Tsou Ma Fei - 2011 Spring Ali Shan Oolong Tea
Spring Harvest 2011
Growing Area: Dabang Village, Alishan, Chiayi County, Taiwan
Varietal: Qing Xin (Green Heart) Oolong
The tea growers I have the privilege of working with in Alishan are members of Dabang KubaTaiwan’s Tsou ethnic group, which is one of the distinct aboriginal tribes of central Taiwan. In Tsou language, “Ma Fei” means “delicious,” so we settled on Tsou Ma Fei as the name for this tea.
The family lives in a town called Dabang (Dabang on Google Maps), which is one of two “Dashe” in the Alishan region. “Dashe” means that Dabang is a “major village” where the complete culture, society and leadership/political structure of the Tsou tribe can be found. The most important feature of a Dashe is the Kuba (pictured right), which is the Tsou men’s meeting place and the spiritual, ritual and geographical center of Tsou tribal culture. The Kuba has a central fire pit with a fire that is never permitted to go out, and the sacred “flower of God,” the “Fideu” (Dendrobium Chryseum; Yellow-Flowered Dendrobium, a type of orchid) is planted on the thatched roof. Next to the Kuba is a Banyan tree (ficus wightiana), which is considered to be the “tree of God” because it enables communication with the deities. Dabang is a very special place, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with these wonderful people.
This batch of tea comes from a small garden of Qing Xin cultivar plants which were planted/grafted in 1987. Conventional tea plants grown on high productivity tea farms in the Alishan area are usually only harvested for about 12 years, when their total output begins to decline, so these plants were “retired” in about 1999 and kept as a low output decorative tea garden right next to the family home. Since these tea plants were “retired” from volume production, the producers have adopted a hands-off approach to this garden, using only organic material for fertilizer and practicing a more “old-school” system of soil management to keep these precious tea plants healthy and productive as well as beautiful.
The infusion of these large, healthy leaves has elements of the unique “High Mountain Aroma” that can best be described as “orchidy” or floral with a fresh green vegetal aroma that reminds me of fresh green string beans this year. The mouthfeel of the infused tea liquor is smooth and mouth-coating, and the flavor is crisp and refreshingly sweet. The Hui Gan, or bittersweet aftertaste that comes after the initial flavor fades, is lovely and long lasting with just a hint of sweet spices that keeps me thinking about this tea long after I have finished my cup(s).
I recommend steeping this tea gongfu style to truly enjoy the layers of flavor that reveal themselves as the leaves unfurl over a series short steepings. I would start with about 5-7 grams in a small 100-150 cc Yixing type teapot or Gaiwan, and steep the leaves in 190-195 F water (under a boil). Start with a 30 second steep, followed by slightly longer (15 seconds or so) subsequent infusions. This tea lasts a solid 5 steepings when prepared this way. Steeped Western style, use a big teaspoon per cup, 195 F water and a 2-3 minute first steeping.