GYI (Global Youth Institute) 2015 Taiwan Visits Tea Country
Meeting Eco-Cha in Lugu was GYI's first stop on their tour of the island starting from Taipei. As it is over 3 hours drive from Taipei to Lugu, we met for lunch before heading further up the mountain and into tea country. Our first destination was the home of Mr. Liu and the tea factory that his farm partner, and our good friend, Mr. Chen manages. This family run farm and factory was where we first learned about tea making 20 years ago. And the learning continues to this day.
When GIY contacted us to ask if we were interested in being a part of this year's program in Taiwan, of which the theme is "Redefining", we promptly said yes. And so we filled their slot of agriculture amidst other subjects such as design, health, media, and more in their 2-week program. Every single person in the group we came in contact with was positive and enthusiastic about their time here. It was an inspiring experience to be hosting such a fine group of folks in the heart of our world of tea.
After the earlier-than-usual afternoon summer downpour upon arrival, we went through the small-scale traditional factory, explaining the basic steps of processing Oolong tea. We then were able to walk outside after the rain courteously stopped, past the exceptionally well-preserved family home in the photo above, to the small plot of tea in front of the house. We talked about cultivating and harvesting tea; the pros and cons of conventional vs. organic farming, and the sustainable overlaps that exist. All the while, reinforcing the point that this is the source of a traditional product of regional origin that is unique as well as some of the finest tea on the planet.
We then headed back down the valley to the Lugu Farmers' Association to tour their retail store on the way to the newly renovated tea museum on the second floor. And up we went to the third floor lecture hall for the debut public viewing of Eco-Cha's first documentary film about the recent establishment of a local, family-run organic Oolong tea farm on repurposed family land by a Lugu resident with 40 years of hands-on experience in tea. It was a very special viewing that struck us as being right on the mark of this year's GYI theme of "Redefining".
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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.