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

June 10th Update on 2012 Tea Arrivals

Tea, tea and more tea. We are thrilled to announce our first-round of new teas for 2012. The second round is on the way, so keep checking teatrekker.com for new additions.

This year the green tea harvest was delayed throughout eastern China by unseasonable weather conditions. In some areas long periods of colder than usual weather lingered as winter retreated and spring approached, and in other areas incessant rainfall and cold delayed the start of leaf plucking. But despite the rocky start and the plucking delays, our teas from this season are excellent in flavor, aroma and appearance.

Because of plucking and production delays our Chinese teas arrived later than usual this spring ( Darjeelings from India, too!).  Last year most of our Pre-Qing Ming teas were in our store by April 5th (a herculean feat in any year and last year was an extraordinarily cooperative year), but this year schedules had to adjust to accommodate the weather. The quantity of China spring green tea produced in 2012 was much smaller than usual, so we are happy to report that we received just about everything that we wanted with minimal (if any) price increases.

For us, this delay coincided with our decision to re-locate our store. Which meant that much of our new tea began to arrive as we were beginning to pack up for the move. That is not the way we would have liked it to be, but whenever the tea arrives safe and sound we are happy.

From late April until the middle of May new tea poured into the store pretty rapid fire. We carved out time to list some of these teas on teatrekker.com; others were offered only in the store. Now that we are happily in our new storefront, all the new 2012 teas that we have are now listed on the website. Not everything has complete information (that will come soon!) but you will find listings and prices in place.

As always, we are happy to answer any questions about availability and what’s in the pipeline.

Here is what we have –

2012 China Green Tea

  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village (Pre-Qing Ming)  – sold out! 
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village  (Yu Qian)- in stock!
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Shi Feng – in stock!
  • Xin Chang County Longjing: Dafo Village ( Pre-Qing Ming) – in stock!
  • Buddha’s Tea (Jui Hua Shan Fo Cha) ( Early Spring ) – in stock!
  • Huang Shan Mao Feng ( Early Spring ) – in stock
  • Kai Hua Long Ding (Pre-Qing Ming) sold out!
  • Kai Hua Long Ding  ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Lu Shan ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) ( Pre-Qing Ming) – sold out!
  • Gan Lu ( Sweet Dew ) ( Pre-Qing Ming Grade A X-Fine Pluck ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Snow Sprout ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Spring Beauty ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Spring Buds  (Pre Qing Ming) – in stock!
  •  Zhu Ye Qing  (Pre-Qing Ming)sold out!

2012 China Red Tea ( black tea )

  • Bai Lin Gong Fu (Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 China White Tea

  • Bai Mudan ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Fuding Wild Curly Leaf ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Bai Mudan – in stock!

2012 China Yellow Tea

  • Mengding Mountain Huang Ya ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 Japan Green Tea

  • Hashiri Shincha – in stock!

2012 Darjeeling, India

  • 1st Flush, Castleton Garden, SFTGFOP1 CH – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Goomtee Garden, FTGFOP1, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Makaibari Garden, SFTGFOP1, Bio-Dynamic, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush Margaret’s Hope Estate, FTGFOP1 – in stock!

Coming Soon –

  • China red teas (black)
  • China oolongs – Anxi & Dan Cong
  • Japan greens ( old favorites ) and new offerings
  • Taiwan gao shan oolongs