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 most commonly referred to trait in Leafhopper Tea is a honey-essence note in the fragrance as well as the flavor profile. This hint of honey varies greatly from batch to batch of "bug bitten tea", as it is also referred to locally. But the most general characteristic of this tea type is its bold complexity of aroma and flavor. It simply has a substance that clearly distinguishes it from a standard High Mountain Tea.
Above we see a local tea picker turning in freshly picked leaves to be weighed and recorded for commission. These new-growth, tender leaves were harvested on a beautiful sunny day at about 1500 meters elevation in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region in southern Nantou County, central Taiwan.
Our expressed intention in sharing this batch of tea is to offer Eco-Cha Tea Club members a chance to experience the original unroasted flavor profile of a tea type that, in the local Taiwanese dialect, is simply called "Leafhopper Tea".