Do you have a favorite tea vendor, cafe, or tea shop? Do you remember a tea from a particular season that was exceptional? You might be lucky and have great tea every day, but just because it’s easy to get, we shouldn’t take all of the factors that go into making a delectable and satisfying cup for granted!
A perfect cup of tea requires a convergence of many factors all coming together in just the right way. If just one of these is missing, your brew may be compromised. Over the past 20 years we’ve visited many tea farms and spoken with many artisans about what makes a great Oolong tea.
Next time you're sipping your favorite tea, think about these 6 factors and remember all that contributes to making your cup just right!
The primary factor in producing quality tea is the plant from which the leaves are harvested. This can be divided into two basic aspects: the type of tea plant, and the health of the plant. While all tea types each have their own separate characteristics that cannot necessarily be rated as better or worse, the health of the plant is an objective factor in determining quality. The following remaining factors all work together to produce healthy tea plants.
It’s the care and experience of the farmer that puts the flavor in your cup of tea. Making Oolong is complicated and each step requires perfect timing and careful improvisation. The farmer relies on years of experience to know exactly when each step in the process needs to take place. Any mistakes throughout may result in affecting the quality of the tea.
The composition of the soil is a primary contributor to the health of the plant. Fundamentally, this involves the proper alkaline/acidic balance that is suitable for the cultivation of a given plant. Beyond this, the nutritional value of the soil based on necessary compounds, such as nitrogen and minerals, will directly affect the growth of the plant. Equally significant, but less acknowledged in modern conventional farming is the ecology of the soil. Simply stated, is the soil alive? Is there an infrastructure of microorganisms in the soil that constitute fertile ground that can sustain its own nutritional balance? These are all essential elements that will affect the quality of the tea leaves.
In combination with the above natural aspects of quality tea production is the methodology of farm management that is employed. Is there an ideology of sustainability that the farming methods are based on? Is there responsible administration of chemical products being used that are both safe and nutritionally sustainable? If chemical weed killers are being used, this will directly impact the health of the soil, and consequently the health of the plants (and consequently possibly the health of the tea drinker). Beyond this, is the farmer actively acknowledging the needs of his plants to maintain their health on a long-term basis? Will the farmer compromise the quantity of a seasonal yield in order to improve the health and productivity of the plants for years to come? These are all significant factors that influence the quality of tea that is produced.
Another influential aspect is the climate in which the tea plants grow.
In general, tea plants thrive in a climate that is not too hot, and has a significant day/night variation of temperature.Tea plants also love regular (ideally daily) cycles of sunshine and fog, combined with consistent (but not excessive) rainfall.
Finally, and equally as significant as all of the above 5 factors is the methodology, knowledge, and skill employed in the processing of the tea leaves.
Large-scale standardized processing procedure cannot compare to tea making that is done in the more hands-on, labor-intensive traditional way. It is simply a matter of attention and insight into the overall circumstance that includes assessment of the raw leaf, its origin, the growing season, the harvest conditions, and the condition of the leaves as they are processed. If these factors are not properly acknowledged, then quality is compromised.
If an experienced artisan takes time and care and extra effort in the processing of a given day's harvest of tea leaves, the results will be evident.
The 6 factors that all come together to make your cup of Oolong extraordinary. Next time you sip your tea, close your eyes and truly enjoy the moment, in appreciation of all that it took to bring you that perfect brew. And remember this is not only true for tea, but for other specialty food and drinks you may enjoy—wine, cheese, whisky—what else?
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This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club was made by Mr. Su — an 80 year-old artisan of traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea. He planted a plot of the Tie Guan Yin strain in his backyard several years ago, and this is the second time we've sourced this tea type from him. Mr. Su is our favorite representative of traditionally made tea in Taiwan, and it brings us a special kind of joy to be able to share his tea with our tea club members.
This batch has a particularly sweet character, with slightly tangy, fruity notes and a pleasantly clean lingering aftertaste. It has just enough of that cured, almost fermented character that makes it reminiscent of a traditionally made Tie Guan Yin Oolong. But given that it was only roasted once, it maintains a mild flavor profile similar to a Hong Shui Oolong.