Eco-Cha Tea Club: High Mountain Hong Shui Oolong Tea
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 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.