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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This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club was made by Mr. Su — an 80 year-old artisan of traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea. He planted a plot of the Tie Guan Yin strain in his backyard several years ago, and this is the second time we've sourced this tea type from him. Mr. Su is our favorite representative of traditionally made tea in Taiwan, and it brings us a special kind of joy to be able to share his tea with our tea club members.
This batch has a particularly sweet character, with slightly tangy, fruity notes and a pleasantly clean lingering aftertaste. It has just enough of that cured, almost fermented character that makes it reminiscent of a traditionally made Tie Guan Yin Oolong. But given that it was only roasted once, it maintains a mild flavor profile similar to a Hong Shui Oolong.