This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club is truly a unique find that came to us only via our dear friend and teacher. We met him about 20 years ago, and only in recent years have begun to call upon his expertise and deep roots in the local industry. After decades of managing his family farm and apprenticing under local masters, he has simplified his position by renting out his factory to tea farmers and working with them to support their farming methods and tea making styles.
We see this designated role he has created for himself as a significant contributing factor to the sustainability of specialty tea making. He actively supports farmers and tea makers who are making tea that has a distinctive quality, and we can confidently say that he knows more than most in the industry what defines quality tea. He is a fourth generation tea maker that began his career by studying with the most renowned masters on Dong Ding Mountain and he also worked in factories on Da Yu Ling some 30 years ago. Since then he has been immersed in the industry as a farmer, tea maker and merchant. We feel humbled and privileged every time we are welcomed into his home and educated by his modest but solid comprehension of Taiwanese Tea.
Our friend procured the tea from a farmer friend who sold his fresh produce to the only surviving heir of a family tea making tradition in the Yonglong/Fenghuang community in Lugu. This community is the heart of Dong Ding Oolong Tea along with the lesser known specialty of Hong Shui Oolong Tea. This young tea maker impressed our friend by his careful and arduous processing methods. He observed this 20 something year old heir of his family tradition implementing processing methods that are now rare. Most fundamentally, the oxidation of the leaves took a full 24 hours — with multiple shuffling and tumbling of the leaves to result in an even gradation of oxidation from the periphery inward. This required doubling the cost of labor in order to create this effect. This batch of tea was made to order, and was only made available to us because the owner of the factory was compelled to request a small portion of this batch from the farmer who provided the raw produce. Our friend offered us half of his share in this batch. This is what makes us inspired and especially qualified to facilitate the Eco-Cha Tea Club!
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The appearance of the brewed tea has gained substance, and become a deeper yellowish gold in comparison to the thinner, lighter unroasted brew. This coincides with the flavor profile in that the roasted version is heartier, with a more balanced character. The aroma coming off the leaves from the initial rinse is reminiscent of buttered carrots or yams. After the first brew, the aroma is more like grilled corn, cooling off into freshly baked scones. The second pour brought on stronger roasted vegetable notes, but again cooling off into a pastry aroma.
Red Oolong offers a smooth, balanced, mildly sweet, rich but not quite bold flavor profile, with elements of fruit compote, pumpkin pie, and a hint of dried flowers. This ultra-friendly character, combined with the fact that almost all Red Oolong is cultivated naturally on the southeast coast of Taiwan, facing the wide open Pacific, where the sky reminds a North American of the northern west coast, is no wonder why it is rapidly gaining popularity on the international market. Once again, Taiwan leads the way in Oolong Tea innovation!