Competition Grade Wenshan Baozhong Tea | Eco-Cha Tea Club
This photo was taken at spring harvest 2018, and this day on the farm and in the factory really taught us an indelible lesson about machine harvesting tea leaves as opposed to picking them by hand. That's a topic that's too big to fit into this blog post, but suffice it to say that, not only does machine harvesting make tea production far more sustainable, it also does not necessarily significantly compromise quality. In a nutshell, high quality tea can be made from machine harvested leaves, with far less production cost, with little or no restrictions on the timing of harvest. The versatility of time management alone is a huge plus!
The photo above was taken on our most recent visit to our source of Wenshan Baozhong Tea. We went to source our winter batch of our in store selection, and, just like last spring — procured an additional batch for the Eco-Cha Tea Club.
Upon arrival, we were immediately led to the tasting table where there were two bowls of brewed tea leaves on the tea tray with less than 30mL of cold tea in each. We were ordered to taste them without any introduction to what they were. We immediately recognized them as freshly produced Baozhong Tea of high quality, but there was only enough left for two small sips. After first sip, we were told that one of them was much more expensive than the other, and then asked which one we liked. We took the second sip and picked one, saying that it was a bit more fragrant, and were met with a scowl and a sigh. It was the most honest facial expression we've seen in ages. The expression above was probably 10 minutes after that moment, but still holds some of the humor and angst!
The bowl of tea we picked had just won Champion Prize in the winter 2020 competition. The other bowl, which tasted quite similar, got disqualified. We felt our friend's pain! He was playing it up with his feigned expressions of protest, but he was also clearly making a point. He offered us a first hand experience of how much of a gamble the whole competition thing can be. Of course, the competition entries are assessed systematically, and graded according to decades of research and development of the tea judging process. Yet still, there are instances like this, where our friend got disqualified while a colleague won first prize — not to mention that our friend's other entry from the same harvest ranked in the top 2% category award. The two teas were not drastically different in quality, we can personally attest to that — and this is all he was trying to convey to us.
So the silver lining in this story is that we got to procure the disqualified batch to share with the Tea Club! We can honestly say that there not a significant difference in quality from Batch 55 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club, which is from the same tea maker, and was awarded Top 2% Category Award in last spring's competition. In fact, when we did a side by side tasting with last spring's batch, we felt that this current batch was closer to the standard of competition grade Baozhong than Batch 55! This also has to do with the post oxidation effect on last spring's batch, but — point remains!
The photo above is when Mr. Wang delivered this batch to us in Songboling, Nantou County from his home in northern Taiwan. We had the opportunity to introduce him to our source of Jin Xuan Oolong and Tsui Yu Oolong. We love it when we find ourselves facilitating connections among industry people who we've met in our work, but the locals don't get a chance to cross paths as much.
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Batch 63 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club was harvested in November 2020, processed, and then sorted to remove stem material and any discolored leaves in preparation for the winter 2020 competition and the New Taipei City Farmers's Association.
The distinctive quality of Baozhong Tea is that the leaves are shuffled well to induce uniform oxidation, but they are only minimally rolled. This keeps their physical composition in tact. The leaves are not damaged by pressure rolling. This locks in a fresh, green quality that put Baozhong Tea in a category of its own.