Taiwan's Tung Ting (Twelve Trees) Oolong
Returning from a month in Asia, Sebastian found office life slightly constricting. We looked back at some of our journals and found a day from our Taiwan trip this past April written by Sebastian. It should give you a taste of how much tea can be consumed in a day.
April 20, 1999 Luku, Taiwan
6:30 am One quick thimble of tea with our host Ling Huang before driving just above town to walk through the tea gardens. Breakfast in town was either two styles of chicken soup (with rice or yams) or a rice cake with a little shrimp. We walked through tea fields, some more organic than others. Bare ground, leaves or peanut shell mulch. The road snaked up through tea fields and beautiful, dull green, misty bamboo forests. We climbed up slippery stone steps farther and farther up the ridge. We walked back down to town dying for water. Colorful dragons dipped off the temple in the town square dedicated to the local mountain; a bit bright and gaudy compared with Bhutan. We had a hard, bitter, new-style Tung Ting oolong at the neighbors (the brother of the farmer we're staying with). Then we had tea and a delicious box lunch. The new style Tong Ting is lightly oxidized in an attempt to mimic the recently popular Ali Shan oolong.
After lunch Mr. Huang plucked sprigs of the three local varietals and we learned to identify and taste the difference -- or at least tried to. Traditionally Tung Ting oolongs are made with the Chin Shin varietal but, increasingly, lower grades use a higher-yielding Jin Shuen varietal, which has a milky aftertaste, and Tsue Yi (Jade Stone) which has a nice taste on the first steep but drops off quickly. We drove over to the top (a flat plateau) of the Tong Ting Mountain (named perhaps after the cold toes that farmers had when walking to its top, before shoes became common) and visited Mr. Tsu Wun Chin, an old tea farmer/master. He was collecting the tea leaves that were drying in the courtyard of his traditional farmhouse. He started handling the leaf to begin oxidation and then took us across the flat fields to a 125-year-old tea plant that his grandfather planted. Some fields looked organic, others not. He made us some tea to taste. The first was so-called organic with a dark liquor (Bai Mao Hou -- white hair monkey) and somewhat of a cross between Tung Ting and Oriental Beauty. The next was a more traditional Tung Ting like we were accustomed to. The last was a lower-quality, newer style (greenish) that left us thinking of the first two that were excellent. The drive back took us through coconut and betel nut trees and stone walls built from round river stones.
Dinner was at a large empty lodge that sadly brought the Poconos to mind. I had fish and rice -- everything else was cooked with chicken stock. Needing a bit of caffeine, we felt compelled to stop for some tea at one of the numerous shops lining the street. Both teas tasted were new style with a light green flavor and strong taste, one Chin Shin and the other Jin Shuen.
7:30 pm We got back home and tasted the nicely roasted Tung Ting. It tastes like a Tieguanyin. Also tasted another Chin Shin and another Jin Shuen. Then we tried his two very dark oolong teas. One was made by roasting at 100 degrees for a day. The other (very good quality) was roasted at 80 degrees for one hour every year. This one was from 1993. It's known as "old man tea" and supposedly has all the caffeine roasted out. After a round of tea grappa we went out to the veranda and drank beer and ate peanuts and watermelon seeds. Feeling lightheaded from the caffeine and alcohol combination, we went downstairs to photograph and help make tea.
9:45 pm We helped Ling Huang process about 100 kilos and then tasted the unfinished, unshaped tea we had made. We tasted three types: Leaves picked in the morning had no fragrance, no smoothness, they were flat. Leaves picked between 10am and 1pm were fragrant and considered the best. Leaves picked in the afternoon were a little bitter, although better than the morning.
11:45 pm Tasted the two choices for the farmers' association competition. One was more fragrant than the other -- both reminded me of saltwater or seaweed. Tea grappa finished us off for the night.
In Pursuit of Tea sells Mr. Huang's charcoal-roasted Tung Ting oolong. It's a traditional oolong tea, but with a long charcoal roast made exclusively of Chin Shin varietal tea leaves.
Also, this area was very close to the epicenter of the recent earthquake in Taiwan. The Luku Farmers' Association buildings were destroyed and are undergoing reconstruction. We don't know yet what the effect will be on next year's tea production in the Tung Ting region.
Travel Diary, Luku, Taiwan 1999
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