Taiwan's High Mountain Tea Affected By Climate Change?
Highly unusual weather conditions during this year's spring tea growing season have resulted in considerable damage to the produce. The classic rainy season that typically ensues sometime in March and continues until May still has not arrived. We've had some rainy days, but nothing like the norm of almost daily rain for weeks-on-end. So the new growth on the tea plants has been about 70% of the normal amount.
This detrimental effect was just compounded by an unheard of cold front that came through this past week, causing frost in mountainous regions above 1500 m elevation. In other words, the majority of this year's spring crop of High Mountain Tea was seriously damaged by frostbite—in the middle of April! In Taiwan's subtropical environment, this is extremely unusual weather for this time of year. The absence of rain combined with the frost conditions in most of the high elevation regions has resulted in a yield of about half the normal amount.
The dark patches in these tea gardens show the effect of the frost on the new growth on the tea plants, in contrast to the vibrant green of the leaves that were less damaged. This is what tea farmers must face in their current challenges to their livelihood. Taiwanese news reports that farmers are discussing with local farmers' associations how to apply for government subsidies in the wake of this natural disaster affecting their industry.
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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.