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Chih Hui 智慧 is in Taiwan 2023 #2!
During my first two days in Taiwan, I got to visit two farmers, Mr. Lee (Baochong Oolong) and Mr. Chen (Honey Jia Oolong). It was fulfilling to reconnect with them, and it got me excited to visit the next couple of farmers. Unfortunately, the city’s air quality and heat struck me down. While I was staying in my hometown, Chaiyi 嘉義 (southern region of Taiwan, same county as Ali Shan) recovering from sickness, I kept in contact with the Shan Lin Xi, Tung Ting and Ali Shan farmers to plan a final visiting date. In the last newsletter, I mentioned that the harvesting schedule had been delayed due to the drought.
Finally, I got the go-ahead to visit Shan Lin Xi and Tung Ting on the days of April 29th and 30th, and Ali Shan on May 2nd. My return flight was planned for May 3rd. Wow! Tight timing, but I am glad that I could witness the 2023 tea harvesting and processing and finally see the farmers in-person since 2019.
The weather on April 29th was perfect for me to visit Shan Lin Xi and the Yeh family. It was pleasant to drive up the mountain, and I enjoyed the fresh and clean air. When I got onto the small winding road, there were lots of lush green bamboo walls along the drive. After passing downhill, I saw the new 2.0 tea making factory and it was so active in production. This is the first time I got the chance to observe the entire process with all 22 steps planned by the Yeh family. The whole process can take around 36 hours from leaf picking to MaoCha毛茶/preliminary tea, and the process is non-stop other than the leaves resting (as part of the process). Humans continue to attend to the changes of the leaves.
The picking had already begun at 6:30 in the morning the day before I arrived, and they continued to process the tea until the second day around 8:45 in the evening. At this stage they would pack the preliminary tea into a big bag where it would be ready for drinking but not finalized for a fine batch. Later on there will be more refinement of the tea, which include steps such as grading, taste profile identifying and removing unwanted parts (debris, stems, etc). After these refining steps, the finest batch is selected and will ship to Teance’s warehouse.
At 8:45pm, I went back to my Airbnb for an hour of rest before returning to the factory at 10pm to watch an important stage of processing called “炒菁Chǎo jīng” fixation. In this step, where the tea leaves are heated to deactivate enzymes and create a more finished tea. I had missed the chance to watch this step the night before, so I made sure to stay from 10pm until midnight to watch. After those two hours, I returned to lay down and rest for the night. I felt so tired just watching, and I can’t imagine how tiring it must be to actually process the tea. When you drink these fine seasonal whole leaf tea, think about all the people who are involved. There is a lot of appreciation at the bottom of my heart for all of those involved!
One more thing I have to share about is the aromas! The whole factory is full of tea aromas, and different stages have their own distinct aroma. The aroma is important for the tea maker to determine how each batch of tea will taste. The aroma also helps to identify the moisture level in the tea leaves. Being in the tea factory is like being in an aromatherapy spa! Those aromas continue to linger in my memory.
I will stop writing here! There are so many tales to share, but I will add some photos of my visits to Tung Ting and Ali Shan instead of writing about them. Local tea friends: please come to visit and we can chat about my trip!!