After sampling Ruby 18 at the TRES branch (in my previous post) we had the chance to hand-roll our own black tea using leaves from the Ruby 18 cultivar! Assisted by the beautiful Angela, we hand-rolled for about 45 minutes. Occasionally we broke up the rolled ball to cool the leaves down as heat can build up which speeds up the oxidation process and we don’t want that to happen too rapidly. Usually, the leaves are rolled for 1.5 hours but we had a tight schedule, of course. The rolled leaves rested for further oxidation in a controlled environment before drying and other pre-packaging steps.
The final product was a Brandy Oolong, named for its colour and to distinguish it from a black tea (or red tea). Brandy Oolong’s differ from Black tea in that they aren’t quite fully oxidized, but rather, 85% – 90% oxidized. This is quite a classy and new category of Taiwanese Oolongs. As each of our hand-rolled tea leaves remained separate from everyone else’s, we all received our own personal canisters of the Brandy Oolong that we made; they arrived a few days later – what a treat!
In Taiwan, the organic farming movement isn’t nearly as big as it is in the West. Conventional farming stills dominates agriculture where pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful farming practices are implemented for various reasons. Some tea gardens have been left to the weeds or wiped out to re-plant the betel nut palm trees (above left). Due to their shallow root system and fast rate of growth the betel nut palm, in large numbers, poses the problem of erosion, not to mention chewing on their nuts is an unhealthy habit. Some farmers, like the gentleman (above right), have taken ruined areas of land (bottom left) and turned them into flourishing tea gardens (bottom right). Not only is he promoting the organic movement, but he’s clearing out old abdondoned betel nut plantations in the process.
After all was said and done, we finally made our way up AliShan range. This required 36 complete switch-backs!! They are actually labelled as you round each narrow corner. The switch-backs only took us part of the way to our final destination, however. It took about three hours to clime a height of 1100 meters (3300 ft) where we took rest for the night in a quaint little tea town.
Some of us actually drank tea well into the night with the local farmer and manufacturer. He served us gong fu style. The following day, he would teach us how to make high mountain jade oolong – from start to finish. Check out the next post for all the details!