There are many remote mountain villages in the foothills of Alishan that are surrounded by tea gardens sprawling over their slopes. The other day we finally got to visit a farm that was referred to us by the proprietor of our favorite neighborhood restaurant a while ago. Last year, they mailed us two samples each from their most recent harvest of Qing Xin Oolong and Tai Cha #12 a.k.a. Jin Xuan tea, and we liked them. The home was comprised of four brothers who all grow tea in and around the village called Dragon's Eye.
Above is a shot of the road signs at the last turn of the road halfway up the mountainside to the tea farm we were seeking out for the first time. We couldn't help but muse about how there were virtually no road signs at all in this countryside when we started exploring it more than 15 years ago. The roads haven't changed however, often only a one-lane winding thread up the steep slopes to tiny clusters of residences surrounded by farms and bamboo forest. Below is the collective family home we visited at the bottom of this mountainside of thriving Oolong tea trees.
We learned while chatting with Mrs. Wang and her mother-in-law over a pot of tea that this village was the earliest area where tea cultivation was promoted by the county government in cooperation with the Tea Research And Extension Station about 40 years ago. These four brothers took their father's pioneering efforts in cultivating tea to a new generation of development that now supports four families that descended from one. The area has experienced a population drain rather than increase since these four brothers raised their own children some twenty years ago.
The elementary school that the blue road sign in the photo above points to has been closed. This is a common occurrence in many of the remote, mountainous tea farming regions of Taiwan that flourished a generation ago. This makes the future of these dwindling communities somewhat tenuous. The developing local industry of agricultural tourism combined with a steady demand for high mountain tea offers hope for a new, perhaps more sustainable cycle of land use and rural communities. Below is the same plot, turning to the right and looking southeast across the slope as the clouds closed in overhead but the sun peeked through across the valley.
It was an educational and enjoyable visit to yet another new farm in the remote hills of central Taiwan, where some of the world's best tea is grown. We look forward to further visits during the coming spring's harvest and beyond. When we return, we intend to seek out the road leading to this very attractive looking plot of tea that we spotted from the road just below the Wang Family's home. Then we have the fun task of finding the farmer who cultivates it. Such is the nature of our explorations in Oolong Country, and the heart of our reason for being here.
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.