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 appearance of the brewed tea has gained substance, and become a deeper yellowish gold in comparison to the thinner, lighter unroasted brew. This coincides with the flavor profile in that the roasted version is heartier, with a more balanced character. The aroma coming off the leaves from the initial rinse is reminiscent of buttered carrots or yams. After the first brew, the aroma is more like grilled corn, cooling off into freshly baked scones. The second pour brought on stronger roasted vegetable notes, but again cooling off into a pastry aroma.
Red Oolong offers a smooth, balanced, mildly sweet, rich but not quite bold flavor profile, with elements of fruit compote, pumpkin pie, and a hint of dried flowers. This ultra-friendly character, combined with the fact that almost all Red Oolong is cultivated naturally on the southeast coast of Taiwan, facing the wide open Pacific, where the sky reminds a North American of the northern west coast, is no wonder why it is rapidly gaining popularity on the international market. Once again, Taiwan leads the way in Oolong Tea innovation!