Last Sunday I visited our source of Dong Ding Oolong in Yonglong Village, Nantou County.
He was in the final hour of roasting a batch of his spring tea harvest to be entered in the world's largest Oolong Tea Competition.
Upon arriving, I tasted the tea that he had taken out of his traditional style basket roaster and brewed just minutes before to monitor the progress of the roast. That was the middle cup and bowl on the tray in the above photo. "Almost there", I commented, and my friend agreed.
Less than 20 minutes later, he brewed again. I said something about it being just right. The artisan agreed, and then proceeded to teach me a lesson about roasting.
He told me how it is necessary to go beyond the point of the tea tasting just right in the process of roasting in order to accommodate the changes in the tea leaves after they cool down and are exposed to atmospheric conditions. The level of consideration goes so far as to calculate the number of days before the leaves will be brewed and judged, and forecasting the weather on the day the leaves are repackaged upon entering the competition.
The photos above and below show batches of tea being entered in the competition. Each competitor submits a 22 jin (one jin = 600g) vacuum sealed bag of tea, which is opened upon entry, repackaged and codified for anonymity. A sample of each batch is coded and kept aside for use in the tea judging process. And the competition begins....
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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.