These leaves were harvested by hand from the residential farm that is our ongoing source of Dong Ding Oolong Tea. They were also de-stemmed by hand and roasted extensively to meet the competition standard. The brewed tea has a bold roasted character that is balanced out by a rich, smooth textured and complex flavor profile. It is reminiscent of fire-roasted yams and butternut squash.
We discovered this batch of tea through our mentor, Lisa Lin, who had already purchased a significant amount of this day's harvest. We introduced Lisa to Mr. Ye a few years ago, and she has been sourcing batches of bug bitten spring tea from him every year since. About a month ago, we were sitting at Lisa's tea table, and just happened to ask if she had bought any spring tea from Mr Ye. She said yes, and promptly brewed some for us to try. We were impressed, and called Mr. Ye the next day to see if any of this day's harvest was still available. He said yes.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.
In addition to the name of the tea strain, this batch of tea was made by an artisan of Dong Ding Oolong Tea with his family plot of heirloom tea trees. He incorporated Oolong Tea methods in the very first step of solar withering, and the very last step of tightly rolling the tea leaves. So the raw material of the summer crop of heirloom Qing Xin Oolong tea leaves, processed by an Oolong Tea maker by trade offers us this superior quality Black Tea.
We chose the name "Qing Xin Oolong Black Tea" in accordance with the local terminology, which would be simply "Oolong Black Tea" (烏龍紅茶). But because in English, Oolong is the name given to partially oxidized teas, we added the Chinese pinyin of this traditional strain of tea plant that originated in mainland China. Qing Xin literally means "green heart" which describes the appearance of the stem of the leaf.
This is what inspired us to share this batch of tea that was produced in Nantou County. We consider this batch of tea to be properly named Red Oolong, simply because the leaves are obviously only partially oxidized. The flavor of the tea has aspects of a Black Tea character while maintaining the fragrant, aromatic complexity of an Oolong.
Fo Shou, or Buddha Hand, is a traditionally made Oolong Tea with deep roots — literally. This name refers to a large-leaf strain of tea, putting in the same category as Wild Tea, Assam, and Red Jade #18. Large-leaf strains are a category that is distinctly separate from the majority of small-leaf tea strains cultivated for Chinese Oolong, Green and Black Tea production.
This month, we are celebrating the third anniversary of the Eco-Cha Tea Club by sharing a batch of Fo Shou Oolong Tea for the very first time. The Chinese Fo Shou (佛手) means Buddha Hand. The name refers to the tea plant, or cultivar, which classifies as a large leaf type. This puts it in the category of Assam, and wild strains of tea, along with the Taiwanese hybrid cultivar — Red Jade #18. Despite the fact that virtually all large leaf type strains of tea are cultivated for Black Tea production in Taiwan, Fo Shou has found its unique niche in the making of (partially oxidized) Oolong Tea. Similar to its predecessor in mainland China, this batch of Fo Shou was made in the fashion of traditionally made Tie Guan Yin from Mu Zha, Taiwan.
This farm is the only place we've seen the baskets shown above still being used in Taiwan for harvesting tea by hand. They are now typically displayed as a memoir of generations past. This in itself is a symbol for the tradition that this farmer has made his vocation to preserve. At the young age of 20, he inherited his family farm in the historical tea producing area of Muzha in Taipei County, and has dedicated the last 30 years of his life to keeping the tradition alive by making the type of tea for which this place name has been renowned for well over 100 years - Tieguanyin Oolong.