Lugu Farmers' Association Dong Ding Oolong Spring Tea Competition 2014 - Part One
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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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.