The winter crop of Li Shan High Mountain Oolong Tea was processed in this factory in Heping Township at about 2000m elevation. We were unable to attend the harvest this time around, so the all the photos in this post are courtesy of "Pig Foot" (tatooed calves) and his team of Oolong craftsman from Meishan Township in the Alishan tea growing region. You can read more about this source by clicking on the "origin" tab of the product page.
Out of 3 days of harvest, we chose the first day, which happened to be 10/10 — a national holiday in Taiwan celebrating the anniversary of the Republic of China that was established in 1911. We chose this batch because the leaves were just a bit less mature, and they were more fragrant and complex in their aromatic and flavor profiles.
During the indoor withering stage of processing, the leaves are gathered and tossed multiple times over several hours to keep their circulation going and ensure uniform exposure to air. This withering is prerequisite to the oxidation process.
Toward the end of indoor withering, the leaves are put into a large woven bamboo cylinder that rotates slowly. This causes the leaves to tumble softly inside the cylinder, very delicately bruising the leaves and stimulating circulation. For High Mountain Oolong, this is only done once. Whereas for more heavily oxidized traditionally made Oolongs, it usually happens twice. The speed of rotation and the length of time are both crucial factors in achieving the desired effect.
After tumbling, the leaves are weighed in quantities suitable for stacking on bamboo trays in preparation for the final phase of indoor withering, which is when the oxidation happens. They are first tossed gently by hand on the trays, and then piled about 15cm deep, and let to "set" for a couple hours or so. The chemical reactions occurring within the leaves emits heat, and this heat in turn further stimulates chemical transformations in the constituents of the tea leaves. This is the oxidation process in effect.
After the leaves set for the right amount of time, they begin to emit a fragrance that pervades the tea factory. The craftsman determine the right time to start the cease oxidation process by the aroma exuding from the tea leaves. They are then tossed in high heat tumble driers (not shown) to cease the oxidation process and deplete the leaves of moisture. The tumble heating happens late into the night, and sometimes until dawn.
After being heaped and wrapped in tarps and allowed to "rest" for several hours to allow redistribution of moisture in the leaves, the rolling and drying process begins. The leaves are tightly wrapped into cloth and pressed and rolled intermittently between runs through a conveyor belt drying machine. This labor intensive process takes up to 10 hours. Here's a short time-lapse video of the entire Oolong Tea making process.
Finally, after the leaves are tightly rolled and fully dried, the are packaged in vacuum sealed bulk bags to be transported off the mountain and sold to wholesalers.
This year's winter batch is closer to the classic Li Shan High Mountain Oolong in that it is less oxidized than our recent batches from this source. Minimal oxidation offers more aromatic complexity, and a more delicate and fresh flavor profile. Watch the video below for a detailed tasting of this new batch in comparison with the previous fall batch of tea, as well as last winter's batch — all from the same farm, made by the same craftsmen.
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