In the first three months of the Eco-Cha Tea Club, we shared three distinct types of roasted teas to offer a warming, comforting cuppa through the cold winter months. Now, as the weather gradually warms, we're ready to share a batch of tea that is a prelude to spring. This batch is the very first harvest of a newly planted crop of heirloom Wuyi Oolong that is being cultivated organically. This is a strain of tea that originally comes from the Wuyi Mountains of mainland China, but it was cultivated in Central Taiwan until it was phased out by modern tea production decades ago. Below is a closeup of the new Wuyi tea trees that were pruned in preparation for the new season's growth. We can see the small white flower buds that will ideally be removed so the plant can put its energy into producing more leaves than flowers and seeds.
Here is Mr. Xie showing us the crop as it now looks at three years old, as he takes advantage of the opportunity to pick some flower buds off the plants as we talk. This heirloom strain grows much slower than the hybrid strains currently grown in this region, so the plants will fill out to almost double their current size in the next couple years. Other strains reach almost full size by this age.
Now that the plants are reaching maturity, the plastic tarps that maintain moisture in the soil and prevent invasive weeds and pests during the fragile early growth stage will be removed from between the rows of tea trees. These will be replaced with leaf mulch and peanut shells that will slowly nourish the soil while having a similar effect as the tarps. The adjacent crop of Four Seasons Spring that was planted at the same time as the Wuyi crop have already developed sufficiently for this. We can see the ground space between the rows of tea is significantly less, as these trees have almost reached full size.
Here is a snapshot we took when Mr. Xie led us onto the farm for the first time two and a half years ago. And Andy's selfie he took with Mr. Xie the other day when he got to see the crop at its current stage of development. It was a gratifying experience to see that Mr. Xie and his partner Mr. Chen succeeded in their experimental attempt to organically cultivate an heirloom strain of tea that is now very rare.
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The most commonly referred to trait in Leafhopper Tea is a honey-essence note in the fragrance as well as the flavor profile. This hint of honey varies greatly from batch to batch of "bug bitten tea", as it is also referred to locally. But the most general characteristic of this tea type is its bold complexity of aroma and flavor. It simply has a substance that clearly distinguishes it from a standard High Mountain Tea.
Above we see a local tea picker turning in freshly picked leaves to be weighed and recorded for commission. These new-growth, tender leaves were harvested on a beautiful sunny day at about 1500 meters elevation in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region in southern Nantou County, central Taiwan.
Our expressed intention in sharing this batch of tea is to offer Eco-Cha Tea Club members a chance to experience the original unroasted flavor profile of a tea type that, in the local Taiwanese dialect, is simply called "Leafhopper Tea".