In the early spring of 2010, we had the good fortune to stay with the Chang family in Lugu, Nantou County, Taiwan. We met the family through WWOOF Taiwan, a branch of the well-known organization that links organic farmers with folks interested in working in the dirt in exchange for room and board. The Chang family has a plantation on Shan Lin Shi and a small organic oolong grove near their place in Lugu. We were early for the tea harvest (and probably wouldn't have been much help anyway with our clumsy laowai picking fingers), but the Changs kindly invited us to visit for a couple of days anyway. We shared some delicious meals and fabulous tea sessions and we deeply enjoyed the company--especially that of the hilarious and mischievous Miss Chang.
On a bright morning we drove out of the dewy valley where Lugu perches and entered the crystalline realm of Shan Lin Shi.
Shan Lin Shi is one of Taiwan's major high mountain oolong production areas and tea farms are tucked into the folds and contours of the mountain. The tea plants were dark green, waxy and sleeping. At the Chang's quiet processing center, we saw where fresh stem-and-leaf sets are sun-withered. Lines above the withering area held a transparent awning that could be drawn to shield the tea in case the sun's rays become too piercing.While in Taiwan, we got the sense that large-scale high mountain oolong agriculture can be hard on the land. (Like industrial agriculture in the central United States and elsewhere) It depends upon the approach of the grower. Some farmers apply a lot of pesticides to their tea plants and have installed permanent structures that hold applicator tubing.
I do not recall the intricacies of the wilting, drying, rolling and roasting process these tender leaves are put through. I do know that creating a fresh tea with the proper oxidation level and moisture content is not a simple endeavor. We also got a look at ovens that remove moisture from the leaves.
|Indoor withering room where leaves are stirred and rested after outdoor wilting.|
|Indoor Wilting Baskets|
Wish I had a better photo of it. The line dangling between two poles
on the top right of the knoll is a hose that carries chemicals.|
|Farmer Lin's artfully rendered and conscientiously sourced oolong alternative.|
In addition to stunningly delicious teas, the flanks of Shan Lin Shi produce other, equally scrumptious fruits of the soil.
|Miss Chang's grandmother digging shoots on the mountainside.|