This batch of award winning tea is a cultural diplomat of central Taiwan's tea making tradition. It is a hearty, complex brew with a broad profile of flavor that is bound to satisfy both the sensitive palate as well as the demand for a robust, full-flavored brew. It is a middle ground in the spectrum of tea types, ranging from Green Tea to Black Tea, with a wide variety of Oolongs in-between. It has a definite "cured" character, while maintaining a substantial fruity, clean quality offering an interesting brew that remains interesting for, well — years-on-end! In a word, it's our favorite style of tea.
Songbolin is a historical tea producing region that is home to some of the most skilled Oolong Tea artisans in Taiwan. This batch of tea was procured by a top competition player, and cured with a precision that attained First Prize, Top Prize (top 2%), and Second Category Prize Awards in a local competition. Three entries from the same harvest, roasted in 3 separate batches, attained the top three prizes.
The rich reddish-amber hue of the brewed tea is also a clear indication of substantially oxidized tea leaves, especially since they were left unroasted. Hong Shui Oolong tea leaves are more heavily oxidized than its close cousin, Dong Ding Oolong. Dong Ding Oolong reaches a comparative level of rich, robust character due to the additional roasting process. Hong Shui is a more pure character in that the flavor profile is derived directly from the constituents in the leaves, whereas roasting is a type of "flavor enhancer", just as it is in the culinary world.
We met Mr. Chen when we spent the night in our Lishan High Mountain Tea source's factory last spring. We learned that he specializes in making Hong Shui Oolong in Fenghuang Village, where he was born and raised. It is only with this year's spring harvest that we got the opportunity to procure a small amount of this tea type to share with our Eco-Cha Tea Club members.
The roasted quality is prominent in the initial aroma coming off the leaves after their first steeping. This smoky, cured character is also evident on the palate, but integrated with a complex dried fruit, caramelized quality that gives it a broad flavor profile. It has a tangy/sweet, bold finish that is particularly satisfying.
The first batch of tea that we shared from this plot of Wuyi tea plants was left unroasted, in the fashion of Taiwan's High Mountain Tea. This one is on the other end of the roasting scale, having undergone 6 roasting sessions in total. After being roasted in conventional modern ovens twice, this batch was handed over to a professional charcoal tea roaster. This is all the guy does: roast tea in woven bamboo baskets, using charcoal made from the Longan fruit tree. He does not let anyone into his workshop, and keeps his traditional secrets to himself, which he has been developing for several decades. He also roasted this year's January batch that we shared with our Eco-Cha Tea Club members, which our members have raved about.
Mr. and Mrs. Chen were lucky to have chosen April 10 for the harvest of the small plot of Jin Xuan they manage for their childhood friend and tea partner. It was sunny and breezy, perfect weather for harvesting spring tea!
This combination of oxidized leaves with slight roasting offers a balanced flavor profile that turns the fresh green quality into a sweeter, softer character that is complex and substantial. Instead of the herbal aroma of an unroasted High Mountain Oolong, there is a balanced, floral/vegetal quality with fresh pastry in the finish. Overall, it is soothing and satisfying in our experience.
Our friend, who is the most successful player we know in Taiwan's tea competitions, sourced 4 batches of tea from this village to be prepared for the winter 2016 competition in the Meishan Farmers' Association. He achieved awards in the Top Place ( top 2%), Gold Medal (top 10%), and Silver Medal (top 16%) categories. This month's Eco-Cha Tea Club batch is a combination of the remainder of tea leaves that achieved Gold and Silver Medal awards in a competition of more than 1000 entries.