Spring Harvest Report 2014 #11- Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong
Last weekend we procured our spring batch of Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong from our favorite farmer in the area. This farm also produced our current stock of High Mountain Concubine Oolong.
Waiting for the harvest to be completed and the farmer to rest a couple days, I visited their home 3 days after their final day of harvest on May 8. The farmer brewed leaves from five separate days of harvest simultaneously for me to sample and compare. Due some intermittent rain, the harvest was spread out over 10 days. When the tea leaves are at their peak growing stage, this amount of time can be quite significant in producing different characteristics in the tea - based on the maturity of the leaves. The second most significant factor is the weather on the day of harvest. We discussed these main points and other details as I tasted and compared the brewed teas.
Generally, I prefer a more oxidized and fully-matured leaf that results in a mellower, more full-bodied brew. Yet as I compared these five distinctly different brews from five days of harvest, I was instantly sold on the first day of harvest made from the youngest leaves. What initially impressed me on the first steeping was the full flowery bouquet of aroma the leaves emitted as they brewed. This was by far the most fragrant brew - fresh green herbs with a subtle floral aroma - heady, yet delicate and not overwhelming.
The second harvest was also fresh and fragrant, but not as complex in its aroma - a more standard green high mountain oolong, which is quite popular here in Taiwan. The farmer noted that this was due to high clouds during the outdoor withering stage as opposed to sunny skies on the first day. The third day, harvested a full week later, was considerably more oxidized and hence more balanced and full-bodied.The later harvests were oxidized to a level that is suitable for making roasted oolongs.
Typically, the floral complexity of a younger, greener tea is compromised for a fuller, more subtle and balanced composition in a more oxidized tea leaf. I liked the third day a lot - smooth, delicious, with a lingering aftertaste. But this time, the aromatic bouquet of the first day won. So this spring's Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong is a fine compliment to the leaves these same plants produced last summer in the form of our current High Mountain Concubine Oolong - a balanced, full-bodied, heartier brew.
This photo was taken about a week before spring harvest began:
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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.