The Premier Batch of the Eco-Cha Tea Club
We are super-psyched to be initiating the Eco-Cha Tea Club! Considering what type of tea best qualifies as our premier batch was no easy matter here in Taiwan. We made the choice based both on our roots in the tea industry and what we consider a prime example of a Taiwanese traditional specialty tea.
And the winner is... The remainder of a batch of Dong Ding Oolong that was awarded 3rd place category at the spring 2015 Lugu Farmers' Association Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition. This tea type is a medium oxidized, medium roasted Oolong. It maintains its fresh, vibrant flavor while achieving a full-bodied, complex character through masterful curing and roasting skills.
Tea judges hard at work at this year's competition
Why Is The Remainder So Small?
In the Lugu competition, 22 jin (one jin = 600g) are submitted per entry. This 35 jin bag of unroasted tea had to go through repeated roastings, losing mass and volume in the process, as well as many tastings along the way, and most significantly, destemming. When it was finally done being roasted and destemmed and sifted to remove the smaller broken leaves, 22 jin were entered in the competition and less than 8 jin (4+ kg) remained.
Some of the 6000 entries in last year's winter tea competition
This batch was awarded Third Place Category in the spring 2015 Lugu Farmers’ Association Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition. Without going into a complex, detailed account of the grading system of this competition, Third Place Category ranks within the top 16% of about 6000 entries. Third Place Category and higher awards are usually sold out by the the time the competition fair is held, when the public can visit the Farmers' Association and buy directly from the prize-winning tea makers. Eco-Cha is only able to procure this tea because of our friendship with one of the top players in the competition industry here in Taiwan. He has agreed to provide us with the leftovers from batches that win awards. Sometimes these amount to only one kilogram. In this case he started with a slightly larger amount (35 jin instead of the standard 30 jin bulk-size bag for wholesale).
History of the Competition
Beginning in 1976, the Lugu Farmers’ Association developed the Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition in an effort to preserve the value and quality of its local cash crop (Lin Hsien-tang, 2004). This event has developed over the last forty years to become the world’s largest and most prestigious Oolong Tea competition, with prize-winning teas demanding the highest price of any Oolong Tea in the world. It is arguably the most impactful method of preserving the value and quality of a Traditional Oolong Tea that has been implemented in the history of the Taiwan tea industry. With roughly 6000 entries per bi-annual competition, and first place prize winning tea currently attaining around NT$250,000 per jin (600g), it has brought a local traditional specialty product to unprecedented heights of value and quality. (Excerpted from Andy Kincart's MBA thesis.)
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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.