Taiwan and our First Teason Nov 17, 2016
By Eunice Pallot
In November 2015 I visited a prospective tea supplier in Taiwan. The teas blew my mind, but, much to my surprise, Taiwan did too. To be fair, my expectations were fairly low, with thoughts of industrial-scale manufacturing and pollution to the fore, but it really is an amazing country and Taipei a complete gem, with temples at every turn, amazing design and incredible food.
It’s also a safe and manageable place to get around — the Taipei subway is a seriously clean and perfectly functioning, air-conned triumph and, in a country only half the size of Scotland, the rail network makes it very easy to get out and explore the awe-inspiring countryside.
So, to the teas. We’ve launched Té Amor with seven amazing teas coming direct by air from Taiwan, meaning they could not be fresher, having avoided lengthy shipping in fluctuating temperatures and storage in warehouses, and we are delighted with their calibre. We have five oolongs — the national obsession — and two blacks.
High quality teas are often associated with high altitudes, and Taiwan has three mountainous areas famous for its Gao Shan Cha, or High Altitude Tea. At these higher altitudes, of more than 1000m, cooler conditions slow the growth of the plants and increase the concentration of aromatic oils in the leaves, while thick fog filters the sun’s rays and encourages the production of particularly dark-coloured leaves, packed with amino acids. The resulting teas have a fantastic aromatic profile and creamy mouthfeel.
We have three teas coming from two of Taiwan’s Gao Shan Cha areas: two Ali Shans and a Li Shan. The tea farms there tend to be small and family-owned, and the owners more inclined to oversee production from start to finish. The nature of the terrain means hand picking is essential, which helps to maximise quality as the whole leaves are carefully picked to avoid degradation. The tea gardens were only planted relatively recently, some in the last 20 years, so the farmers have been able to use the cultivars most suited to the terroir, as developed by the tireless and forward thinking Taiwanese Tea Experiment Station (TTES). Our two Ali Shans and Li Shan are ball rolled oolongs, meaning the whole leaves are rolled and dried as small shiny balls, which, on infusion, unfurl to reveal incredibly long leaves with beautiful floral and creamy aromas.
From further north in Pinglin, a short distance from Taipai, comes our Pouchong. Also an oolong, it is so lightly oxidised that many classify it as a green tea, but technically it is an oolong. It is not shaped into a ball, like the Gao Shan Cha, but finished in an open, twisted-leaf style known as strip or stripe. I have a real soft spot for Pouchong, and can’t seem to drink it without a smile. It’s mouthwatering, fresh, flirty and fun, with notes of buttered spring vegetables. We’re lucky to have this tea, as the locals are so fond of Pouchong it rarely makes it onto the export market. I drink it gong fu style, with a generous proportion of leaves to water ratio, allowing multiple brief infusions.
Like Pouchong, our Oriental Beauty Oolong is also twisted-leaf in style, but the Oriental Beauty is much more heavily oxidised. Where our Pouchong is light and fresh, our Oriental Beauty is super-exotic, with lily, lilac and honey aromas. The story behind the creation of Oriental Beauty is also a little mental – the exotic nose on an Oriental Beauty (which makes it easy to identify in blind tastings) is the result of the tea plant being bitten by a grasshopper (the bites are too small to see, but the smell gives it away). The plants respond to this attack by releasing aromatic hormones to attract predators, which happen to appeal greatly to humans. We are very honoured to be the exclusive suppliers of this particular Oriental Beauty in the British Isles.
Oriental Beauty oolong is famous, and for good reason, but less well known is the black tea from the same cultivar. Our Black Oriental Beauty is a fully oxidised version of the oolong, and still has the recognisable honey and lilac notes, but backed by a heartier, darker flavour. This tea is rare and delicious.
And finally, from Nantou County in the centre of the island comes our second black tea: Sun Moon Lake Ruby. Named after Sun Moon Lake, a mecca for tourists, it is made from the Ruby cultivar, which took TTES an epic 50 years to perfect. Ours is fairly light in style, with a lovely note of hay on the dry leaf, and ultimately a very mellow palate low in tannins. A comfort tea, if you please, that’s great to start your day.
So, we hope you enjoy the first or ours teas! Meanwhile, check out our brewing guidelines to get the most out of our teas.