adequate amounts of water to flush toxins out of your body.