The photo above was taken a little over two years ago when this husband and wife team won first place in a winter 2015 competition. This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club was entered into the winter 2017 Nantou County Tea Trade Association's Dong Ding Jin Xuan Tea Competition, and received the Gold Medal Award. This award ranks within the top 5% of all entries. This competition has been in existence for almost 25 years. It began with the development of Jin Xuan tea production in the early 1990's. Below is an original package of award winning tea from the very first time this competition was held in 1994.
Jin Xuan is a hybrid cultivar produced by the government subsidized Tea Research Extension Station (TRES) in Taiwan and is registered as Tai Cha #12 (台茶12號). It was designed to possess a stronger immunity to naturally occurring "pests" in the regional climate of Taiwan while producing a somewhat larger leaf that increases yield. It is known for its buttery or milk flavor qualities and has a milder astringency and smoother texture.
We are particularly fond of this competition because the standard of the flavor profile by which these tea entries are judged resembles a traditionally made Dong Ding Oolong tea. In order to achieve this character, the leaves undergo medium oxidation (30-40%), and are then roasted repeatedly to produce a hearty, robust character of tea. This level of oxidation and roasting is closer to a pre-modern processing method that involves heavily curing the tea leaves to stabilize their consistency and have a longer shelf life. In fact, this type of tea is often considered to increase in quality with age.
Acknowledging that the labor intensive traditional methods that require knowledge and skill are being promoted by this association is encouraging. In our perception, Dong Ding Oolong tea is the most prominent representative of a traditional locally produced specialty tea in Taiwan. And this association has preserved and promoted this local culture by integrating this modern hybrid tea plant with traditionally developed tea making skills.
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.