High Mountain Hong Shui Oolong Tea | Eco-Cha Tea Club
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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Eco-Cha Tea Club's batch #48 is Alishan High Mountain Black Tea. It has a very balanced, integrated flavor profile, and offers subtle notes of a Qing Xin Oolong. The brewed leaves still have a greenish hue, even though the stems are quite reddish, indicating nearly full oxidation. It is an interesting hybrid of tea types, but definitely acts more like a Black Tea made from the small leaf type Qing Xin strain.
This very small fall harvest of naturally cultivated Oolong leaves was painstakingly processed by a father and son team who are top representatives of their local tea industry. The most inspiring fact is that the son is wholeheartedly inheriting his family's tradition, and this small batch of tea is testimony to that.
The name "Hong Shui (Red Water) Oolong" has been a buzzword in Oolong circles in recent years. But the tea makers who have inherited their local tradition say that this is simply a new name for tea processed like their grandfathers taught them. It used to just be called "Oolong Tea"!