This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club was made by Mr. Su — an 80 year-old artisan of traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea. He planted a plot of the Tie Guan Yin strain in his backyard several years ago, and this is the second time we've sourced this tea type from him. Mr. Su is our favorite representative of traditionally made tea in Taiwan, and it brings us a special kind of joy to be able to share his tea with our tea club members.
This batch has a particularly sweet character, with slightly tangy, fruity notes and a pleasantly clean lingering aftertaste. It has just enough of that cured, almost fermented character that makes it reminiscent of a traditionally made Tie Guan Yin Oolong. But given that it was only roasted once, it maintains a mild flavor profile similar to a Hong Shui Oolong.
The most commonly referred to trait in Leafhopper Tea is a honey-essence note in the fragrance as well as the flavor profile. This hint of honey varies greatly from batch to batch of "bug bitten tea", as it is also referred to locally. But the most general characteristic of this tea type is its bold complexity of aroma and flavor. It simply has a substance that clearly distinguishes it from a standard High Mountain Tea.
Above we see a local tea picker turning in freshly picked leaves to be weighed and recorded for commission. These new-growth, tender leaves were harvested on a beautiful sunny day at about 1500 meters elevation in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region in southern Nantou County, central Taiwan.
Our expressed intention in sharing this batch of tea is to offer Eco-Cha Tea Club members a chance to experience the original unroasted flavor profile of a tea type that, in the local Taiwanese dialect, is simply called "Leafhopper Tea".
This month's of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club is a a first in our experience of sourcing tea in Taiwan for well over 20 years. In recent years, Taiwan's High Mountain Tea Farmers have dedicated a short growing season following their spring harvest to making Black Tea. The original Qing Xin strain along with modern hybrids are cultivated for the production of High Mountain Tea. These strains are generally distinguished from Assam and Taiwan's indigenous wild strain of tea by simple using the term "Small Leaf Type". So Black Tea made with leaves with anything other than Assam or Wild Tea is referred to as Small Leaf Black Tea. This is the first time we've sourced a batch of High Mountain Small Leaf Black Tea that was made with the newer hybrid strain called Ying Xiang #20.
Batch #23 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club was harvested in early summer from a plot of Ying Xiang #20 on Big Wheel Mountain in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region of Central Taiwan. The leaves were picked when they were young, just a bit more than half as mature as leaves that are picked to make Oolong Tea. It is becoming increasingly popular to allow the leaves that were too young to pick at spring harvest to grow for another month or so, and then harvest them at about half-mature size to be made into Black Tea. The younger leaves are able to be oxidized more optimally, to produce an especially aromatic, mildly sweet character of Black Tea that is easily distinguished from both Assam and Chinese Black Tea types.
The leaves were delicately roasted to meet the competition quality standard, offering a mild, smooth, well-balanced, buttery-sweet brew. The light roasting can be observed in the color of the brewed tea above, which is more golden than an unroasted High Mountain Tea. We have very much appreciated this standard set by the Meishan Farmers' Association Competitions, as it offers a flavor profile that is between a fresh, green, floral unroasted High Mountain Tea and a rich, bold, complex traditionally made tea, such as Dong Ding Oolong.
The quality standard for the Meishan competition calls for a lightly roasted High Mountain Tea character. This is a relatively new flavor profile that stands between an unroasted High Mountain Tea and the more traditional, medium roasted Oolongs. Taiwan's national tea judges set this standard to promote a different style of tea making that has its own specialty quality. The art of roasting is added to the value of expert farming methods and processing of High Mountain Tea. In order to achieve optimal roasting results, the leaves need to be sufficiently oxidized, but not too much — perhaps 5-10% more than a standard unroasted "green" High Mountain Tea.