Roasted Leafhopper High Mountain Oolong Tea
Last November, Eco-Cha Tea Club members got to experience the original unroasted flavor profile of a Leafhopper High Mountain Oolong, also referred to simply as "bug bitten tea", or "yeh nah day" in the Taiwanese dialect. When we sourced that batch of tea, we conceived of a "secret" plan to first share half of this batch of tea unroasted, then roast the other half in order to give our members the opportunity to taste the difference between the unroasted and roasted versions of the very same batch of Leafhopper High Mountain Oolong Tea.
This batch of tea comes from the most recently developed High Mountain Oolong Tea producing region, located in northern Taiwan. Here in the industry, it is most commonly referred to as Guanwushan, in the vicinity of Xueba National Park (photo above). The rugged high elevation slopes of the northernmost central mountain range provide an ideal climate for High Mountain Tea production.
This crop was harvested in June, when the new leaf growth following early spring harvest was allowed to grow naturally. In effect, it was an invitation for the legendary Green Leafhopper to come and perform its magic. This tiny grasshopper-like insect likes to feed on the sap of the new leaves, which results in a chemical composition in the leaf that offers a unique honey-essence flavor in the tea. The Leafhopper is what creates the renowned Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea from northern Taiwan, and the subsequent Concubine Oolong produced in central Taiwan.
The tea leaves were allowed to oxidize significantly more than a standard High Mountain Oolong Tea. The effect of the Leafhopper, combined with a customized processing results in a particularly full-flavored, strong character. Tea leaves of this constitution literally have more substance that results in a bold and complex flavor profile.
Our dear friend who we first met over 20 years ago was kind enough to share half of the amount of tea that he sourced with us. He knows we are always looking for special batches of tea for our Tea Club, and invited us to come taste this one. He never says "Do you want some of this tea?", but the invitation to taste it is itself is his way of offering it. And when we asked him if he would be willing to roast half of our share, he did not hesitate.
After decades of managing his family farm, A-bao now specializes in tea roasting. He sources tea from many sources, and carefully considers the character of each batch and roasts the leaves according to his assessment. He roasted this batch of tea twice, for a total of nearly 20 hours, starting at less than 100°C and finishing at over 120°C. We are excited to be offering this educational experience of two versions of the same batch of "bug bitten" High Mountain Tea with our Tea Club members.
If you're not part of the Eco-Cha Tea Club and would love a chance to taste and sample unique, hard-to-find artisan teas from Taiwan, sign up for the club here!
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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.