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
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).
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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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.