The Eco-Cha Tea Club: Shanlinxi High Mountain Black Tea Tasting Notes
The tea leaves above were harvested about a month after the spring 2015 harvest of High Mountain Oolong Tea grown at 1700m in the Shanlinxi region of Nantou County, Taiwan. This crop of tea was cultivated naturally, and harvested when the leaves were at about half the maturity of leaves that are grown to make High Mountain Oolong Tea. When these young leaves from the Qing Xin Oolong plants grown at high elevation are processed as black tea, they offer a full-bodied brew with a unique flavor profile.
For the same reason that the Qing Xin Oolong strain is the tea of choice for both unroasted High Mountain Tea and traditionally made Dong Ding Oolong, Black Tea made from this plant stands alone in its balance of rich, full-bodied character and complex, aromatic flavor profile. These qualities are particularly pronounced when a high elevation crop is cultivated and cured by award-winning experts. This crop was a cooperation of two friends who are leading the progressive trend of tea production in Taiwan.
The reason we chose this batch of tea to share with Eco-Cha Tea Club members is that is an exemplary representation of a pioneering trend of sustainable high elevation tea farm management. While the summer crop offers the highest yield of tea cultivated as High Mountain Oolong, it is much less valuable due to its quality compared with spring and winter tea. It also often results in a time-restricted conflict with the growing seasons and harvests of fall and winter tea. Typically, tea plants are pruned back during the summer months to prepare for the later harvests of the year. If this is postponed until after the summer harvest, it creates risk for timely harvests in fall and winter. This potentially creates a loss for the highly valued winter crop not being properly timed in its growing season. The very recent introduction of cultivating a minimal crop of immature leaves following the spring harvest to produce some of the highest quality black tea available is a pioneering trend in sustainable specialty tea production.
Less than 60kg of tea leaves were cured from this early summer harvest. This is a small fraction of the leaves produced for a conventional High Mountain Oolong Tea from the summer crop. But given the fact that the quality of Black Tea made from this harvest is exemplary rather than an inferior harvest of High Mountain Oolong, and it maximizes the potential of the following fall and winter harvests, it is the wisest choice of high elevation tea production. This sustainable approach to world-class tea production, combined with the fact that this is perhaps the finest batch of Black Tea that we have procured to date is why we chose to share with our Tea Club members.
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The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.
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.