Mr. Lin and Friends ~ Nantou, Taiwan
We had the pleasure of traveling through Taiwan and parts of China this past Spring, meeting farmers and learning more about different cultivars and the tea production process. Most of our members are big fans of bold black tea blends, but we still took the opportunity to source a few finer traditional teas to share with the tea club.
First stop after a long flight - visiting tea friends in Taiwan for a week of zen, meditation and tea lessons!
Ali Shan, Taiwan
Once fully adjusted to the time change and weather - we met up with Mr. Lin, who has been growing oolong on Zhushan (Bamboo Mountain) and more recently Ruby Red #18 black tea near Sun Moon Lake. We spent a morning driving up Ali Shan (it took about 4-5 hours to get to the top), stopping along the way to visit a friend's tea fields and factory. In one of the pictures below, you can see all of his family's awards hanging on the wall behind us.
As we were in the tasting room, his employees next door were blasting EDM! It must have kept them motivated, as oolong processing is very labor intensive work even with the assistance of rolling and drying machines.
Unfortunately we saw a lot of environmental destruction on Ali Shan due to the deforestation and over-farming on the famous mountain. Additionally, the majority of farms on Ali Shan use pesticides which also harm the mountain's ecosystems.
Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
We had a couple relaxing nights in Sun Moon Lake at the beautiful Lalu hotel. The views of the water and misty mountains are absolutely gorgeous, and we spent a day visiting the temples around the lake.
Shan Lin Xi, Taiwan
Bamboo forests, abundant mists and a rocky terroir give Shan Lin Xi's oolongs a fresh slightly fruity flavor, with woody notes and a very soft, pleasant texture. Tea is grown up to 2300 metres high, and Qing Xing ("Green Heart") is the most common varietal (shown below). It is know for a smooth mouth feel and long lingering hui gan (returning sweetness).
Once again, we stopped by the farm of Mr. Lin's friend and were able to taste and purchase some of the oolong that had just been processed that day. We also rescued three lost women and a very frustrated taxi driver with a flat tire.
Midnight Tea Tasting with Mr. Zhen in Zhushan
Mr. Zhen and his wife were kind enough to host a midnight tea tasting for us, where we tasted his Qing Xing oolong grown on Ali Shan, roasted Dong Ding style. It had a beautiful mouthfeel with fruit fragrance, and ended up winning first place in a local tea competition the following month!
We also tasted two cultivars side by side, Qing Xing and Jin Xuan. Qing Xing is the traditional oolong cultivar, it has a smoother mouthfeel and long lingering hui gan. Jin Xuan is very milky and creamy when grown at high altitudes but the mouthfeel is flatter. The tea is sweet but has a short transformation through the five flavours.
Mr. Zhen also showed us his signature pressed oolong tea - he's the only person in the world to press oolong (a process traditionally used for puerh tea)!
After several hours tasting Mr. Zhen's tea, we took a quick group photo and retired home for bed.
Mrs. Wu's Roasting Factory
Next stop, Jenny Wu's Qing Dynasty-style roasting factory! Very few people roast tea in charcoal pits these days, and the new method is to use mobile charcoal roasting machines. The newest machines can be electric as well.
Electric roasting has better heat distribution/control, reaches higher temperatures and needs less physical space. Traditional Charcoal on the other hand uses lower temperature and needs a longer duration (10-20 days with cycles of roasting and resting) as well as an entire room! The wood is also aged for one year for purity.
We also spent some time rolling tea leaves that we had plucked a few days earlier from Mr. Lin's farm, and had been oxidizing in the trunk of the car.
Our last stop in Taiwan was Rebecca's tea house, where she hosted a beautiful late night tea ceremony. We didn't get any photos, but came back the next day to drink some bowl tea, enjoy the weather and sample some matcha.
We went to lunch with a local tea farmer named Mr. Ku, at the family's restaurant. The family has been producing tea for 5 generations, over 100 years. He told us that Emei is the provenance of Oriental Beauty, and any teas grown outside Emei should be called “White Tip Oolong." The cultivar is Ching Xing Da Pang ("Clear Heart Big Emptiness"). He served us a green Oriental Beauty, 1st flush O.B., black O.B. and 2011 Oriental Beauty.