Traditional Hong Shui Oolong Tea | Eco-Cha Tea Club
Batch 58 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club is a Hong Shui Oolong made in the traditional fashion by our friend in his home factory in Phoenix Village, Taiwan. He let his family plot of tea behind their traditional 3-sided farmhouse continue to grow after spring harvest in April until the last few days in July. This allows the tea trees to rejuvenate by growing naturally during the most vegetative phase of their annual cycle. He then harvested just the tops of the new growth before pruning his trees for fall harvest. Below is a photo of his 80 plus year-old mom harvesting last summer's crop.
The summer crop is most suitable for heavily oxidized Oolong Tea or Black Tea. Black Tea made from Small Leaf Type tea trees such as this plot of Qing Xin Oolong or the various hybrid strains that are prevalent in low to mid-elevation tea growing regions is a new trend among traditional Oolong Tea makers in recent years. This has impacted the production of a type of tea that pre-dates the name of Dong Ding Oolong Tea.
Tea farmers in this village and throughout Lugu Township, as well as Zhushan and Mingjian most commonly processed their crops of tea in the fashion that is now called Hong Shui (i.e. Red Water) Oolong. The name Hong Shui is a recent reference however. Before the name Dong Ding Oolong was popularized by the Lugu Farmers' Association, it was simply the style of tea that was made locally, and gained popularity for its distinctive character. Now it is used to refer to a tea that has been intentionally well-oxidized, and is not abiding by the modern quality standards of Oolong that say the brewed tea should be more golden than reddish in color. Hong Shui Oolong is simply a more traditional tea type with a different character profile than Dong Ding Ooolong — and one that tea lovers both locally and abroad are learning to appreciate more and more!
Mrs. Chen is picture above, spreading the leaves of last year's summer crop in the courtyard of their traditional home. And below, Mr. and Mrs. Chen are taking a quick break in front of their home factory, while the sun works its magic on the tea leaves during the initial phase of solar withering in the making of Oolong Tea.
This crop of tea amounted to a mere 15 kg of finished product! A whole day and night of harvesting and processing, including a hired team of pickers, and then about 20 hours of processing the leaves to produce this batch of tea! Followed by a second day of hired out rolling and drying...This is clearly another element of what defines traditionally made Oolong Tea. It just doesn't amount to much, when considered in terms of labour vs. volume of produce.
Our friend could have just pruned back the summer growth in preparation for the more standard production of fall and winter harvests. But we have been nagging him about this traditional style of Oolong that we know he has real skills in making, which is so hard to come by! So in response to our phone call a few days before this harvest — asking once again if there is a chance... he said he will make a batch from the tips of his summer growth. We are so happy!
After a ridiculously long day that began at dawn with harvest preparations, we watched Mr. Chen carry out this four step process. The leaves are exposed to high temperature in the tumble dryers. Then they are wrapped in cloth and stuffed into the stainless steel "steam box". Then they are put in the "half-moon shaped" roller (blue machine in the corner). Then they are spread on the conveyor belt dryer to cool down. Finally, the are bundled in cloth, and left to sit overnight. Then they are brought to the rolling and drying factory for another full day of final processing. This, this is what is entailed in making Traditional Hong Shui Oolong Tea! And he carried out the entire production of the this very minimal batch by himself.
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We have become close friends, and this is a unique connection in our 25 years of involvement with tea producers in the local Taiwan tea industry. This farm is a rare resource, given its environment and micro-climate. The owners have faced many challenges and only in the last few years have developed their organic farming to a stable situation. Now, with some support and guidance, we believe they will soon be producing some of the best organic tea in Taiwan!