Free UK Standard Delivery for orders over £60

 10% Off Your First Order By Signing Up


11th May 2011

By Edward Eisler

Sourcing Taiwanese Oolongs

I just got back from a visit to Taiwan. In this post I want to tell you about some of the places I visited and some of the new teas which, by popular demand, we will be adding to our Taiwan Oolong tea section.

Taiwan teas are among the most fragrant and aromatic.  At best, they give extraordinary abundance of flavour and texture, with nothing lacking. Typically, Taiwan focuses on Oolong tea, but outstanding black teas are also made there; our Li Shan Black (still my favourite of last year and continuing to surpass any black tea tasted so far this year) is an example.

As I’ve mentioned before, many farmers in Taiwan use of large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides; this has limited what I have been able to source but in recent years we have located excellent organic growers and masterful makers (those that process the tea after picking). This has opened up Taiwan to me and our customers.

I just made an in depth visit, going to Ping Ling and Shi Ding (where the famous Baozhong is produced), and Nantou. Nantou subsumes Lugu which in turn subsumes the well known Dong Ding mountain.

The purpose of the visit was to taste the new spring teas during production.

Shi Ding Baozhong Organic Tea Gardens

Gardens from which Baozhong is produced in Shi Ding, the original origin of this light and highly fragrant tea.

I visited a small production site on the edge of the steep slopes which run down to the beautiful reservoir that supplies Taipei with water.

Shi Ding Tea Fields
The tea was rough and unfinished when I arrived, allowing me to taste the quality of the raw material but not the finished product. I was impressed with the clean, clear presentation of flavours. The final sorting and baking of the tea will determine how the potential of the tea is realised. I will be tasting the finished product in the next couple of days.

We made a quick stop in Shi Ding for the famous tofu ice cream, and some street food on the outskirts of Taizhong, driving for a few hours down to Dong Ding.

I arrived late in the afternoon in time to have a good look at the sub tropical flora and to walk some of the organic gardens with the farmer, a very experienced and traditional producer.

Dong Ding Tea Fields

Small plots of tea garden on Dong Ding of huge value and importance, each managed by a different producer

Dong Ding Gardens

The humid and hazy subtropical scene on the slopes of Dong Ding

Organic Dong Ding Farmer

Quite a character, decades of experience and a passion for preserving the unique flavour of the tea from Dong Ding

We were at around 700m, nothing like as high as Li Shan. The climate is warmer and richer, with thick aromas of sub tropical vegatation.  The soil and climate produces very different tea to Li Shan and Ali Shan with hearty aromatics.

Dong Ding Tea Withering

Dong Ding tea withering outside in a traditional square inner courtyard.  In the background, the shrine room glows with lights and offerings to Kuan Yin.

In the evening, after dinner with one of the farmers and much discussion about what Dong Ding ‘should’ taste like and how it should be made, we tasted some of the Spring production. We were tasting the tea prior to final baking so I could specify what level of baking I would like. Multiple, slow bakings are performed to bring the best out of the tea. I was very happy with the quality of the material which showed it would be an excellent basis for the finished product.

In the morning, after a good sleep in a beautiful local guest house, I sat outside and re-tasted the teas from the gardens I had visited and further samples just out from some more gardens I was about to go to.

Tasting dong ding tea

One way to taste the tea, is to make it in a bowl with boiling water, then let it soak until the water is room temperature.  All of the good and bad qualities of the tea are highly apparent.

Organic Dong Ding Farmer
Then it was time to visit another garden and taste some of the spring tea before setting off for lower lying gardens in Nantou where our Jade and other teas are produced.

Organic Jade Oolong Field

The Jade (Cui Yu) cultivar with characteristic dark-green sheen.

The farm here is run by a young farmer and his wife. The farmer inherited the plot from his father. They seemed to be strict Buddhists, and vegetarian. They follow organic cultivation methods and I have been always highly impressed by the very clean, and fresh flavour of the tea with its delightfully refreshing and light body.  They have managed to bring out the unique qualities and taste of Jade Oolong and I have found myself drinking the new spring crop daily since I was there.

Organic Jin Xuan Fields, Nantou

They also produce Jin Xuan, which was beautifully floral and creamy

Organic Shui Xian bushes in Nantou

and Water Sprite trees imported from China. The trees grew without excessive management. It was like seeing an old friend (from Wuyi in China) in a new place. The Spring tea was pleasant, but sadly lacked clarity and complexity of flavour. 

Phoenix Garden, Ming Jian

Phoenix cultivars, imported from Feng Huang in China’s Guangdong Province.

A new discovery held the best part of the trip till last. In Ming Jian, Feng Huang Dan Cong (Phoenix) cultivated and processed on Taiwan soil. The result was absolutely spectacular; all the complex fruit, floral and high notes typical of the best Phoenix teas but with extra thickness and viscosity of body giving total balance and satisfaction to the palate. I was bowled over!

Phoenix Farmer, Ming Jian

The farmer, in very humble surroundings (though very successful, he only cares about the tea!) 

The farmer only managed to produce 7kg of the tea this spring. If the tea passes all the tests, I will try to get my hand on as much as I can to offer on the website. We’ll keep you posted!