Eco-Cha Tea Club: Ying Xiang High Mountain Black Tea
Batch #23 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club was harvested in early summer from a plot of Ying Xiang #20 on Big Wheel Mountain in the Shan Lin Xi tea growing region of Central Taiwan. The leaves were picked when they were young, just a bit more than half as mature as leaves that are picked to make Oolong Tea. It is becoming increasingly popular to allow the leaves that were too young to pick at spring harvest to grow for another month or so, and then harvest them at about half-mature size to be made into Black Tea. The younger leaves are able to be oxidized more optimally, to produce an especially aromatic, mildly sweet character of Black Tea that is easily distinguished from both Assam and Chinese Black Tea types.
Ying Xiang #20 is a hybrid strain that was developed and registered for public use by Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station. It is recognized for its similarity in flavor to its mother strain, Qing Xin Oolong, and its ability to resist dryer climate conditions. It has gained popularity in recent years, and has also attained highest awards in some of Taiwan's tea competitions.
Most of the tea gardens on Big Wheel Mountain that are above 1000m elevation have no irrigation system, and rely solely on rainfall and daily fog. This batch that was harvested from a garden at 1200m is located in an ideal climate for this tea type. We first experienced "Alluring Fragrance" #20 several years ago when we tasted a batch that was processed as Dong Ding Oolong Tea by an elder artisan who is one of the most respected tea artisans we know. It was delicious! Since then we have had many opportunities to sample this tea made both as a traditional Dong Ding Oolong and even more often as an unroasted, minimally oxidized High Mountain Tea. This is the first time we have come across a batch of Tai Cha #20 that was processed as a Black Tea. We find it quite special, and even more pronounced in its unique character than when made as either a traditional or modern type Oolong. Please let us know what you think about this new style of Small Leaf Black Tea that is becoming very popular here in Taiwan!
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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.