Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oriental Beauty Oolong in TaoYuan

There are three areas in Taiwan where Oriental Beauty is grown and harvested.  MiaoLi, HsinChu and TaoYuan.  Today I'm in TaoYuan visiting Tea Master Lin.

This meeting clearly illustrates the importance of "visiting and knowing your source."  Mr Lin, a third generation tea farmer and producer, grows his teas "organically" avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticide.  Instead he uses nature, such as ground cover that boarders the garden and keeps weeds at bay, to manage his tea gardens.  Based on his current annual production it is doubtful that Mr. Lin's tea gardens will be organic certified in the near future.
Mr. Lin has won many local and regional competitions for his Oriental Beauty. Just this year, his Oriental Beauty took 1st and 2nd place in the tea competition.

First stop was Mr. Lin's tea factory where I experienced a new and delicious cold brew technique.  Mr. Lin started our cupping session with a Taiwan black tea that he produces, added cold water and "steeped" it about one minute.  The taste was incredible - light with sweet honey notes that lingered in the mouth long after the tea had been swallowed.  I was told that this tea can be infused this way about 12 times.  Be interesting to experiment when I get back to the States.

Next up is a Green tea made from the same cultivar that Mr. Lin uses for Oriental Beauty.  This delivered a very smooth green tea taste with very light cream notes and not a hint of astringency.  This was followed by several grades of Mr Lin's Oriental Beauty.

The "greener" tea bushes will be ready for harvesting in about two weeks.  Mr Lin believes that what ends up in your cup is based on;
  • 30% on the tea plant
  • 40% on the processing
  • 30% on the brewing of the leaf
Mr. Lin had to set up at a local expo for local products grown in the TaoYuan area.  We headed out for lunch and plans to meet at the expo.

The expo was great, think green market meets rock concert all interspersed with fireworks and screaming vendors.  Yes, it was loud, however it was great to see 6 or 7 tea vendors, produce vendors and the like. We plopped down at Mr Lin's booth and continued cupping teas and expanded our discussion about tea and our individual involvement in the world of tea.

All and all a great day in the TaoYuan region of Taiwan.  I'm looking forward to offering Mr. Lin's teas to.

More to follow

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea and Wen-Shan Tea District

Rain, rain and more rain accompanies my travel in the mountainous area around Pin Lin in Wen-Shan where we source our Baozhong oolong tea - which we are out of.  As my hosts and I wander up the mountain road, we come across Mr Cheng tending to his tea garden, actually hand weeding among the tea bushes

He stops his labor and invites us to join him in his house/factory for tea.  The walls of his "cupping room" are filled with certificates and awards from local tea competitions.

Good to be out of the rain, we are joined by Mrs. Cheng who starts brewing gongfu style.  (I'll add a video clip later, seems I'm having trouble with the upload)

Mr Cheng harvests 3-4 times a year and produces approximately 600kg of Baozhong Oolong per harvest.  He is "old school" in that he does not have a retail store to support the sale of his tea, rather he sells it to wholesalers.  He will start the November harvest in the next couple weeks which should be ready for sale in late November.

Next stop was the tea museum in Pin-Lin.  Aside from the history of tea and tea making equipment, the main attraction was the restaurant.  All dishes were prepared with tea oil or had tea leaves as part of the recipe.  My favorite was a simple dish of tofu cooked with tea leaves, sesame seed, salt and scallions.  Cooking with tea is very popular in the states, but this was the fist time I had seen raw tea leaves as an ingredient.

The afternoon took us to Yi-Lan on the Eastern coast of Taiwan.  Here we visited with Tea Master Lung.  He produces a rolled oolong, but not in the style of a Tung Ting or Ali-Shan,  It is a loosely rolled oolong tea.  He uses a Jin Xuan cultivar for this teas. During our visit, he was kind enough to prepare an aged oolong that was out of this world - I'm not sure if he knew how old it was.  We also were treated to jello made with tea..

All and all an exciting day experiencnig tea in several ways that were new to me.  Today I'm off to TaoYuan to visit a tea garden that produces Oriental Beauty oolong and is undergoing organic certification, a tea exhibition in the area (NW Taiwan) and possibably a factory that produces tea oil.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea

My travels yesterday took me to Miao Li and Hsin Chu County where Oriental Beauty oolong teas are grown and produced.

First stop was a delightful restaurant in Hsin Chu. The restaurant was part of a tea garden, tea factory and tea retail shop. Many of the smaller tea growers (3000 - 5000kg or less) produce their own teas then sell them through their own retail stores.  The local tea competitions have been an important factor in driving awareness and business to these small growers, but this is a topic that deserves its own blog entry.

After lunch, my host and I were treated to a sampling of the gardens award winning teas.  The tea was prepared gonfu style by Mr Ku, who at 21 is a third generation tea producer.  Their garden produces approximately 1,500kg of oriental beauty per year.  It is all sold via their retail tea shop.

Next stop was in Miao Li county to meet with Tea Master Deng.  He grows and produces the Plum Blossom oolong that we are crazy about. 
Master Deng has won 18 Oriental Beauty tea competitions during his career. He generously prepared a 1st place and 3rd place Oriental Beauty for us. Once again gongfu style. The taste of ripe fruit, honey and a slight wood note (considered smoky by my host) coupled with an exceptional mouth feel were amazing and were prominent through the 8th infusion. I lost count after that. I've posted a little unedited video clip shot with my iPhone.
Master Deng produces approximately 1000kg of Oriental Beauty per year.  Most of this tea is purchased locally due to his reputation based on his competitive successes.

Last stop of the day was in Hsin Chu to visit Tea Master Hsu.  He produces the Oriental Beauty that we offer at Teas Etc.  Like most of the small grower/producers, he supports his tea sales with a retail outlet.  I had the privilege to cup several outstanding Oriental Beauties.  Now comes the hard part, which one to source and offer our customers.
Tomorrow I'm off to Pin-Lin in the Wen-Shan area in search of  Bao Zhong and then on to Yi-Lan to visit and cup high mountain oolongs.
More to follow

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taiwan, Tea and Travel

I love travel, especially the alertness of the senses upon landing at a new destination - which in my case happens to be Taiwan. The high humidity (think Florida, so no big deal for me), the smell of spices and food from small shops, the lovely sing-song sound of the local dialect, even the buzz of the motor bikes. However, it is tea that I really look forward to.

If I had to proclaim a tea category that was a favorite at Teas Etc, it would be oolongs.

For the next two weeks, I'll be based out of Taipei City visiting with existing growers that produce our Plum Blossom Oolong, Oriental Beauty, Fanciest Formosa, Tung Ting and Baozhong oolongs, and meeting a new growers.

Next week I'll meet up with the Taiwan Oolong Study Tour sponsored by the Taiwan Tea Manafactures' Association. This is an intensive 6 day immersion into the growing, harvesting and producing oolong teas including the history of tea in Taiwan. One thing I've learned for certain in the tea business - there is always more to learn - and I'm psyched to participate in this in depth study.

Must run, I'm off to Miao Li and Hsin Chu.