The Art of a Tribute Tea
This week we are extremely happy to tell you a story we've been waiting two years to tell you.
On our first visit to Taiwan, we met with a tea competition judge in Pinglin village on Wenshan mountain. He introduced us to several tea farmers who produced outstanding teas in their category: competition winning Baochongs. At the end of a long day he asked us: "Do you have a little more time to visit one more farm?" Now, when you're on a tea buying trip and you've already had a lot of luck meeting some great people, and someone asks you to do something a little mysterious, that's when you know things are probably about to get very very good. We traveled even higher up Wenshan to Anxi area to a Buddhist monastery. There, we met a group of farmers who are farming tea organically. They produce 4 types of tea. A traditional Baochong, a rolled oolong, a GABA oolong, and a red tea.
Red tea is usually a summer harvest, and since there are more pests in summer, usually summer harvests are known for needing more pesticides than other harvests and are generally disregarded. But.... when you farm organically, that pesticide issue is eliminated, leaving the question - how does it taste? That question was quickly answered when I was presented with a tea cupping opportunity. All the teas were quite good, but one stood out above the rest. The red tea they produce was beyond compare. When I inquired further, I learned that in fact the red tea was a hand rolled small test-batch to see if the tea was ready for harvesting and processing. Is it available for sale?
The answer was no and it was no for two years. So, we have carried a beautiful batch of the machine processed red tea we are very proud of and continue to sell. But I was compelled to keep requesting this hand rolled tea, and did every spring and fall harvest season for the next two years.
I kept wondering: what would it say about a farm, about a community, about a country that had the presence of mind and respect for tea traditions to hand process tea from start to finish? Would the general American tea drinking public, albeit foodies, get it? Let me elaborate a little about the depth and breath of what we're talking about here. What does hand processing involve? Skill to pick the leaves when they are at their prime. That takes patience and scientific knowledge and an intimate relationship with the land a farm community works. And the processing? Time. Lots of time. Once the tea is picked, it takes an hour and a half to produce 2 ounces of this tea. One man, two hands, a bamboo basket to roll the leaves in and 90 minutes. Repeat that last step over 100 times, and you have not just tea but Art. 2 kilos of high art. Leaves that embody a love of the traditions, people and a respect for the mountains and people that give us tea.
Last week, we finally got the answer we were hoping for. "We have made your hand rolled tea." I couldn't believe it! We received a sample of the tea in advance of the whole shipment, and it bore out my highest hopes. This is a phenomenal tea. The depth of character and complexity that is evoked comes directly from the human spirit connecting with the tea plant on it's most personal level.
What does it taste like? This is a Burmese Assam varietal grafted onto an indigenous Taiwanese varietal to produce what is referred to as Red Jade #18.
The Assam lends a malty sweet potato note. Rich and smooth, when steeped properly, with extra hot water and for only a few exciting seconds, this tea has almost no tannins. Middle notes of juicy sweet tangerine peel and a soft whisper of an unpredictably delicious cooling minty top note mingle together in perfect harmony. Technically, this tea is perfect. The color is flawless, the leaves are expertly oxidized to their fullest potential. This tea was no novice effort.
This tea is important on so many levels, for its integrity of flavor, for its organic farming methods, and most importantly it is a symbol, a paragon, heralding a new spirit of direct connection between growers and tea drinkers. And most of all, it is a lucky omen that portends the rebirth of traditional tea processing. Hand processed tea is not history, is not something of the past that we can only dream and wonder about, it is here to be appreciated and enjoyed today.
We have also chosen to make sure that over 80% of the proceeds of this tea go directly back to the farm, to continue to support organic farming in Taiwan.
Check out this tea here on our Rare Tea page. This tea is for available pre-sale, and will ship in 2 weeks.