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Farmer Spotlight: Master Su Shu Jen
To quote one of our customers, “Master Su is a national treasure”. Her handpicked and hand roasted tea, the Tung Ting Cold Summit Dark Roast, has a strong nutty fragrance, but delicate and floral in flavor. As the rolled up balls of leaves start to unfurl, the infusion of flower and sweet caramel blooms and gradually reveal the notes of nuttiness. As steepings continue, the tea becomes slightly creamy or buttery in texture, ending in a smooth, lingering finish. Such work of mastery is rare, and even more so, by a female master.
Shu Jen came from generations of tea farmers in the Tung Ting Mountains of Taiwan. At the tender age of 17, she married the grandson of Tung Ting founder, a prestigious family of tea farmers who cultivated the famous Tung Ting oolong tea. With business expansion in mind, Shu Jen’s husband traveled a lot and was rarely home, leaving Shu Jen to tend to her young 3 sons, their tea farm, and all the grueling work that comes with processing tea and managing the family farm.
But as it turned out, Shu Jen was a true talent when it comes to making tea. Generations of knowledge and skill flow naturally through her and into her work. When we found her over 20 years ago, she was already charcoal roasting her oolong like an old pro. To ensure the quality of her work, she personally handmade all her tea with thoughtful care and attention to details. Her tea is always picked in the early morning when the leaves are still moist with dew, and then partially fermented before being roasted to stop the fermentation process. Each step requires years of experience and understanding of the process. As a traditional* farmer, she needed to be even more observant and patient. She could tell how much saliva from the tiny cicadas had left on the leaves so she would roast the tea accordingly, how the weather affects the plants so as to determine the amount of water, type of fertilization, how long and how hot the roasting is necessary for various batches and conditions in order to draw out the most desirable flavors. As she said, farmers live at the mercy of the weather, so she had to respond correctly to each storm, each drought, and even various bug invasions. By adjusting to her tea plants and their wrath of nature, she was able to skillfully balance the fiery and sweetness all at once. Shu Jen possesses an incredible amount of mastery and extensive knowledge, ranging from farming to roasting, from plants to teas. But to her, it's all just intuition.
Even today, men continue to dominate the world of tea. So for a female master such as Master Su to hold her own over decades is unusual, let alone winning awards year after year, but it is her heart of gold that made us love her even more. During our visits to her farm, she often insisted on cooking dinner for us and gifting us the vegetables that she grew for her own family. Some years ago when production was limited due to weather, and tea prices rose, she refused to raise her tea prices like others, as she worried that her customers would not be able to afford her tea. At times when her harvest was substandard, she would not send us her stock so as to keep the integrity and standard of her work. In 2022, she didn’t make any Royal Courtesan Oolong because the cicadas didn’t leave enough bites on the tea leaves. She cares so much just about everything - her farm, the environment, us customers, and most importantly, her work - the tea.
Master Su’s Tung Ting Oolong is considered one of the finest teas in the world and is highly prized by tea connoisseurs. It is often served at special occasions and is a popular gift among tea enthusiasts. For this Women’s History month, we hope we brought you a new level of appreciation for Master Su, and perhaps keep her in your thoughts when you sip on her work of art.