Category Archives: Tea varieties

Poetry by the road

Somebody told somebody that I might be interested. That’s how, a typicalTaipeiraining morning, I met Zahira. The gathering of hundreds of cycle riders in a south park of the capital, cheered up by a big crowd of volunteers and the presence of Mr. Ma, the President of Taiwan, doesn’t seem the perfect atmosphere to find an enthusiast of organic tea. But, my will was leaving the city and drive the island in search of tea plantations, taste the brewing and knew how Taiwanese relate to one of their finest products and Zahira’s contact was now in my pocket.

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Hualien, Luye andTainanpassed by. And it was the time for a realSunMoonLakeexperience. The geography of this part of Nantou county is mesmerizing. Even though the touristy activities, who can say that Sun Moon lake isn’t a landmark, a place for connection with nature and oneself. I settled down and walked the shore while groups of tourists rush up to do all what they had in their program for the day. As per my schedule, my only rule was finding time for a good tea. At first sight, that place was not the best spot for tasty food and delicate tea, so I ended up sitting in a Ten Ren shop, a branch of a famous tea company, not bad at all, but not as unique as I was looking for. I should meet Zahira in the shop they had nearby the lake; she inspired me energy and a project filled with illusion. Maybe she was what I was searching.

It was not easy to find the tea shop nearby the road, probably because of my lack of understanding. And I must confess that when I found it, it kindly of disappointed me. You know those tinny road side business that inSpainsell just low quality products for tourists. So, I expected to find in the Tea Shop of Lohas, being skeptical is in my genes, I guess. But as soon as I entered, the smooth Spanish guitar made me feel a bit at home. Money, in charge of the tea, and Zahira started to explain me about their project and their lives. 7 people were at the moment involved in a project of organic agriculture that not only target the tea plantations, but a whole way of living according to community based understanding, with meditation as part of the daily routine and an excellent distribution of tasks in the plantations, shops and promotion of their products. Amazing women and men from places as far asKuala Lumpur, as Money, changed their lives in such a manner that could be an inspiration for many of the lost souls that these days roam in the postmodernity. Actually, it was a pleasure to listen to them. Their knowledge about the soil, the terroir that we say when talking about wines, their poetical way to name each and every harvest of those tea trees that were not watered to provide the real taste of the year over the plants. That was a sincere Lohas (acronym for the words Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability).

Money explained each variety with a sense of pause and slowly unveiled the meaning of the leaves. I got impressed by shaking (zen han) a winter oolong tea that was named after the earthquake, 4 springs was a variety that could be plucked 4 times a year, but my favorite was a black tea with a subtle natural scent of rose, rose red. They told me about their tea meditation activities where they work with youth to teach how through a cup of tea one can dive into himself, starting by the senses and ending up in a real search for the inner silence. And from that we jumped into the wu shi, one of the most fantastic stories about tea I heart inTaiwan. This tea is a green variety that a Taoist master selects every year in a very few plantations to be plugged exactly the summer solstice. They were lucky enough to get into the perfect moment of ripening some part of their plantation in the solstice of 2007. That is not something they wanted to do, but it happened to be there. According to the Taoist tradition, this tea is charged with yang, who has the power to calm down the yin, so it is good for those moody people, unlucky or not healthy ones. Their uniqueness to balance the spiritual energies of the Taiwanese believers make it quite costly (70€ for150 grams). I got totally trapped by the story of a tea that besides all its good properties also could provide you the balance.

In the Tea Shop of Lohas, not a single tea was unpleasant, and it was really difficult to say how much time I spent there tasting. The night overtook us and we prepared some simple, yet yummy, noodles. When I walked back to my scooter, parked in the garden, I kept thinking in their inspirational approach to life, in their courage for changing and how it was imprinted in their products. As if I were in a dream, everything could have evaporated as soon as I start the engine, but I am sure they are still working on it, in a permanent search for a balanced be in the world.  And that was their gift to me: reflection and balance.


Tea tasting in Luye

Lienji Tea House is a beautiful place. “They pay a lot of attention to the presentation” told me a local. And, yes, the lace looks welcoming, traditional and full of knowledge. But, there was nobody to explain me about their awarded teas. In 2 days I stayed in the guest house I only saw a person who asked me for the passport and then disappeared. The room did not have key, and for 2 days nobody showed up in the house. So, I had to move to another place for tea tasting.

The Luye Visitor Centre has a tea shop attached. There I found Jack, a guy doing an alternative military service, who offered to translate the explanations about local teas. The lady in the shop show me their best teas. Unluckily they cannot show me the plantations since it has been already plucked and now they are roasting some varieties. She seems ready to show all her stuff, and start with a nice smooth Fulu Oolong Tea. The oolong can be found everywhere in Taiwan, only that here has this particular name. So, if I want something very local I should go for the Fulu Red Oolong tea. That is a fully fermented oolong whose brew has a reddish honey like colour. The flavour is quite strong compared to the previous Fulu, and has some floral notes. Miss Fu keeps the water only 40 seconds on each brew and tells me it is important not to make it too long, since the fully fermented can become bitter easily. These leaves can provide 7-8 times tea.

Last, but not least,  she shows me the Golden Tea (Jin Xuan). It can be found in other plantations around Taiwan, but they got a silver award and are proud of this last season product. Golden tea is half-fermented and has a milk after taste. It becomes immediately my favourite, and keep chatting with them about here and there, Spain and India, Taiwan and other daily life stuff for more than expected. They bring lunch and we stay together a bit more. And suddenly, I pay attention to a different box. The woman says “This is Kucha, have you ever tried?”. The famous Kucha, the bitterest of the teas. She prepares a bit for me, insisting that the bitterness can be controlled and that will cool down the body. And it is true, her brew is not that bitter (and has almost no colour), but the flavour still is not really nice with some resemblance to liquorice.

The next day I go to pick up some teas I decided to buy and they bring Buddha’s Hand tea. They are roasting it and they want me to try. They prepare one from the previous year and then brew the one they are roasting. I can feel the new one is not yet perfect, by the flavour and the face of the owner. “They would not dare to give to the clients like this”, tells me Jack, “but you are a new friend”. It is a nice gesture from their side. It was a great company and a lot of knowledge about tea.

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Wuhe Honey Tea

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.

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