Monday, September 29, 2008

Taiwan Oolong Factoids

1. Immigrants from Fujian province brought tea bushes and oolong making skills with them to Taiwan around two hundred years ago.

2. Taiwan oolongs are sometimes called "Formosa Oolongs" by some North American and European tea vendors. Formosa (meaning beautiful island) was the name used for Taiwan by Portuguese sailors in 1544.

3. Taiwan oolongs can take 24 to 48 hours to make from start to finish. Often times the tea master does not sleep until the batch is finished.

4. To be labeled High Mountain Tea (高山茶), a tea must be grown over 1000 meters in places like Alishan (阿里山), Lishan (Pear Mountain) (梨山), Yushan (Jade Mountain) (玉山), Chilaishan (奇萊山), etc… The Hui Gan (returning sweetness) (回甘) is one of the most valued characteristics of these teas.

5. Many different tea plant cultivars are used to make unique oolongs in Taiwan. While they are all the same plant, they do have slightly different leaf shapes and flavors. Also, some cultivars will grow better than others in certain areas. Some cultivars I am familiar with are: Qing Xin (Green Heart) (青心), Oolong (Black Dragon) (烏龍)*, Tie Guanyin (Iron Goddess descended from the Anxi bushes) (鐵觀音)*, Fo Shou (Buddha's hand) (佛手), Jin Xuan (golden lily) (金萱), and Si Ji Chun (Four Seasons Spring) (四季春).

*Don't be confused by the words: "Oolong" and "Tie Guanyin" because they are commonly used for tea names and tea style names as well as tea leaf varietal names!

6. Depending on the elevation, Taiwan's tropical climate will allow tea to grow in all four seasons. It is generally thought that Winter and Spring tea is the best, with Winter tea having more strength, fruit, and aftertaste and Spring tea having a more refreshing, flowery, light taste. (But of course that is not always the case.) Teas grown over 2000 meters such as most Lishan and Chilaishan teas can usually only be harvested twice a year in Winter and Spring.

7. On 12/6/05, Lee Shen-chi (the president of Ten Ren Tea) paid US $14,400 for one jin (600 grams) of oolong tea! The tea was crafted by Lin Mei-mei of Meishan Township (梅山鄉) in Chiayi County (嘉義縣) and it had just won the top rank in a national Taiwan tea competition!

Charlies giving me a "Tea Roasting" lesson:

(Mature) Fo Shou varietal tea leaves:

Shiuwen (from Seattle's fabulous Floating Leaves tea shop) and I in Pinglin:

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