For the past two days we have been exploring the tea producing regions of Taiwan. We are very impressed by the geography of central Taiwan – this lush region is comprised of a series of steeply cut mountain ranges that run down the center of the island dividing eastern Taiwan from its western neighbors. Four large counties – Hsinchu, Maoli, Taichung, Nantou – cultivate tea, and of these, it is Nantou county that produces the famous high-mountain ball rolled oolong teas such as Dong Ding, Ali Shan and Li Shan.
In the north, south-east of Taipei city, the low elevation region of Maoli is home to Oriental Beauty, perhaps the most exclusive and expensive of Taiwan’s delicious leafy teas. June and July is the prime production season for Bai Hao White Tip Oolong tea, otherwise known as Oriental Beauty. So we are lucky to be here now at the beginning of production.
Here in Taiwan the tea industry is comprised mostly of small tea farmers and many of them process their fresh leaf into finished tea and sell it directly to consumers. This is vastly different than how tea is sold in China, where tea is more of a village effort or a government produced product. While there is some large scale, commercially produced tea here, we are concentrating on visiting the small tea factories and the tea farmers who produce the finest tea.
We tasted some very delicious and well-made Bai Hao today, which was offered to us for sale at the local farm price of the equivilent of $250.00 a kilo US ( approx. $125.00 a pound. ) Tea that is this good rarely makes it outside of Taiwan as it is a small crop and the tea farmers are able to sell it all domestically to their established tea clients. One fellow that we visited has a backlist of clients who will be disappointed to receive no tea – but they will be first on his list to receive an allotment of the fall crop when it is harvested.
What this means is that here in Tawian, as in Hong Kong, local people can afford to purchase this type of tea, and they know where to go for the best teas. And they make sure that they are on the client list to be receive a new tea each summer. So, it is interesting to note that even if we wanted to purchase some of this tea to sell back home, these tea farmers have no tea to sell to us; their crop is all spoken for among their established clients.
It also means something unique for these Taiwan tea farmers that is seriously different from the situation that most tea farmers in the world find themselves in: 1st, these farmers can name their price and make good money on their crop, and 2nd, the US market does not factor in one bit in their success. Not only is their tea too expensive for us to sell back home at these prices, but they don’t need the US market to be successful. While this is great for them, it is sad for us as we would love to be able to offer this tea to our tea enthusiast customers. It is not too often that something that sell well locally is too expensive for Amnerican consumers ! However, later in the day we did find a delicious and affortable batch of Bai Hao which we scooped up for our customers, so stay tuned.
Fortunately for us, the weather has given us hot, humid, ovecast days but the rains have held back. We have covered quite a bit of distance, both horizontal and vertically and have visited many tea farms. And we have seen a lot of exquisite mountain vistas, experienced many bumpy mountain roads and tasted many fine teas. Taiwan is a beautiful country and the people are its finest assets. Friendly, likeable, earnest, respectful and proud. This is somewhere where we could live out our years growing tea !
I have to say that we have enjoyed many delicious meals in small country restaurants. The food here bears some similarity to China’s food, but here in Taiwan the food is not greasy the way it has become in China over the past few years. And the presentations and food combinations are more sophisticated and mouthwatering. We have been enjoying fresh local pineapples and mangoes which are succulent and sweet. It is fresh bamboo season and that is always a treat. Today we were served a bamboo-like vegetable with a sweet flavor and a nice crunch. The best translation we could get for the name was human-limb vegetable. So crazy a name !
And man, can they make some delicous tea.