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Chih Hui 智慧 is in Taiwan 2023!
I finally have arrived in my home country, Taiwan Formosa, which provides Teance with many great oolongs and some special red/black teas. My last visit was in the summer of 2019 right before the pandemic. We are glad that our Taiwan farmers have continued to provide teas for Teance during this time!
There’s an old saying of Taiwan farmers (including my mother): “看天吃飯 Kàn tiān chīfàn” which translates to “watch weather for the eating” or “depend on weather for the food.” The weather in Taiwan in the last year has been particularly trying for tea farmers, especially with lack of water. I had a conversation with Mr. Lee, our Baochong farmer, about the weather in summer 2022 that damaged brushes (like those in the photo above) and decreased the amount of harvest. He also shared about his experience with lack of expert tea pickers as well as land resumption from the government. His stories made me appreciate and respect people who continue to devote their lives to tea (or any kind of) farming.
My flight landed in Taiwan at 6am in the morning and I went straight to Taipei. Once I dropped off my luggage and ate breakfast (can’t miss my favorite meal in Taiwan!) I quickly figured out how to take public transportation to Pinglin 坪林 area to meet Mr. Lee. Once there, I got to ride on his farm-truck and listen to what was going on with his farmland, the weather, and his wife’s health. He told me that his son is not planning to inherit the farm or continue making tea. I also got an inside story of his Baochong competition submission. There was so much information and conversation that I kept videoing or recording what he said.
I had made sure to reserve the Baochong Premium well before the spring harvesting and ahead of the local tea collectors. We can’t miss the opportunity to reserve this tea like we did last winter! I am just going to trust that Mr. Lee will give us the top quality that Teance customers will appreciate.
I also got a chance to see both the machine and handpicked harvest for the first time in-person. Mr. Lee has a lot of land, so he lets other farmers take care of some of the land where they harvest different varietals that are lower quality. That way, the work is divided and other farmers benefit from his land; plus he receives some profit from those farmers.
Since Mr. Chen, our Honey Jia Long farmer, was not available on the same day, I returned to Pinglin 坪林 the next day to see him. I rode with Mr. Chen to his farmland to see tea brushes, vegetables, and his little pet friends (worms and insects). I got to firsthand witness and hear about the challenges of natural farming. After visiting the farm, Mr. Chen invited me to stay at his shop which sells tea and vegetarian dishes made mostly from vegetables from his farmland, plus "Tea Seed Oil 苦茶油 noodles." Mr. Chen brewed many Honey Jia Long teas of different grades and from many different years (2014, 2019, 2021, 2022)! I sat and tasted them with his regular customers – what a fun experience! He shared how as Honey Jia Long ages, its taste profile changes. We’ve experienced the same thing at the tea shop. For example, it seems Honey Jia Long King's Grade 2020 has developed a more prominent fermented plum taste and aroma in the last couple of years. Mr. Chen also noted how brewing Honey Jia Long in different seasons creates slightly different taste profiles as well. And of course, the year of the harvest is another factor for the tea profile and quality.
I have reserved more Honey Jia Long 2020 & 2018, both of which we currently carry, before they run out. I tasted a couple other years, but I still like what we have now and each will continue to change as they age in the coming years.
As I was leaving, Mr. Chen gave me a tip: save Honey Jia Long’s liquid in a thermos and drink throughout the day. The taste profile will not change as much as other oolongs. He poured a large amount in my thermos for me to enjoy on the way back to Taipei city.
Due to a lack of water since last summer, and especially this spring, harvest times are delayed throughout Taiwan for many tea farmers. Our Shan Lin Xi and Ali Shan farmers originally planned to harvest around April 22nd, but they both have had to push back the date, wait, and see how the leaves look. I am visiting our Shan Lin Xi farmers, the Yeh family, on April 29th and 30th to observe the whole harvest process, and once there I won’t be going to sleep early! They will work until 10pm at the earliest and that only results in MaoCha毛茶, or preliminary/semi-made tea that is not yet finalized. The freshly picked leaves need to immediately process until this stage to maintain good quality and not get ruined.
Our Ali Shan farmers will be harvesting Jin Shuan for a few days starting on April 30th. I plan to visit on May 1st and 2nd. Stay tuned in future newsletters to see how our Shan Lin Xi and Ali Shan farmers are doing! Or come by the shop – we will be able to share our stories with you in-person.
Read more about Chih Hui's Taiwan travels in Part 2.