What is called red tea in Chinese is known as black tea in English. The name Red Jade was given to this tea due to its luminescent reddish-ochre brew. Also known as Taiwan Tea No. 18 Red Jade is a hybrid of the Assam tea plant and the wild tea tree that grows naturally in the mountain forests of Taiwan.
This strain of tea was created by the government subsidized Tea Research Extension Station in the Sun Moon Lake tea growing region of Nantou County. Since it possesses the DNA of a wild plant in the local eco-system, it has natural immunity to some of the “pests” that tend to compromise the health of the more conventionally cultivated tea plants. Consequently, this tea garden - now in its fifth year of growth, has been cultivated without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Although this farmer has not pursued official certification, this is - in effect, organically produced tea.
These wild tea qualities, in combination with the Assam tea plant that was originally a native plant to South and Southeast Asia produces an extraordinary type of black tea. The processing of black tea involves full oxidation of the leaves after being harvested, followed by low-temperature drying without any roasting. Due to the fact that black tea is processed without being exposed to high temperatures to cease oxidation or subsequent roasting, it maintains more of its natural character – similar to that of dried fruit or nuts. Summer is considered to be the prime harvest time for black tea, when the leaves contain the most catechins, providing more flavor and astringency.
The producer of this tea is employed by the Yu Chi Township Tea Research Extension Station (TRES) and has consistently won gold medal prizes in each of the Black Tea Competitions in this area. He is a leading figure in his field and his knowledge and expertise of black tea cultivation in Taiwan is virtually unsurpassed. In recent years, he has formed a cooperative of 5 fellow tea producers that all follow the same standards of production. This allows these farmers to maintain their small, family-run farms at high quality, artisan standards while meeting demand for larger quantities of tea.
These leaves are best brewed with slightly below boiling temperature water and with a conservative amount of tea leaves, although the unrolled tea leaves make it look like more in volume than its tightly rolled Oolong cousins. Quick, repeated steepings are ideal for this tea type for maximum fragrance and minimum astringency.
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.