Eco-Cha Tea Club: Qing Xin Oolong Black Tea
The matriarch of the Chen family is in the forefront of the photo above, harvesting tea leaves by hand from their residential farm, as she has for several decades. This plot of tea is considered an heirloom strain of Qing Xin Oolong, as it was planted over 30 years ago. In the local industry, this strain of tea plant is simply called "Oolong" to differentiate it from the newer generations of Taiwanese hybrid strains that have become popular in recent decades. In central Taiwan especially, Qing Xin Oolong is predominantly what is cultivated for traditional tea making as well as High Mountain Tea.
Solar withering in the Chen Family courtyard of their traditional 3-sided home.
We chose the name "Qing Xin Oolong Black Tea" in accordance with the local terminology, which would be simply "Oolong Black Tea" (烏龍紅茶). But because in English, Oolong is the name given to partially oxidized teas, we added the Chinese pinyin of this traditional strain of tea plant that originated in mainland China. Qing Xin literally means "green heart" which describes the appearance of the stem of the leaf.
Mr. Chen in recent years uses his summer crop from his family plot of tea to make Black Tea. His spring and winter crops are made into traditionally made Dong Ding Oolong. Mr. Chen began assisting his father and grandfather in making traditional Oolong Tea when he was 14. He went to night school all through high school, and learned tea making and farming by day. We believe that his expertise as a traditional Oolong Tea maker are a significant influence on the quality of his Black Tea.
Mr. and Mrs. Chen take a break in the shade while the leaves undergo solar withering.
Two aspects of processing these tea leaves that were made into Black Tea are additional reasons for calling it "Oolong Black Tea". The first is that the leaves have undergone solar withering after being picked. This is the standard initial step in Oolong Tea making, but is unorthodox in Black Tea making. Oolong Tea makers see fit to incorporate solar withering in the making of Black Tea.
Secondly, the leaves were tightly rolled, in the fashion of most Taiwanese Oolongs. Black Tea leaves are typically left unrolled, and dried in a slightly curled shape. Tightly rolling the tea leaves protects them from crumbling, and also makes for much more convenient and space-saving packaging.
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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.