You know it’s a good day on the job when you retire for the night, and your clothes are fragrant with the aroma of fresh tea.
I’m sitting here with my cup of unfinished oolong tea. Harvested yesterday. Yes, it’s technically “not as good” as the finished product. But to cut through this tropical downpour and my jetlag, this “grandpa brew” (see Payton’s Blog Post) is doing a fine job…and sweet holy freshness!
Now on to our first High Mountain Oolong travels in central Taiwan…actually where i was gifted this unfinished tea.
We cut right to the chase. Straight (not the road. These crazy steep, narrow one lane, drop-off-cliff mountain tea roads are not for the faint of heart) to visit Teacher Gao’s tea farm.
Husband and wife, these retired high school teachers have been growing tea here for 30 years. Much of their facility is new, clean, and well cared for…it’s an impressive operation that produces a refined tea at an affordable cost (compared to nearby Li Shan teas). Mr Liao, our Taiwan tea guru, quickly introduced me to his close friend, Master Yang. Master Yang is a manager of the tea factory, who, according to Mr. Liao, has “never failed on a mission to make the best tea”. Which is saying something in this highly competitive area that is prone to harsh weather (rain on a harvest day is not ideal for making tea; monsoons are also a difficulty). Master Yang was in charge of making our Li Shan Tea, and after meeting him, I share in Mr. Liao’s sentiment.
I first met Mr Liao on my first trip to Taiwan in 2008, so this was an overdue meeting. We connected over talking of “Tea Artists”, those who made tea with their heart as focus, rather than for the cash money. These were the people who cared for their plants, cultivation methods, and refined their craft as a study, subsequently producing the best tasting tea. It is something you can taste in your cup (and feel), and when you meet them, you can see it in their eyes (and also how they are constantly excusing themselves to check on their precious tea). In Teacher Gao’s tea field, Liao pointed out an entire section damaged by insects. Rather than spray just before harvest, it was all left untouched. A large amount lost, no doubt, but not compared to what was gained for all of us.
Artist Lin does not work in a factory. He works on his own, tending his tea garden that surrounds his modest family home among a swirling array of fruit trees, flowers, and bonsai. He does not spray any chemicals on his trees. I’ve actually never seen so many cobwebs on tea bushes before..he just picks around them…and that can really be a beautiful thing. Especially when we taste the results in the cup. Perhaps we are fortunate to have found another Tea Artist. You can decide for yourself in a couple weeks when i return.
Before i left, Artist Lin was up on the roof, reaching far to pick peaches, ready on the tree. He sent me home with a huge bag of more peaches than i could eat…loaded with bites of critters and scars. But just one bite into them, and it all made sense. This is a different way to grow tea as a business, that is not easy to find, but it is exactly what we are looking for.