Our expressed intention in sharing this batch of tea is to offer Eco-Cha Tea Club members a chance to experience the original unroasted flavor profile of a tea type that, in the local Taiwanese dialect, is simply called "Leafhopper Tea".
This month's batch of tea comes from the most recently developed High Mountain Oolong Tea producing region, located in northern Taiwan. Here in the industry, it is most commonly referred to as Guanwushan, in the vicinity of Xueba National Park (photo above). The rugged high elevation slopes of the northernmost central mountain range provide an ideal climate for High Mountain Tea production.
This crop was harvested in June, when the new leaf growth following early spring harvest was allowed to grow naturally. In effect, it was an invitation for the legendary Green Leafhopper to come and perform its magic. This tiny grasshopper-like insect likes to feed on the sap of the new leaves, which results in a chemical composition in the leaf that offers a unique honey-essence flavor in the tea. The Leafhopper is what creates the renowned Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea from northern Taiwan, and the subsequent Concubine Oolong produced in central Taiwan.
In acknowledgement of the presence of the Leafhopper during this growing season, the farmer processed his leaves accordingly — allowing them to oxidize significantly more than a standard High Mountain Oolong Tea. The effect of the Leafhopper, combined with this customized processing results in a particularly full-flavored, strong character. Tea leaves of this constitution literally have more substance — providing a rich, vibrant, and complex flavor profile.
Also known as "bug-bitten tea" in tribute to the Leafhopper's effect, it has, only in the last decade or so, become a hot item in the local industry. A prominent reason for this recent spike in demand is that a crop of "bug bitten tea" by default defines it as being naturally farmed, without the use of chemical pesticides. So we not only get a unique, robust character of tea, we also get to support natural tea cultivation in the modernized production of world-class Taiwanese Oolong Tea.
In sum, we are not only endlessly intrigued by the magical role of the the Green Leafhopper in the making of this tea. We are also thrilled to support the production of a specialty tea that requires natural farming methods. Furthermore, each batch of Leafhopper tea is unique, based on the extent of influence by the Leafhopper in combination with the consequent batch-specific methods of processing it.
Only recently have farmers begun to venture a gamble in producing a crop of tea that is difficult to navigate. There simply is no standard processing method to resort to — the farmer must rely on intuition based experience to determine how to process each anomalous batch of bug-bitten tea!
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The most commonly referred to trait in Leafhopper Tea is a honey-essence note in the fragrance as well as the flavor profile. This hint of honey varies greatly from batch to batch of "bug bitten tea", as it is also referred to locally. But the most general characteristic of this tea type is its bold complexity of aroma and flavor. It simply has a substance that clearly distinguishes it from a standard High Mountain Tea.
Above we see a local tea picker turning in freshly picked leaves to be weighed and recorded for commission. These new-growth, tender leaves were harvested on a beautiful sunny day at about 1500 meters elevation in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region in southern Nantou County, central Taiwan.
This month's of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club is a a first in our experience of sourcing tea in Taiwan for well over 20 years. In recent years, Taiwan's High Mountain Tea Farmers have dedicated a short growing season following their spring harvest to making Black Tea. The original Qing Xin strain along with modern hybrids are cultivated for the production of High Mountain Tea. These strains are generally distinguished from Assam and Taiwan's indigenous wild strain of tea by simple using the term "Small Leaf Type". So Black Tea made with leaves with anything other than Assam or Wild Tea is referred to as Small Leaf Black Tea. This is the first time we've sourced a batch of High Mountain Small Leaf Black Tea that was made with the newer hybrid strain called Ying Xiang #20.