We spent the weekend in Lugu to follow up on last week's summer tea shopping spree. Here's the story...
Shan Lin Xi High Mountain (Concubine) Oolong Tea.
I arrived at Tony and Lisa's to find out that Lisa had recently bought two batches from this summer's harvest - one from the Shan Lin Xi area and one from the Alishan area. She promptly brewed the Shan Lin Xi tea for me to taste, as she felt it was pretty special. Upon tasting the first brew, so did I. It was amazingly fruity in a more complex way than the effect of the tea leaves being bitten by the Green Leaf Hopper, although it did have a hint of a Concubine character. Lisa intended to roast it lightly to bring out the full-bodied, fruity flavor that is seemingly the result of the leaves being oxidized more than usual. It's a perfect example of the fact that the tea makers never fully know what the results of their efforts will be in cultivating and processing their tea leaves. Sometimes they get the results they aim for and sometimes they don't - and sometimes they get an unusual, unexpected surprise! The roasting turned out great, and we’ve got some to share!
My main purpose of last week's spree was to finally taste the late spring harvest from a Lishan teagarden at over 2000m elevation. Only recently coming in contact with this farmer, this was my first chance to taste their tea. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had a small amount of tea remaining from a special order from a loyal customer. A local businessman reserves an entire day's spring harvest with this farmer on the condition that the leaves are allowed to oxidize significantly more than the norm. He then shares this batch with his company and business associates throughout the year as his own private reserve of some the highest quality tea in the world - specially made to his liking.
The farmer keeps a small amount of this batch to share with those who visit their home and ask for particularly well-oxidized leaf, which is just what I did. I really liked it, as it is very difficult to find tea from this high of an elevation that is processed in this way. It is much more balanced and full-bodied than the standard High Mountain Tea, although it does lose some of the fresh fragrant quality as a result of the oxidation level.
And finally, I stopped by the home of the artisan who processed our spring batch of Organic High Mountain Oolong. He is hired by the owner of this farm for his exceptional tea making skills. I met him during this spring's harvest when I stayed overnight at the factory. He made a strong impression on me and I am very interested in procuring tea from his newly planted organic tea garden that will be harvested for the first time this fall.
When I stopped by, he pulled out the last bit of leaves he had kept aside from a recent batch of summer tea that he made a couple weeks before from a family plot of tea that he has not administered any chemical products on for two years now. He decided to have his summer stock charcoal roasted by a neighbor who specializes in just this - charcoal roasting tea. The roaster used charcoal made from Longan fruit trees, giving it a sweet berry note in the deep roasted quality of a traditionally made Dong Ding Oolong. He offered the remainder of this harvest to us, and we’re going to have to take him up on the offer. Charcoal roasted tea that is done well is unique and exudes the qualities of being a handmade artisan tea.
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.