Our mentor Tony Lin (red shirt above) called Andy one day in July to tell him about a program that Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES) was organizing. Tony said that the TRES asked him to participate in the event, and asked Tony to help them to invite an elder tea artisan to be a part of the program. Tony himself would be a tea judge at the event. Andy was surprised and honored when Tony asked him who he thought would be a good choice of an elder artisan to represent traditional Oolong Tea making. The first person Andy thought of is the man in the white shirt above — Grandpa Liu. Mr. Liu is the father of Andy's good friend and former source of Dong Ding Oolong, who passed away several years ago. But that's not why Andy thought of Grandpa Liu. Mr. Liu truly is a prime representative of his local tradition, and at 85 years old — he certainly qualifies as an elder! Mr. Su (black shirt on left) is Grandpa Liu's neighbor as well as our friend from whom we've sourced tea over the years. He assisted Grandpa Liu in processing their batch of tea. The guy in the lavender shirt is also surnamed Su, and is currently the director at the TRES main branch in Taoyuan, Taiwan.
Above is the group shot of everyone who participated in this event.
So WHAT WAS the event?! Well, it was a first of its kind, that evidently was a result of the national tea making competition being cancelled this year due to COVID related restrictions. Traditionally, an island-wide tea making competition is held, where tea makers can join for a fun learning experience, meet tea makers from different regions, and potentially win a decent cash prize. This year, the TRES decided to make the best of the situation and organize a different kind of activity. They invited 15 prior Champion Prize winners from this tea making competition to participate in a more interactive event that involved employees at the TRES. Each champion tea maker was teamed up with one or two TRES employees to process a small amount of fresh tea leaves within 24 hours. All 15 batches of tea were then judged by professional tea judges and graded into three levels of quality: A,B, and C.
Doesn't the above scene just look like the best kind of workshop/gaming/ tea geek event ever?!
Fifteen champion prize tea makers from all over the island come to this fully equipped tea research center to basically hang out, meet new friends in the industry, shoot the breeze, and make a ridiculously small batch of tea with some tea professionals of a different sort — the staff of Taiwan's Tea Research Department that has history dating back to the Japanese occupation of the island that began in 1895. This offered the TRES staff members a hands-on crash course in tea making — something that many of them have never had any experience of — given that the research station is a multi-faceted branch of the national Department of Agriculture.
This event was designated for "partially oxidized tea", which is what we call "Oolong Tea" on the market. For this event, there were two categories of partially oxidized tea: curled/strip shape and tightly rolled/ ball shape. This basically separated the tea masters into Wenshan Baozhong tea makers for strip shaped tea, and Dong Dong Oolong/High Mountain Tea makers for ball shaped tea. Above are the strip shaped tea makers and below are the ball shaped tea makers who participated. All categories received small monetary prizes simply to make it a bit more fun by adding an element of light-hearted competition.
Along with these 15 champion prize winners, one elder for each of the two categories was invited to participate, and share their deep traditional knowledge, while fulfilling the role of elders in Taiwan's tea culture. Below they are honored by some the top contemporary representatives in Taiwan's tea industry.
We feel privileged to even know about this kind of event, no less be personally connected to many of the people who participated. We feel humbled by the recognition of knowing so many individuals who have dedicated their entire careers to tea culture, not to mention the generations of tea makers that are at the heart of it all. Taiwan is truly a gold mine when it comes to specialty tea and the roots culture from which it is produced. Respect!
All photos courtesy of the TRES.
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