Eco-Cha Tea Club: Traditional Hong Shui Oolong Tea
The aerial shot above that we just took last week shows the adjacent Fenghuang and Yonglong Villages, with Phoenix Mountain looming in the distance. These villages, along with nearby Dong Ding Mountain are the three most renowned place names for traditionally made Taiwanese Oolong Tea. Along with the roasted Dong Ding Oolong, its close cousin, the unroasted Hong Shui Oolong is only recently seeing a revival in popularity.
Most traditional tea artisans have refrained from producing Hong Shui Oolong in recent decades due to their perceived lack of consumer demand for it. Dong Ding Oolong has largely maintained its popularity throughout the "age of High Mountain Tea" due to the effectiveness of local competitions that preserve the quality and promote the value of this traditionally made tea. It is only the recent new age renaissance of tea culture in Taiwan that is creating a new demand for other traditional Taiwanese teas, and Hong Shui Oolong is perhaps the most popular in this trend.
We met Mr. Chen when we spent the night in our Lishan High Mountain Tea source's factory last spring. We learned that he specializes in making Hong Shui Oolong in Fenghuang Village, where he was born and raised. It is only with this year's spring harvest that we got the opportunity to procure a small amount of this tea type to share with our Eco-Cha Tea Club members.
We now know that he and a handful of relatives and friends in his village have committed to representing their local traditional specialty of Hong Shui Oolong. This is yet one more door of inspiration that has been opened to us as a result of our continuous effort to delve deep into Taiwan's tea culture and share the treasures that we find. And after decades of exploration, our experience has shown us that these villages above Dong Ding Mountain most significantly represent traditionally made Taiwanese specialty tea.
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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.