Recollections Of Typhoon Tea
Well, August 8th was Father's Day in Taiwan. And as most of the island is busy clearing the debris and repairing the damage left by Typhoon Soudelor on that day, we are prompted to recall another storm that hit Taiwan on this date in 2009 — Typhoon Morakot (八八水災). While Morakot did not measure up in record size to Soudelor, it certainly was unsurpassed in its life-taking damage and the toll it took on environment in Central and Southern Taiwan. But rather than talk about the destructive effects of typhoons, I simply want to take note of an unexpected good thing that came out of the hardships. This good thing was a batch of tea that was the result of landslides in the Alishan tea growing region.
Roads were blocked as a result of landslides in many mountainous areas of Taiwan for weeks and months following Typhoon Morakot. This meant that the tea farms on the other side of these landslides were left unmanaged until the roads were opened. The farms became overgrown with weeds and the bugs had their heyday, including the Green Leaf Hopper that loves to feed on new leaves of the tea plants. When farmers finally regained access to their plots of tea, they had lots of weed-whacking and pruning of tea plants to do in recovering their regular production methods.
Luckily, our tea artisan friend who specializes in Dong Ding Oolong as well as other rare and premium teas was on the lookout for unattended farms in order to find crops of bug-bitten tea leaves. He agreed to buy the whole crop if the farmer was willing to take the trouble to harvest the new growth from the plants before pruning them back in preparation for the next season's harvest. He also requested that the leaves undergo extensive oxidation and to be dried in the traditional curled shape rather than a tightly rolled ball shape. Some are of the opinion that curled shape leaves are better suited for post-production oxidation and aging. I had the good fortune of procuring some of the leaves that were harvested from this Alishan farm after this mishap. And after poking around the "special teas corner" of my living room, I found what remains of this batch — probably about 5 brews.
What struck me when I first tasted this tea over five years ago was the distinct peach character of flavor combined with an amazing floral aroma. It was the kind of tea you just want to keep drinking — so unique, so delicious! And it had amazing endurance in its brewing power — ten steepings and it still held its flavor. Now, after the leaves have sat for over five years, they've begun to develop an aged tea character, but still maintain that peach essence. The floral aroma and aftertaste has now mellowed and developed a smoky note that is strangely compelling and attractive. But after every cup, what comes to mind is peaches and cream, or peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream, or simply peach flavored candy! This tea still has the effect of making you want to keep drinking it, and brews on and on!
This is the kind of thing that my tea professional friends in Lugu, Taiwan will reveal when certain topics arise in the course of conversation about tea making. After showing up in their homes for 20 years with questions and tea stories of my own, they are inspired to share what they find uniquely special. This is a privilege that I live for.
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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.