It seems rainy today. The clouds hidding behind the valleys start to wake up and, even thoush, it is not raining, I can feel it coming. After the breakfast, it is raining cats ad dogs, so I don’t think today is the day to visit tea plantations, but to taste fine teas. Mei, the owner of Wisdom Garden, will show me two famous tea shops in Wuhe, Ruisuei Township. The places are some 10 km from Yuli and we drive straight under the heavy rain.
In the first one, we meet Ms. Nian. She is an energetic lady proud of her discovery. Some years ago, the family decided to turn organic their oolong tea plantations. Upto here, no surprises, since Taiwanese are very concerned for the quality of food and there is a big trend in the country to move into healthy models of production. But, in Wuhe there was a leafhopper who started to eat the young leaves of the tea trees. The excrement of these insects were left in the older leaves leading to oxidation even before plucking them. The result is a tea with a sweet flavour and its honey colour. It is easier to appreciate when we infuse it for 3-4 hours in cold water. They named it honey tea or black honey tea and started to sell with good acceptance and a tea award in 2006. Nowadays, many tea farms are producing the honey tea in the area, but Ms. Nian wants to be recognized. She prepares for us hot and iced honey tea and offers some green tea homemade cookies. The experience is really interesting. They even bring a branch of tea tree with leafhoppers in action. For a perfect hot honey tea, we leave the tea brewing for 1 minut with water at 85 ºC. For ice tea, we can put the leaves in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Before leaving, she shows me the coffee trees now blooming, and even under the rain the scent of the white flowers fill the air. It is a shame we don’t have time to taste also these coffee beans, because she said I would get impressed by its aromas of dry fruits and its smoothness.
Later, we move a bit farther. In front of Princess Coffee, there is a farm with no English name. This is really a treasure. Ms. Su help me with the translation. The lady in charge is obviously a very professional woman. She explains every detail on the origin of the tea trees they have, how to brew and the properties of each variety. They have varieties growing from 200 to 1000 meters, including Spring and Summer Oolongs and Jin Xuan. She also offers honey tea, that here has a stronger aroma and a deepest orange colour. But her choice is a white tea, Pai Mu Tan. According to her, they are the only plantation in Taiwan producing these leaves. The government promoted the introduction of this variety, but the results seemed no good for them. The family left the leaves in a corner and after some days, they realized of a special scent coming from there. Pai Mu Tan is extremely aromatic before brewing, and after it is smooth and soft. The leaves are grouped in couples and they have some white hair. The tea infused becomes slightly grey. She tells us that is the favourite tea of the monks, since the vegetarians cannot drink a lot of fermeted teas. Pai Mu Tan is low in teine, and can be brewes as much as you want, since it won’t get the bitterness of other teas. To produce them, they dry the tea leaves in a controlled room at 25 ºC, sometimes using AC, making this tea quite expensive to produce (4800 NTD = 120€). Before leaving, she gives me a small box of Pai Mu Tan as a present. Definetely, she made my day.