Spring Tea Harvest 2016: A Journey To Lishan
I arrived at dusk on Sunday, a day off at the farm — because of the rainy weather that morning. It had been cloudy, foggy and rainy all day. And I had already decided by 3pm not to traverse the summit of Hehuanshan, even though I was halfway up the mountain. Then I got news from the farm on the other side in Lishan that it was intermittent fog and clear skies. I changed my mind. This would be the only chance I would get this season to visit the farm and factory in full swing of spring harvest. There was quite a journey ahead, but it was worth it. After traversing the ridge through heavy fog and mist, I finally got a view coming down the eastern side from the peak, still ominous, but hopeful nevertheless.
At the intersection with the cross-island highway, the rain held off, and I headed back west through the tunnel that leads to Dayuling territory. I had no time to stop and explore however, as daylight was limited, and friends were waiting for me in the town of Lishan to follow them back to the farm.
It was almost an hour from town to the farm on increasingly rough farm roads that were unfamiliar, but following someone made all the difference. We arrived as it got dark. It rained some more on and off that evening, but by morning it was sunny skies, and I woke up in my screen tent to freshly harvested leaves spread on the upper deck of the factory early in the morning, undergoing their solar withering phase. I took this photo before I got out and quickly packed up to make more room for the long day's (and night's) work to be done.
Minutes later, I had everything in my pack as the solar withering deck under the transparent roof heated up quickly in the morning sun. I took a selfie shot of the activity there before heading outside to walk around the farm.
I wished I could have stayed to participate in the entire process of the day's harvest that would not complete it's initial phases of oxidation and drying until the following dawn. But I had a long journey home ahead of me, and the first part of it would be on a road I'd never traveled before, taking an inner valley route back around the northwest shoulder of Hehuanshan. This the driveway leading out from the farm.
And this is looking back from the top of the driveway where it meets the "road". The plot of tea being harvested in the photos above is to the right and uphill from the factory in the distance. This farm is at the top of a massive valley just below Lishan. The second photo below shows the valley looking down from the same location.
I had only been halfway from the other side along the #89 route that was built by the Japanese. It's perhaps the most remote road that I've ridden on the island and it gets washed out fairly frequently. The slightly blurred snapshot below is almost an artistic display of large boulders right there in the roadway!
But further down the valley, the development of these remote slopes is on a wholly different level. Many of these farms cultivate massive amounts of tea to be sold raw to large factories and processed as standardized produce and promoted as high elevation specialty tea. This is why I rode to the far end of this valley to a farm run by two brothers that I've gotten to know and admire in the last couple years.
Eco-Cha is dedicated to finding the farms that are smaller and independently run from start to finish in the making of quality tea. This is what we have learned to be worth supporting and promoting here on the ground, at the source.
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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.