All right, this was the second to last day of the tour. Since I haven’t directly mentioned it already, or if my blog hasn’t already persuaded you, or if you’re highly interested in Taiwan tea, tea farming, and tea processing – attend this tour! The experience offered by Thomas Shu, Josephine Pan, and volunteer staff far out ways the cost, in fact after attending the tour myself, I would pay double. As mega-ambassadors of Taiwan and Taiwan Tea, Thomas and Josephine have the connections and the heart to take you places and reveal information to you that would otherwise be strictly off-limits as a tourist or even as a resident in some cases!
So off we went, over to the Oriental Beauty Tea District. This higher oxidized oolong tea is particularly well-known for its naturally occurring symbiotic relationship between the tea evergreen and a small green leafhopper. In the summer, this tiny hopper chews on the buds and upper tea leaves causing a chemical change in the structure of the leaf. Notice the pictures above with the various amounts of discolouration. As a result of this change, the processed leaf imparts sweetness like honey and plum-like flavour with a matching aroma. Oriental Beauty is a tea of many dry-leaf colours and equally as many names, such as White Tip Oolong, Five-colour Oolong, Eastern Beauty, and of course the associated mandarin translations of these. The cultivar, Chin Sin Dah Pan, is well suited to tailor this oolong, growing in Miao-Li and Hsin-Chu areas in northwest Taiwan.
We had a chance to tour around an Oriental Beauty Museum in Beipu and here are some images capturing the exciting experience.
We also had the chance to learn about traditional pomelo tea baking!
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trip an Oriental Beauty Museum without a cupping of five different grades of Pon Fon Cha.
As well, everyone tried their hand at making Lei Cha, a ground up medley of nuts, seeds, and grains traditionally drank by the Hakka people of Taiwan. Some ingredients included peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dry oolong leaf, puffed rice, and green tea powder (different from Japanese Maccha). These ingredients are ground together using a mortar and pestle. The trick lies in the use of the pestle (and I think the course interior of this particular mortar). The grinding requires two hands on the pestle, one on top acting as a static pivot point, and the other holding the pestle from the side rotating it. After about 15 minutes of continuous grinding, the ingredients take on a paste-like texture. At this point, the green tea powder can be safely blended in, to which hot water is finally added, along with puffed rice. This hearty broth is actually quite enjoyable and filling.
After our Lei Cha, Pomelo, and Oriental Beauty experience, we made our to the Sha Keng tea storage facility. This was a real eye-opener for me. Coming from a small-scale tea farm where about 15lbs of tea is produced annually to this facility was juxtaposing to say the least. One of the members from G.S Haly and Company (a sort of tea broker) couldn’t really comprehend tea in pounds because he’s used to thinking in crates – which can hold 15 thousand pounds (correct me if I’m wrong here Mo!). I think he was a little more comfortable around all of this tea, saying, “Now this is what I’m talking about.” Haha, my eyes just kept saying, that can’t all be tea, can it? And apparently, this storage building used to be Twice as big, not to mention the half that still remains was only occupying about half of it’s potential!! That means, at one point, Sha Keng held more than 4 times what you see in these pictures, and these pictures can’t reveal it all either!
The family and staff from Sha Keng treated us to one of the most delicious homemade lunches of the entire tour along with pomelo and citrus tea.
And if you thought we were done now, we still had TWO more tea museums to visit! First was the King Tai (Chin Thai) Tea Company. Located in the Guansi in the Hsinchu County, the Lo Family (a very common name in that area!) has preserved this museum so that we may witness the history of Taiwan Tea in this once-bustling tea township. Full of old and large machinery, the hustle bustle rhythm still clunked on when Mr. Lo started up some of the weathered hydraulic units and proceeded to run the machines. There were production lines with mega panning units, rollers, dryers, shaker-screens, and other large-scale tea processing equipment. These were the old day of tea in Taiwan, or Formosa Oolong.
If that wasn’t enough, we then went to the Formosa Black Tea Museum managed by Mr. CS Lou, an energetic old tea professional carrying on the tradition of his fathers company. This museum hosts an outstanding display of historical photos and beautiful antiques. This place acts as both a museum and a tea production company, located under one roof. Really an amazing place to step into; knowing that major deals and cuppings took place in that very vicinity many years ago, and that tea is still being produced to this day.
While the name might suggest an array of classic black teas, they actually produce Japanese-like green teas – who would’ve guessed? Mr. Lou focuses on a steamed green tea similar to Japanese Sencha and a ground up powdered green tea similar to Japanese Maccha. Interesting.
After enjoying some of the green tea, the antiques, and the amazing history we held an open discussion on promoting the image of Taiwan Tea. Followed by a traditional Hakka dinner, and just a few more tastings of tea – we called it a day!