Spring Harvest Report 2014 #10 - Live From Our Favorite Farm
Last Friday night I rode up to our source of Organic High Mountain Oolong to observe and partake in the harvest. Climbing up to 1500m elevation and winding my way through a misty stretch of original growth forest, I arrived at about 1 a.m. to a quiet, late night scene in a modest, family-run factory. A husband and wife team with one hired hand were coaxing the leaves through their final stages of indoor withering. Without modern facilities of indoor climate control, the process was drawn out straight through dawn in order to cure the leaves properly after a day of interspersed light rain and cloudy weather.
The harvest was meant to start on the previous Monday, but wet weather postponed it til Thursday - starting off with a bright sunny morning for tea picking. Friday was cloudy with a few showers, and Saturday morning was clear again. I took a nap at 4 a.m. and got up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise and assist in the "kill green" (殺青) stage of processing the harvested leaves where the leaves are exposed to high temperatures to cease the oxidation process.
Soon the team of tea pickers arrived and the third day of harvest began on the most sustainable, ecologically developed tea garden that we know.
After a satisfying vegetarian breakfast, I took a second nap around 7:30 a.m. and got up around 9:00 to check out the scene of the new day's harvest. Here the leaves are spread out in the open air to evaporate the overnight moisture and begin the withering and oxidation process.
Followed by the indoor withering and oxidation stage.
Throughout the morning I had a chance to lend a hand with spreading and shuffling the leaves while visiting with the owners/caretakers of the farm, catching up since the last time I saw them and sharing stories. Before I knew it, it was lunchtime, and the pickers took a break as noon approached. Once again I felt the need for a nap after another delicious, nutritious meal prepared by the hostess. I got up around 1 p.m. and packed my bags to head back down the mountain while the weather was still fine. As I left this revered place, the fog started to rise from the valley below, offering a dramatic landscape on my way out of paradise. I am so deeply grateful to know such special folks who are truly pioneers of ecological tea cultivation.
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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.