Spring Tea: Final Harvest In, About Ready To Share!
We know that many of our loyal customers have been waiting patiently for us to announce the arrival of our spring tea selections. There are specific reasons why our spring teas arrive when they do, and we thought we'd share the main ones. The most basic reason however, is that we like to offer our full seasonal menu at once, rather than in stages, so that our customers have a full range of selections to choose from. The good news, in short is, our spring teas will be up for sale this week!
Spring tea harvest season in Taiwan typically spans over 3 months. It starts in March at low elevation, and continues through April and May as the tea leaves reach maturity at successively higher elevations. Some years, the highest elevation teas are not harvested until early June. True Lishan or Dayuling tea is almost never harvested before mid-May. So waiting for these high elevation crops to be harvested and cured brings us to the end of May before we are ready to present our spring selections.
There are other reasons that influence our procurement of spring teas. Namely, tea roasting (which can be a month-long process before the leaves are ready to be vacuum-sealed), and the "tea competition season".
We have learned to wait until right after the time for entering batches of teas in local competitions has past, particularly the largest and most prestigious competition at the Lugu Farmers' Association. This is because our sources are extremely busy and stressed out trying to deal with many different tasks at once. They are busy tasting and determining which batches of tea they will enter for competition, and then preparing them for entry. This preparation includes destemming the tea leaves, and depending on the competition, can involve up to 40 hours of roasting to be done, per entry. Many artisans enter several batches per competition, and there are many regional competitions. They are also busy meeting the demands of persistent local merchants doing their best to source competition grade teas.
So if we can be patient and wait until this work is done, we have found it to be to our advantage. We do not wish to compete with the local competition players. It's just not our game. We have learned that the tea that is available after the artisans have submitted their entries to be comparable, if not equal in quality, to what they have chosen. We have also learned that we are given a lot more time and consideration from our sources if we let them get through their frantic rush time and visit them when the pressure is off. We also know that we will get flat rates for the tea that has not been entered into competition (often simply because there wasn't time to prepare it).
In short, we've found it to be a win-win situation to scout out the overall harvest situation, starting with the earliest harvests, and wait until harvesting is done and competition entries have been submitted. This brings us into May. Then, within the next 2-3 weeks, we can source our highest elevation teas that have just been freshly harvested. These teas are made to be left unroasted, so are available immediately after harvest. This is why we offer our spring teas as late as June – simply because it's when all we have to offer of the best spring tea we can find is ready to share. So, within a matter of days, we will post our fresh spring selections for you to peruse and choose!
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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.