This is where we stood minutes after arriving at the factory where spring harvest of our Li Shan High Mountain Oolong Tea was processed, and just after the final round of leaves were delivered. It was about 3:45 p.m. The leaves were slightly immature, given the drought conditions during this spring's growing season. After watching the last round of leaves being scattered for solar withering, we took a quick walk up behind the factory.
This is the first view we saw, looking down from Hua Gang, the highest ridge in the Li Shan Tea growing region. The view of Li Shan Village is obstructed by the near ridge that appears to be establishing a unique plateau of land to become a tea farm.
This is the factory where our Li Shan Tea is processed. It is at the end of a farm road that was built when the KMT army built the Cross-Island Highway in the 1950's. The soldiers that were part of Chiang Kai-Shek's renegade army who were stationed here were given land as their pension. That is original growth forest on the slope behind the factory. Surrounding this highest elevation farming region on the island is some of the most pristine nature to be found on Taiwan. The original housing from this era is still here, right beside this large-scale modern tea factory that was built in the last few years.
We snapped the shot below at 1:03 a.m., shortly after the first round of tumble heating, when the leaves are exposed to high temperature to "kill green" or cease oxidation — effectively fixing the leaves in their curing process. The guy in this photo supervises the solar and indoor withering stage of processing. This is the initial and single most determining factor in the processing of Oolong Tea. Solar withering sets the course for the rest of the extensive curing process. We hung out with this guy for about 48 hours. It was our first meeting, but we got a good impression of his presence of mind primarily, and also his way of participating in the processing of tea — far beyond his primary role. Observing and interacting with him was one more acknowledgement of how the energy and attitude of the craftsmen parallels their knowledge and skill. Tea makers, like all craftsmen and artisans, have their own way of self-cultivation in mastering their trade. This sourcing trip reaffirmed this fact for us.
This next photo was taken at 7:36 p.m. the following day, when the processing of this batch of tea had just been completed. This guy is in charge of rolling and drying the leaves — more of a finishing touch, but essential nevertheless. Each stage is dependent on the others, and any one phase of processing can have a significant determining factor in the final outcome. We've known this guy for 4 or 5 years. Always solid and grounded in his work, conveying a sense of commitment to the potential quality of any given batch of tea. He tasted the finished product about one hour before we did. His simple comment was that it was a tad bit more oxidized than the previous two days. We concurred.
We let the leaves cool down completely after processing, and brewed them just as they were about to be packaged in bulk vacuum-sealed bags. We were unaccompanied, and got to sit with the tea for 20-30 minutes — tasting it slowly through one brew, and then a second brew using the tea judging bowl brewing method. It was significantly more balanced in its green vs. oxidized character. We found it to be the perfect happy medium between the previous days of harvest. It has a foresty, herbal aroma and a substantial mouth feel with creamy vegetal notes, and a lasting finish that is a combination of forest leafy, tender greens, herbal, and a creamy floral note at the finish, In sum, it's balanced, yet complex — with that subtle, delicate character that represents its altitude/climate. We are so happy to have been able to show up at harvest time to really get a sense of what was happening, and also to have first dibs on the day's harvest that we saw being processed. So grateful!
Watch the full detailed story of our sourcing trip in the video below and virtually come along for the ride!
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