People said the name of Taiwanese teas can be somewhat confusing because of variety, the overlapping of growing area and processing styles. Actually the confusion is not on the word of “Taiwanese” or “Chinese”, but it goes back how much know about tea. Qing Cha (Oolong) and Hong Cha (Black Tea) are special tea varieties from Taiwan.
There have been many researches and developments of tea tree cultivars even during the Japanese occupation period, right now 21 tea tree cultivars are identified and promoted by Tea Research and Extension Station, Taiwan’s official tea institute, there another 6 other tea tree cultivars; so the total number of tea tree cultivars in Taiwan is counted to 27. There are 12 most popular tea trees producing fine quality oolong or black tea in Taiwan :
- TRES#8 – for black tea
- TRES#12 also known as JinXuan – for Baozhong, oolong and black tea
- TRES#13 also known as Jade – for Baozhong, oolong and black tea
- TRES#18 also known as Hong Yu – for black tea (an unique cultivar around the Sun Moon Lake)
- TRES#19 also known as Bi Yu – for Baozhong
- TRES#20 also known as Ying Xiang – Baozhong and oolong
- TRES#21 also known as Hong Yun – for black tea (an unique cultivar around the Sun Moon Lake)
- Four Seasons – mainly for light fermented oolong
- Tie Guan Yin – for traditional fermented and roasted oolong
- Qing Xin Gan Zai – For Bi Lou Chun in Shan Xia
- Qing Xin Da Gang also known as Qing Xin Da Pang in Taiwanese dialect – Bai Hao Oolong and Black Tea
- Taiwan wild tea tree – for green and black tea
Taiwan is not very big but it sits right on the Tropic of Cancer and have lots of mountains on the island, so the micro-environment is very suitable for good quality tea. Tea plantation areas are widely spreading from North to South, West to East, not to mention there are many fine quality Gaoshan Oolong tea on different mountains in the Central Mountains region with the height from > 1000 meters to <2,500 meter; when you look at the map the Central Mountains region as if a dragon back bone on the island.
Each tea has its own interesting story, and in Taiwan there are much more to tell than the basic six types that you can find from Taiwan:
- BaoZhong – the lighest fermented Oolong
- Bai Hao Oolong – also known as Oriental Beauty, the highest oxidated and fermented Oolong
- Taiwan Oolong – can be divided in low altitude regions(<1000 meters and >1000 meters), from low to mid. fermentation, with and without roasting. There are lots of variety with different unique flavour and taste
- Black Tea – full and rich natural flavour and taste of Taiwan black tea are very different from what you can find from China, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
- Wild tea – made from Taiwan wild tea trees
- Black Oolong also known as Brandy Oolong – from mid- to heavy fermented and being roasted create more choices from place to place, from private supplier to each others.
Among the 6 tea types, Oolong tea has the most specific demands on the tea tree cultivars and very complex production processes. Key factors that can influence the quality in flavour and taste of tea, not limited to Taiwanese oolong only, basically are:
- Healthy and suitable tea tree cultivar
- In the high mountain regions, the number one tea tree cultivar is Qing Xin Oolong and then is JinXuan (TRES#12).
- Ecological growing management –
- Indeed there were many tea farmers/traders brought Taiwan tea tree cultivars to China or South East Asia, but what they couldn’t duplicate is t he unique ecological growing micro-environment
- Timing and method in tea picking
- The best quality oolong must be hand picked, 1 young leaf with 2-3 leaves.
- Only pick when young buds are half open, so the picking timing and efficiency are critical
- Basically leaves should be in light olive green color, leaves are fat and soft
- If leaves were picked late, then leaves are rough and large, the flavour and taste are thinner; but if were picked too learly, the color of leaves are darker, the flavour is weakened
- Experience and management in the fixing, fermentation and rolling processes
- After the withering process, how tea master control the later repeatedly fixing, fermentation and the rolling processes afterwards play another critical role to the quality of final tea base
- The fermentation for tea is not same as fermentation for wine. With wine, they can check and control the fermentation level but tea entirely depends on the experience of tea masters from each step in the process.
Now, the fine Oolong Mao Cha (tea base) are ready and can be served already, if you thought this is the end of fancy Oolong legend in Taiwan, then you are wrong, because traditional Dong Ding and Tie Guan Yin that require more complex roasting process afterwards add on more exciting pages to the story book of Taiwanese Oolong.
Taiwan Oolong is not a name of tea, but a general term of fine quality flavour and taste of Oolong tea and Black tea, stories of how people preserve the old Chinese traditions from Taiwan. A small island has wide tea variety to offer, but the first thing is to learn how to identify and distinguish respective unique characters and differences. With tea, we learn not to put a period easily, but embrace the extension of dots after dots.
Soon, I will introduce Taiwanese teas step by step on our blog with more details. So sign up and join us with the cross island tea train.