The Eco-Cha Tea Club: Organic Wuyi Black Tea
Organic Wuyi Oolong just after the young crop's second hand-picked harvest.
If this were a live conversation, we'd be yapping away in a flurry of excitable acclamations about our recent discovery of an early spring harvest of tea leaves from very young crop of organically grown Wuyi Oolong tea trees. Because it was a minimal crop of young spring leaves, the farmer decided to make them into Black Tea. This is also an anomaly of a spring harvest from a traditional Oolong Tea strain. Making Black Tea is more time consuming and labor intensive. So, when it is a privately run farm like this one that is completely managed and run by a husband and wife couple, the harvests need to be small. And this is why are so wound up.
This guy is a ruthlessly dedicated pioneer in the industry. His ideology and practice is everything we strive to represent.
This farm is doing things nobody else in the industry dares to do. They are growing several types of tea strains in a completely natural way on their local family land. Their farming methods are literally unprecedented. They are the only tea farmers in Taiwan that we've ever heard of who do not use any type of fertilizer, pest prevention, or even irrigation — despite the fact that it is at low elevation where there is direct access to water supply. These tea trees literally grow wild in the midst of other naturally occurring plants that provide nutrition and moisture preservation to the soil. The only other care for the young saplings is a mulch cover of naturally foliated tree leaves collected by hand and spread around the tiny tea trees as they take root and strive to survive.
As we can see in the photo below, not all of the toddler tea plants are flourishing. This is tough going for a new tree, but this is what makes this farm the most interesting thing we know of in the industry. They are growing tea completely naturally. They not only have organic certification by a leading national university agricultural department. They are well beyond any established certification or accredited farming methods. We truly hope that, since we found one, there must be other farms like this that exist. But for now, we will keep close watch on this couple for what unique batch they have to offer next.
And speaking of next, we just stopped by today to taste the freshly made batch of green tea made from these organically cultivated Jin Xuan leaves that were harvested from the plot on the far left of the photo above. These leaves were picked and spread on the bamboo trays below to delicately wilt them and begin their moisture depletion before exposing them to high heat to prevent oxidation and shock them into their drying phase. No solar withering, no shuffling, just indoor withering and drying of the leaves to make Organic Green Tea from Jin Xuan Oolong spring tea leaves.
Having only met Mr. Xie in the last couple years, we are just becoming friends in an organic way, if we may say so. We've visited his home, farm, and factory about a dozen times, and the intervals between visits are becoming progressively shorter. We are truly grateful for this new mentor. He is the most dedicated, hard-working, and innovative tea maker we know to date. How exciting is that?!
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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.