Eco-Cha Tea Club: Eco-Farmed Dong Pian Jade Oolong Tea
Shown above is the more recently planted section of a plot of Tsui Yu, aka Tai Cha #13, aka Jade Oolong. The crop that we are sharing with the Eco-Cha Tea Club this month was harvested in January, which makes it a relatively rare batch of tea in that it was harvested well after the winter harvest. In Taiwan, harvests that occur after December 21st are referred to as "Dong Pian", which is a name that connotes a new leaf growth that is stunted by the winter season. This late winter crop offers a distinctive character based on the slow growth of the new leaves on the tea trees.
Notice the line of trees in the background that act as a barrier to the neighboring farm behind the trees. This is one of the many stipulations that qualify this plot of land for organic certification. This farm has been organically certified for many years. However, the farmer has opted to simply call his tea "naturally farmed" in order to not be restricted by the retailing of his produce as certified organic. In fact, he is a pioneer of organic tea farming in this region, but his decades of experience have led him to forego marketing his product as such. We are inspired by his stance in the industry, and are following suit by adopting the term "eco-farmed" to represent his produce.
Above is the adjacent plot (separated only by a farm access track) that was planted a couple of years prior. This plot is now in its 8th year, which is still young for naturally grown tea trees. The climate at this elevation allows for harvesting year-round, but the sustainable methods employed on this farm allow the tea trees to not be over-burdened by continual harvests. Constant fertilization to produce new growth provides maximum yield, but these trees are allowed to produce new growth without being harvested at least twice annually. This not only results in better quality, but also prolongs the life of the plot of tea. Off season growth without fertilization strengthens the roots of the trees, making them hardier and compels them to gain nutrition directly from the soil by growing deeper roots. This farming practice, along with the unusual late winter harvest, is what makes this batch of tea a specialty.
We're inspired to include this selfie that was taken on the farm only because of the honey bee that landed on Andy's shoulder while he took some photos of the farm a few days ago. We couldn't help but see it as confirmation that we were sourcing our Tea Club tea from the right place! We admire this farmer a lot, and our appreciation of his teas only continues to grow over the years of sourcing from his farm!
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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.