Ms. Su has been married 18 years to her husband. At the time they were married, her father gave her and her new husband a special batch of tea from her village. She’s held on to that tea, and each year has opened it up, re-fired it to preserve it, and sealed it back up again.
I met Ms. Su when I was in Taiwan. We tasted several of the teas that she makes: a classic dong ding high mountain oolong, a dark charcoal roasted version, and the famous royal courtesan oolong. She also had us taste some of her special dowry tea, which was an unexpected treat. The range of flavors was astounding considering that all of them came from the same type of tea bush grown in the same region. That she gave each of us a small amount of this tea to take with us was an unexpected surprise. Drinking it in my kitchen this afternoon, I can’t help but think of her, and her commitment to her craft.
There is a lot of history to many of the names, as Winnie Yu wrote about in The Name Game. On this most recent trip, I learned that in regards to Taiwanese teas the naming is consistently inconsistent. For example take “Dong Ding”. It’s a village in Nantou County, Taiwan that produces a tea by the same name, and also a general name of Taiwanese oolongs that are made with a varietal of tea bush originally from WuYi China. But, sometimes it’s spelled Tung Ting. Or Dung Ding. Another example is the mountain range Shan Lin Xi. Or San Lin Shi, or San Lin She. Or, if you’re on the road that winds up the mountain and reading the signs that list where you are, it’s “Sun Link Sea”. I had to put that last one in quotes because it was quite confusing, though the sign makers were just trying to make it easy for tourists to pronounce it.