Harvest: Spring, 2011
Growing Region: Yuchih Township, Nantou County, Taiwan
Varietal: Indigenous Taiwan Mountain Tea (台灣山茶)
Age of Tea Plant: 86 Years (Planted in 1925)
10 Gram Sample Available
This very special Lao Cong (old tree/bush) oolong tea is made from one of Taiwan’s indigenous wild tea species known as Taiwan Mountain Tea (台灣山茶: Tái Wān Shān Chá). Wild-growing tea varietals were discovered and reported by the Dutch East India Company as early as the mid-1600’s, and in 1925, during the Japanese Colonial period, a branch of what is now known as the Tea Research and Extension Station was set up in Yuchih County near Yuchih Township’s beautiful Sun Moon Lake to study Taiwan’s wild mountain tea varieties.
The now wild-growing Mountain Tea plants used to make this exquisite tea were planted here in 1925, and they have been under the care of the family of the amazing husband and wife team who produced this tea since 1954, when the wife’s Grandfather acquired the land use rights to these very special wild-growing gardens from the government. The husband and wife team who produced this tea took over the gardens in 2001, and they have spent these past 10+ years researching and perfecting their methods of producing the best tea from these now very rare, 86 year old, indigenous, wild growing tea plants.
Aside from the extraordinarily unique plants used to make this finished tea, the process used for making this tea is also unique and employs some traditional methods that are almost extinct in Taiwan’s modern tea industry.
As with other oolong tea, this one was picked by hand and then withered in the sun for a short period of time. After the withering process has reduced the leaves’ moisture content enough to make them soft & pliable, the tea leaves are spread on large bamboo trays and shaken periodically over a period of a few hours to bruise the edges and begin the oxidation process. The leaves are also sometimes placed in a tumbler to further bruise the leaves and enable further oxidation. Once the leaves have oxidized to about 60%, they are heated in tumbling dryers/ovens to stop the oxidation process. The tea leaves are then placed in cloth bags, wrapped tightly into a ball and are rolled in mechanical rolling machines. After some time in the roller, the cloth bags are removed, the giant ball of leaves is broken up either by hand or in a tumbler, then they are re-wrapped in the cloth bags and put back in the rolling machine. This process is repeated until the leaves achieve the tightly compressed ball shape the producer desires.
After the leaves have been rolled and shaped, this is the point at which the tea would normally be roasted in an oven, charcoal roasted, smoked, etc to finish the tea. In contrast, this Taiwan Mountain Tea is then “baked” in the sun for between three and seven days. This sun baking/curing/drying process softens the flavor and removes any remaining “green” taste from the leaves. After this unique, old fashioned sun-drying/baking/curing step, the tea is packed into glazed earthenware jars, sealed, and is stored for a minimum of six months to further mellow the flavor prior to release. Very few producers use this sun drying/curing method anymore because many feel that the more modern roasting/baking methods are more efficient, but this amazing tea making family feels that there is no way to replace the flavor created by the sun…and they are, of course, right!
Flavor and Aroma:
This tea falls on the more oxidized end of the spectrum at about 60% oxidation, so the perfectly clear, moderately full-bodied infusion presents a golden amber color. The flavor has elements of perfectly ripe fruit, hints of citrus, and a dark, almost fig, date or raisin-like sweetness to it. Different aspects of the flavor profile presents itself over a series of infusions, and the sweet aftertaste lingers nicely on my palate.
On a personal note, I first tried this tea in the Spring of 2011 at the producers’ shop in Nantou County, and it has quickly become one of my absolute favorite teas. I don’t know if my preference for this tea comes from getting to know and truly value my friendship with this very special family and appreciating their connection to this tea and its history or not. At the very least, this is a unique tea made from one of Taiwan’s indigenous, wild growing tea varietals that’s been processed in a traditional way, so, in a way, it represents a bit of Taiwan’s history that wouldn’t be around for us to taste if it wasn’t for the efforts of this extraordinarily passionate tea making family.
As usual, I suggest Gong Fu style preparation with this tea. Rather than sticking to a specific weight of tea leaves to water volume measure, we recommend simply covering the bottom of your gaiwan or Yixing style teapot with a layer of dry tea leaf-balls, use water just under a boil and a series of short steepings. If you prefer to use a weight to volume measure, try starting with 7-8 grams of leaf in a 150 ml gaiwan or teapot.
For Western-style steeping, start with 1-2 tsp of leaf per cup. Use water under a boil (195 degrees F), and steep for 3-5 minutes. Adjust the amount of leaf, steeping time, and water temperature used according to your preference.