Tea Story #4: Organic High Mountain Oolong, Spring 2013
When Andy, Eco-Cha's tea sourcer, first visited this farm three years ago, it was like a dream come true.
He had just recently become specifically committed to exploring and supporting sustainable practice in the tea industry in Taiwan, and this farm exceeded his expectations. As he was given an extensive tour of the tea plantation by its owner who developed it on his own, he literally had to hold back his emotions so as not to alarm his host.
Discovering this farm was a pivotal event in our exploration of organic tea farming on Taiwan. We had previously visited other certified organic farms and many variations of “transitional” tea gardens, but this one stands alone in its fully developed naturally thriving state. The owner of this farm has pioneered the profession of organic high elevation tea farming in Taiwan. The land was purchased 26 years ago and developed from its pristine state by its current owner.
During a period of agricultural development in Taiwan when chemical products were highly promoted and hence overused, this farmer never used weed killer products on his land. In addition, from the time the farm was established he applied only minimal amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This is why the farm was able to obtain organic certification in 1999 within a mere 5 years of becoming transitional, i.e. ceasing to use chemical products of any kind.
Unlike many other certified organic farms, this farmer has personally researched and employed holistic, sustainable methods of cultivating an eco-system of flora and fauna to allow his tea plants to thrive. The organic certification is from the strictest standard in Taiwan (慈心有機驗證). This tea garden is now a prototype of low-impact natural tea cultivation, and we are proud and privileged to promote it as a leader in this trend. It is located on He Huan Mountain in Nantou County at 1500 m elevation above a large reservoir - providing a natural climate control system of daily fog rising up from the body of water below, bringing moisture and cooler temperatures.
The unroasted leaves from this farm produce a fresh, clean, silky smooth brew with qualities that are akin to the tea grown in its neighboring Lishan area. The flavor and aroma are subtle and well balanced. There is a viscosity to the texture, and a floral aroma that lingers after drinking while leaving the palate clean and refreshed with a slightly sweet aftertaste.
This Organic High Mountain Oolong spring tea has a subtle flowery bouquet over a fresh green vegetal flavor. The balance of sweet and astringent qualities give it a distinctly stimulating effect that exudes through the nose.
The brewed tea leaves are noticeably thicker and more substantial than conventionally grown tea in similar environs. The refreshing and invigorating effect of this tea is also more robust. These organically cultivated leaves have greater tea brewing power as well. We see this as testimony to the beneficial effects of organic farming methods.
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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.