Hand-carried Tea from Tea Farms in Taiwan

How much tea can two suitcases hold ? Not as much as what you see Mary Lou surrounded by in this picture, but enough to return home with two new winter oolongs that were made just two weeks ago and announce their arrival. Now that is service and that is FRESH!

Yes….Mary Lou has just returned from a tea buying trip to Taiwan to select our 2013 winter oolongs. She visited several tea producing regions and went high into the mountains to visit each of the tea farms that make our oolong teas. She carried back our high mountain ( gao shan) Shan Lin Xi and Tung Ting oolong – more tea is on the way but it is being shipped.

Winter teas are our favorite oolongs – they are rich, creamy, and seductively aromatic. Spring tea brings the gaiety of youth and the flush of a new season to its flavor while winter tea is confident and more assured. After their summer resting period, these tea bushes, coddled by constant daily moisture from the weather phenomenon known as clouds and mist that develops in the afternoon, produce large, juicy, leaves that experienced hands turn into the deepest and fullest tasting teas of the year. The tea bushes will soon be ready to enter their winter dormant period, but for now they still have vigor and good energy for this last seasonal production.

Winter oolongs are plucked and processed from late October to mid-November. The winter harvest and the spring harvest are the two most important harvests of the year – the summer and fall harvests do not yield premium oolong tea, although the summer is the time for a small quantity of excellent black teas to be made.

The mountains of central Taiwan are tall and steep, and home to an assortment of birds and wildlife, lush forests and several temperature zones. During the winter harvest ( late October to mid November ) the temperature can be warm during the day but bring crisp, cold nights. Tea covers much of the land in certain areas of these mountainous regions. During the day moist blankets of clouds and mist rise up from the valley floor and roll and tumble over the tea gardens bringing a layer of nourishing moisture. Because of this, the leaves on the tea bushes grow thick and juicy, and mature slowly.

The terroir of these mountain tea gardens and the weather create tea that is fragrant and sweet and thickly textured in the cup. Our tea farmers/producers are humble men who are proud of the quality of their tea. These are small family tea businesses – third, fourth and fifth generation tea makers who are intimately involved with the cultivation and manufacture of their tea.

We treasure opportunities to meet the people who make our tea as we believe that it is essential to form and maintain these relationships, and we think that it is important to the tea makers, too. For they know that we will promote their tea to our customers, and that we will share with our customers an appreciation for the hard work that it is required of small tea farmers/producers. In essence, we scratch each others backs – we get the opportunity to select the tea we want for our store from their best batches and they in turn are happy knowing we can deliver increasing sales to enthusiastic tea drinkers.

No matter how often we have watched tea being made, every experience gives us new insights into fully understanding the processes and techniques that are unique to each style of tea making.  The four Taiwanese tea farmer/producers who supply our gao shan and other oolong teas are very hands-on tea makers. They are fully invested in their tea – their pride is evident in their conscientious work and in the taste of their tea.

While they have others working alongside them in the tea factory, it is their hands-on involvement with the crucial oxidation portion of the process that will ensure a successful batch of finished tea. Taiwan semiball-rolled style oolong production is a 2 day process, and the fresh leaf undergoes many processing steps. Each step builds on the previous one to reach a successful end product.

Initially, the fresh leaf undergoes both outdoor and indoor leaf withering ( 6 -10 hours, weather depending ). Then the fresh leaf is put into a bamboo cylinder tumbler/dryer multiple times, and rested in-between each tumbling. As the fresh leaf loses moisture and begins to wilt, the tea farmers spend much time turning and shuffling the leaf by hand and watching its progress. From experience, they are able to tell by feel and smell how well/quickly/slowly the oxidation is proceeding and when it is time to stop it with initial drying.

We truly believe that the tastiest and most well-made teas come from small tea farmers/producers who maintain the health of their tea gardens and care about he end result – the tea. Simply put, there is no substitution for the hands-on supervision of experienced tea makers. In essence these men are the tea, and without their skills something unique would be lost in the world of tea making. So we applaud the craft of these artisan tea makers, and encourage our customers to experience these stunning and delicious oolongs – each is a wonderful expression of the terroir of their mountain locales and the craft of experienced Taiwanese tea making.

In addition to the Tung Ting and the Shan lin Xi, look for the arrival of our Alishan and Jin Xuan in the next few weeks.

Oh, yes….Mary Lou also purchased a few other special and less well known Taiwan teas that we eagerly look forward to introducing to our customers. More on those teas later…..

Cheers!

Bob

The Real Milk Oolong

 

ool-jin_xuanThere is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what milk oolongs are, and sadly there are many low-quality examples of this fine tea dogging about, too. Milk oolong is really a buyer-beware situation, and as premium tea retailers we usually avoid walking right into the eye of the storm when it comes to tea controversy and confusion. (Perhaps the popularization of bubble tea, a Taiwanese milk and tea  drink that features the addition of colorful and sometimes flavored balls of tapioca may somehow be adding to the confusion).

But real milk oolongs are so good that we wanted to shed some light on what milk oolong is and what it isn’t and introduce the real-deal to our customers.

Simply put, milk oolongs are lovely, sweet, lightly-roasted semiball-rolled style oolongs produced in different regions of Taiwan from a particular tea bush cultivar – Jin Xuan (Tai Cha #12 ). This cultivar is sometimes referred to as Golden Lily.


All of Taiwan’s great oolongs begin with specific tea bush cultivars that, in conjunction with the unique terroir of each location, influence the flavor of the tea. Although Jin Xuan is a relatively new cultivar (developed in the 1980’s) it is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars (dozens of cultivars and varietals are grown throughout Taiwan) and the cultivar behind the marketing of milk oolong tea.

It is the flavor of the fresh leaves from these tea bushes that is transformed into the soft, creamy, ‘milky’ flavor which makes this tea so desirable. Try our milk oolong and you will see that it has very little astringency and an abundance of natural sweetness. This tea has been given a very light roasting, which enhances the milk fragrance – nai xiang – of the tea. It is from the same tea garden as our 2012 spring Alishan gao shan, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking to taste a delicious, easy-to-love Taiwan high mountain oolong.)

Real milk oolong tea is very appealing and delicious, and very popular in Taiwan and abroad. However, it is important to understand that absolutely no milk is involved in the production of real Taiwan ‘milk’ tea.

Spend 30 minutes searching the internet for a definition of this tea and you will end up with many rather silly explanations of what it is, such as:

  • tea that is plucked from tea bushes that have been irrigated with milk before being harvested
  • tea made from tea leaves have been soaked in milk
  • tea made from tea leaves have been steamed with milk in the manufacturing process
  • tea made from tea leaves have been dried with milk
  • tea leaves that were hung over a steaming milk bath before drying

Really? Milk….really? Milk is not abundant in Taiwan (or any parts of Asia, in fact), so how does this make sense?

Anyway, our customers can rest assured that our milk oolong is the real milk oolong, and should not be confused with Chinese imitations of milk oolongs or low-quality teas that have been artificially flavored with a so-called ‘milk’ flavor. Real milk oolong is a natural Taiwan original, and has never seen the white-soul of the inside of a bottle of milk.

This tea farm was awarded 1st Place for their 2012 Spring Jin Xuan tea at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government. Our Jin Xuan Oolong has been certified by the Agriculture Council and the County of Chia-Yi to be true to its origin and also to be free of pesticides. Each package features a certifying stamp to verify this.

Please visit: www.teatrekker.com for more information

2012 spring competition-grade Taiwan high mountain oolong

We have just received three luscious 2012 spring high mountain gao shans from Taiwan. For lovers of these very hard-to-find teas, we have distinguished selections from Alishan, and Shan Lin Xi tea districts. And, for the first time, we have a super-delicious, authentic, pure and natural Milk Oolong  from the Jin Xuan cultivar. (Read more about milk oolong on our website www.teatrekker.com).

Our Alishan and the Jin Xuan are grown and processed on a tea farm owned by a third generation tea grower and a tea master. The farm was awarded very high honors at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government in various tea growing regions.

This is how their tea placed:

  • 2nd Place for 2012 spring Alishan tea
  • 1st Place for 2012 spring Jin Xuan tea

To be clear, our teas are not from the competition winning batches of tea, but are from competition-grade batches tea processed in the same manner by the same tea farm for the spring competition. (Competition-grade teas are made with the utmost care and with more  attention to detail over the usual production methods because they will be entered into the competition). So these teas are in the top tier of deliciousness, so lucky us, lucky you!

Why not just sell the winning teas? Because the winners of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards sell the remainder of the batch of award winning tea to collectors and wealthy tea fanatics for very, very high prices. And those who understand the market in Taiwan for high quality gao shan know that this can mean many hundreds of dollars….spent in an instant by wealthy tea collectors, businessmen, and corporations.

However, all of the tea from the award winning tea farms is highly desirable in that year and in future years to come, so we are THRILLED to have these extraordinary teas from this farm for the pleasure of our gao shan customers.

How the competition works.

To enter the competition, tea is submitted in batches of 12 kilos per for judging. As many batches as desired may be entered.

Several thousand entries vie for placement in these competitions, which are conducted for the spring harvest and again for the winter harvest. This particular competition is for semiball-rolled teas produced exclusively in the Alishan tea district. The fresh leaf must be plucked from tea bushes that are grown on local tea farms, and the leaf must be processed by local tea makers.

Each competing tea farm and tea factory will make tea many batches of tea over the course of several days prior to the start of the competition. The methodology will be the same for each batch of tea they produce, but each batch will be slightly different one to another, as the tea made each day can never be exactly the same as the tea made the day before or after.

Businessmen and customers, as well as the tea makers themselves, can select their favorite batch of tea and enter it into the competition. Most tea farms will have several batches of tea entered on their behalf.

The Agriculture Council forms a panel of knowledgeable tea specialists to evaluate all of the tea that has been entered. Judges scrutinize the tea to see how it conforms to the norm for its regional type in both appearance and flavor. This means evaluating:

  • the size of each ball of tea
  • the shape and the tightness of the roll
  • the color of dry leaf
  • the aroma of the dry leaf
  • the color and clarity of the tea liquor
  • the aroma of the liquor
  • the initial taste and returning flavor of the liquor
  • the appearance of the tea leaves after steeping

For the teas that make it through the preliminary stages (more than 50% of the tea entered does not make it beyond this point) each tea is judged thusly:

  • 20% is based on the appearance of the dry leaf
  • 20% is based on the appearance of the tea liquor
  • 20% is based on the aroma of the tea and the wet leaf
  • 30% is based on taste
  • 10% is based on the appearance of the wet leaf after steeping

( FYI…this criteria is the same that we here at Tea Trekker use to evaluate each and every tea we are considering purchasing. We learned to conduct comparative tasting from our colleagues in China years ago. We always learn so when we taste and compare a series of similar teas from the same region).

First, second and third places  awards will have only one winner. Fourth place and up (upwards to seventh place ) will be awarded to multiple winners.

The top three teas will each be packed in special container and sealed with a stamp signifying the award and the win. The winning tea are sold at auction where there will be high and fast demand to purchase these teas as well as all of the remaining tea from that producer in that season.

For those who wish to have their own comparison gao shan tasting, we have some remaining stock of 2011 winter gao shans from Alishan and Shan Lin Xi. With only two plucks a year – winter and spring – each season brings its own qualities to the tea and there is much debate about which is more flavorful and more aromatic. All tea lovers look for and appreciate different characteristics in the cup, so compare and discover which you prefer!

For more details, please visit our Taiwan gao shan oolong page or Taiwan oolong page at www.teatrekker.com

2011 Winter Taiwan High Mountain Tea

High mountain oolongs or gao shan are Taiwan’s most distinctive teas. These teas yield rich, juicy, full-flavored and high-fragrance teas. Gao shan teas are hand-plucked and grow in high-elevation tea gardens (4,000 to 8,000 feet ) located in the mountains of central Taiwan.

There are two seasons for gao shan tea: spring and winter (winter plucking begins in October). Tea from each season brings its own delicious characteristics to the cup; spring begins the new harvest year and winter tea brings it to an end. Spring teas possess the vigor of renewed growth at the time of bud-break and winter teas reflect the rich maturity and high-fragrance of the final crop of the season.

The yield for gao shan is small, due to the high elevation, thin air at high altitudes, and the small size of the tea gardens (under 5 acres). Also, each pluck is comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 leaves attached. This style of plucking effectively eliminates the ability to pluck a greater yield or to use different leaf plucks to make other teas. This combination of factors, coupled with the difficulties of farming on nearly vertical, steeply-sloped land, and the challenges of a short growing season is not conducive for large outputs of tea.

But happily these conditions are conducive for crafting small-batch teas from tea bushes that are well-adapted to their environment. While gao shan does not have a long growing season, it does have, more importantly, a long dormant period. Dormancy, or winter hibernation, provides essential rest for the tea bushes. Rest is necessary for the plants to adequately absorb minerals and nutrient from the soil, and to gather plentiful energy before the growing season begins anew in the spring.

Careful cultivation, and an enviable terroir ( the effects of soil composition, weather and micro-climates on flavor and aroma ) yields teas brimming with concentrated, abundant, sweet flavors and intoxicating, floral aromas.

The Signature of a Good Gao Shan

These teas are comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 connecting leaves attached. These clusters can be strikingly large, and the presence of stem and their connectivity is one of the signatures of a good gao shan (do not remove the stem!). Our teas are clean and whole, and do not contain broken bits. The amino content of this leaf is high, giving each tea a rich, chewy mouth-feel and a persistent, pure, clean vegetal taste.

Winter gao shan is believed by many to be the finest, purest, most concentrated expression of this style of oolong.

 

Comparing the Flavor Characteristics

Comparing different gao shans from these famous tea mountains is an astonishing way to understand the effects of terroir.While gao shans have much in common one to another, each region and each tea mountain produces a unique tea.

We are thrilled to offer our tea enthusiast customers the opportunity to taste a well-chosen selection of gao shans from Taiwan’s famous tea mountains:

  • Ali Shan
  • Li Shan
  • Li Shan, Da Yu Ling   ( a region of Li Shan)
  •  Shan Lin Xi .
  • and a delicious new Tung Ting, too, for good measure.

Please also note, a comparative tasting of these teas will give you a very true picture of their flavor characteristics and personalities as the tea is all from the same plucking season. Also, we have asked for un-roasted, or modern style teas, which allows the fresh, natural vibrancy of the flavor and aroma to be savored. This also keeps the comparison within the same parameters.

It is not often that such a choice selection of gao shan is found in the US – even in Taiwan a selection of gao shans can be difficult to source. Despite the small production and the high cost, many tea farmers have waiting lists comprised of tea lovers hoping for a small quantity from the next seasonal batch. Sometimes people wait several years before someone drops out and they are able to purchase some tea.

We suggest purchasing a 10-gram pack of each tea ( or a larger quantity if you wish! ) and share the tea drinking experience with your most enthusiastic tea loving friends.

Each 10 gram sample will yield multiple pots of tea, in quantities varying depending on the size of the teapot and the amount of leaf and water used. But essentially, each 10 gram packet, re-steeped accordingly, will yield about 90 ounces of tea. See the detail page for each gao shan for steeping instructions.

Visit www.teatrekker.com to view our selection of gao shan and to order from our limited supply.

 

 

More New 2009 Tea

Nepal Hand-Rolled Tips

Nepal Hand-Rolled Tips

New shipments of tea are arriving here daily and in rapid fire. These new additions are late spring /early summer green and teas that have been shipped by sea from China and Taiwan, and second flush Darjeeling and Nepal teas that have been shipped via air-cargo.

We are in the process of  unpacking all of them, and it is a lot of work to make sure all is well with the tea and to get all of the peripheral information recorded. For example, we must literally unpack all of the tea to make sure it is all there. Then, we must taste it all to insure that each tea is indeed the tea that we ordered. Then tea information must be written and added to our website and blog in a timely fashion. The jars we sell the tea from must be labeled and the individual labels that we use for customer purchases must be made, too. The tea must be inventoried in the appropriate place in our warehouse and last but n0t least, of course, the tea must be put into jars so that customers may purchase it.

Despite all of this work, we love the excitement of having new tea arrive. We always spend a few minutes as we unpack each one  to admire it’s unique texture, color and shape before we taste it.

Several of these new teas are of particular note. First up are two hand-rolled black teas that we ordered directly from the producers in Nepal as soon as we tasted their samples. These teas are from the Everest Tea Estate and the Shangri-La tea factory. Both are gorgeous and worthy of a place in the finest tea collections.

We chose these hand-rolled teas first, because they are delicious, and secondly, because they are spectacular examples of the tea makers craft. Nepal is one of the last places on earth that is still makes hand-rolled black teas, and we would like to support that effort and see it continue. Click here for more details: http://tiny.cc/aZd6P

2009 Competition Grade Tai Ping Hui Kui

2009 Competition Grade Tai Ping Hou Kui

Tai Ping Hou Kui has never looked so lovely or tasted so fresh. In fact, this tea is so fresh you will swear that the leaf is still attached to the bush. If you look carefully at this picture you can see the little cross-hair marks embedded in the leaf from the weave of the paper that is used to line the top of the tea-firing baskets during manufacture. This paper absorbs moisture so that the leaf does not have to spend as much time over the charcoal fire as it otherwise would.

Tai Ping has some of the largest leaves of any green tea and this batch is certainly the most magnificent that we have ever had. This particular batch of competition-grade Tai Ping is a splendid example of the results that specific leaf plucking yields . The vivid green color and vegetal in flavor reveal that the tea was plucked in the early spring.  Click here for more details: http://tiny.cc/kLvfB

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty is Taiwan’s most beloved tea. Oddly, Bai Hao is not as well known in the USA as the semi-ball rolled teas such as Tung Ting and the High Mountain gao shan oolongs. Or even Baozhong. This is a pity because Bai Hao is very labor intensive to produce and can only be made for a short period of time in June. Taiwanese tea lovers favor this tea for its mellow and seductive apricot and melon flavors and its light, elegant style. The leaf for quality Bai Hao is an odd-looking mix of dark, medium and light colored leaves.

But that is as it should be and the best Bai Hao is not a blend. Bai Hao is given a long outdoor and indoor wither, which contributes to the customary appearance of this tea. Japanese tea drinkers adore Bai Hao and when they visit the island searching for tea to bring home, they willingly pay very high prices for the best tea. Accordingly, we made sure that our Bai Hao tea maker saved some of his great tea for our customers, too. Click here for details:  http://tiny.cc/7CQnv