Despite it diminutive size, Taiwan produces a wonderful assortment of oolong teas that feature a delicious array of leaf styles, oxidation levels, flavors and aromas. On this trip we were fortunate to see several of these teas being made, and every tea we enjoued was from the current 2008 spring harvest.
We journeyed through several counties of central and northern Taiwan and visited many of the tea farms and tea factories that produce Taiwan’s signature teas -Bai Hao Oriental Beauty, Baozhong Oolong, and of course, the high mountain semi-ball rolled jade oolongs from LiShan, Shan Lin Shi, Alishan and the Dong Ding mountainous regions.
As we traveled, we purchased small quantities of several of these delicious teas to bring back to delight our customers. But the style of tea that we were most interested procurring was hand-processed, high-mountain semi-balled style oolong. We were hoping to purchase a reasonable quantity for the store and our friend knew how to make that happen. He made a phone call then took us to visit a friend of his who works at an organic food certification plant.
Here, tea is checked for pesticides, and, if it passes, an employee from the certifying company will visit the farm in person to make sure that the sample is truly representative of what the farm produces and that nothing is amiss.
If the farm passes muster, then the tea farmer will send quantities of his or her tea to the certifying company to be weighed, packaged and sealed. The tea farmer will be paid for his tea, which is then sold by this company. We were introduced to Lisa, a very friendly and knowledgeable tea lady, who asked us what type of tea we were looking for. When she had a good idea of what we wanted, she began to pull out various samples for us to taste.
She showed us many teas in the style we wanted that were grown in the high elevation levels that we were interested in. Also of consideration was the price – some of these Taiwan high mountain teas are astronomical !
As we tasted the teas we found teas that were nice, very nice, but not what we were looking for. Maybe she was testing us, but eventually she brought out the 2008 Li Shan ‘Da Yu Ling’ winter pluck, and it was love at first sight. Bingo, that was it – the flavor, the sensation of the Hui Gan ( returning flavor, or the changing of the flavor from one of slight astringency to sweetness on the aftertaste )
Soft, sweet, floral and snappy and fresh, like a brisk winter’s day. A simply beautiful tea with irregularly shaped balls of leaf with connecting stems. Next came a 2008 Li Shan spring pluck and we fell in love with that too. A bit headier and more aromatic, fruity and more youthful and green in flavor.
So we brought as much of both as we could afford and could comfortably carry back in our bags. More will follow later. But don’t wait to savor these fine teas – Taiwan oolong of this caliber is difficult to find in the USA - it is usually snapped up by Taiwanese and Japanese tea lovers, leaving none for anyone else on the planet.