Tea Story #5 Jin Xuan Oolong: Naturally Buttery Tea
This winter’s harvest has the classic buttery notes of a Jin Xuan Oolong with underlying sweet vegetal and woody qualities. The flavor is buttery, nutty, and savory - balanced by the smooth astringent "original Oolong" qualities that offer a clean, fragrant finish. Tea Shop
This batch of tea leaves come from the most active tea maker and merchant we know. He enters virtually every Oolong Tea competition in Taiwan, including the largest and most prestigious Oolong Tea competition in the world. He consistently achieves high ratings in all of these competitions. In fact, when we picked up this batch we discovered that, for the second time in a row, he had won first place in the Nantou County Jin Xuan Oolong competition. This is a region that is comprised of some the best Oolong Tea makers in the world, and he placed first in both the spring and the winter competitions in 2013. He is a highly motivated, intelligent and progressive individual - making him an exemplary figure in his field.
In the last few years, he has formed a cooperative with his neighboring farmer friends who share the same high standards of cultivation and processing. This is in order to collectively produce a significant enough volume to be able to compete with larger scale productions of tea in this region, while maintaining the quality control standards of small, privately run farms. This co-op of farmers employs farming methods that use no chemical fertilizers or weed killers, and only a minimal amount of water soluble pesticides are administered at the beginning of the growing season. The tea leaves are randomly tested for trace chemical residue, and this team of farmers share their expertise in continually developing the most effective methods for cultivating quality tea. Jin Xuan Oolong is a hybrid cultivar produced by the government subsidized Tea Research Extension Station (TRES) in Taiwan and is registered as Tai Cha #12 (台茶12號). It was designed to possess a stronger immunity to naturally occurring "pests" in the regional climate of Taiwan while producing a somewhat larger leaf that increases yield. It is known for its buttery or milk flavor qualities and has a milder astringency and smoother texture.This batch of tea was grown at 400m elevation. These farms are on relatively flat ground, allowing for machine-cut harvesting. The machine that is used for harvesting is a hand-held type of hedge clipper designed to be wielded by two people, one on each side of the row of tea bushes. A vacuum attachment collects the harvested leaves in a cloth bag. While machine harvesting results in a portion of the leaves and stems being cut, this expedient method allows for timely harvest in the late morning hours that ensures the outdoor oxidation step in processing the leaves is done at noon - the ideal time for the initial wilting phase of the leaves. While hand picking maintains the integrity of the tea leaves, it is far more time consuming and labor intensive, and must be started in the early morning hours, but not until the dew on the leaves has evaporated. Machine harvesting provides more control over these daily conditions simply because it is faster and requires fewer hands. The diminishing labor force for hand-picked tea is currently a real issue in Taiwan.
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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.