We hiked up one of the peaks of San Lin Shi mountain in Taiwan. It was an impressive climb, and from the top you could see miles and miles of mist and other mountain peaks in the distance. The tea bushes at the summit had been recently harvested.
This is where they produce ‘high mountain oolong’ teas. The type of tea varietal is called ‘green heart oolong,’ which is well suited for the altitude. At 6800 ft, the cool evenings keep the insects at bay so that no pesticides are used. They have two harvest seasons, spring and summer. Spring teas are prized for their high fragrance and light body, where as winter harvests have a deeper body. The regional preference is for spring teas, but there are plenty of people who would argue that the winter is better. I managed to get a small amount of each, and am looking forward to cupping them when I get home.
Because of the labor shortage in Taiwan, workers came from Indonesia to help with the harvesting. The tip growth of the tea bushes is picked, primarily by women because of the size of their hands. The stems can be somewhat tough, so to aid in speedy picking they attach razor blades to the sides of their index fingers.
This particular tea was processed by a man named Mr. Chen. The word ‘processed’ sounds mechanical, but it was anything but that. It’s a craft and an art that is informed by experience and intuition. We visited his factory the previous day, just as the plucked tea leaves were being laid out to ‘sun’ in the windowed room. The sunning, or withering, is done in a large open room full of windows. It begins the oxidation process- the heat from the sun starts pulling the moisture out of the leaves. There are screens that can be drawn over the ceiling to control the amount of heat, but the sun was not very strong the day we were there. The amount of time the leaves are left to sun varies on the temperature and sunshine. The day we were there, they were left to sun for about 40 minutes.
The smell of the tea leaves was intoxicating. The men working apologized for making us take off our shoes, but we were all to happy to comply- it was warm and we had been hiking for a while. We tiptoed around the edges of the mats careful not to disturb the leaves and enjoyed the view.