2015 Winter Harvest: The Beginning
This photo below is the first crop of winter High Mountain Oolong tea I saw being processed this year. It was taken on Hehuan Mountain in a factory run by a guy I met at the Nantou Global Tea Expo a few weeks ago. His farm is in Lushan, a remote high elevation region south of Qilaishan. He is a young farmer who married into the business, and co-operates the farm and factory with his father-in-law. His progressive ideology is inspiring and gives me renewed hope about maintaining the highest quality and most responsible practice in high mountain tea production in Taiwan.
The second crop I observed being processed was harvested in the Shanlinxi region, at Liu Kuan Bao's factory, a friend I've known for almost 20 years. Our current source of Shanlinxi High Mountain Oolong and Dong Ding Oolong is renting Mr. Liu's factory to process his winter harvest.
The guys sitting in the background in the photo above are leading experts in the production of both High Mountain Oolong and Dong Ding Oolong. I showed up at the tea factory for the first batch of winter tea harvest being supervised by some of the most skilled professionals I know. Both the manager of the farm and the manager of the processing are tea judges in the world's largest Oolong Tea competition, and they are both friends of mine. I haven't tasted the finished product, but I did take home a handful of semi-dried leaves from the factory that night and brewed it the next day, about 24 hours after the leaves were picked. It was really floral, balanced and fresh tasting. I'll see what I can do to get at least a small amount of this batch, as I personally already find it special. It was the first time that I hung out with both of them at the same time while tea was being made in the factory, and it was a bonding experience. They were both relaxed, as the first day was an isolated sort of "pilot run' for the season's harvest which will start tomorrow and run for several days.
The third factory I visited is probably my favorite factory to hang out and lend a helping hand in when I can, and this night I could. My good friend, the son of the older man in the photo below, has fallen ill, and his father and nephew were processing the leaves by themselves. Two people can do it, but three make the flow much easier for certain stages of the tea making. So this harvest was extra meaningful for me to be there and support one of my favorite sources of traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea.
So the winter harvest continues, starting at the highest elevations, where typically only three harvests a year are possible, and working its way down the mountainsides where the world's best Oolong Tea is cultivated. I plan to visit several more factories before the harvest is complete, so more news to come about winter harvest 2015!
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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.