When Portuguese conquerors first arrived on the island of Taiwan, they were astounded by the breathtaking beauty of this country, especially by the awe-inspiring high rugged mountains and the lush vegetation that dreams are made of. They called it Formosa, meaning beautiful in Portuguese, a name that even though long gone from the maps of the world, still remains a special memory of the past on some of the labels of Taiwanese teas.
It seems incredible that on an island that is not more than 400 km long and only 150 km wide, we can find so many different varieties of teas. One reason is the mountain range that stretches from north to south, with peaks above 2.000 meters high offering great conditions for the production of high quality tea.
The tea plant is not native to this island. Chinese tea farmers from the Fujian province who crossed the Taiwan Strait and arrived in Formosa at the beginning of the 18th century, carried plants and seeds with them, along with their knowledge and techniques to produce one of the most hard-to-make of all types of teas: Oolongs. These were the beginnings of a tea industry that would eventually focus on quality over quantity. Oolong being the perfect fit for this approach, and becoming the emblem of Taiwanese teas.
The different types of teas are classified according to the manufacturing process, with oxidation levels being one of the key differentiators in classification. Playing with the different levels of oxidation leads to great variants of aromas and flavors. While green teas have the lowest oxidation level, black teas have a darker color and a deep red liquor due to the full oxidation, oolongs stay in the middle and are referred to as semi-oxidised.
A daily favourite oolong in Taiwan is our Four Seasons of Spring N°402 with the iconic oolong shape – tightly balled, deep green leaves bursting with unctuous flavor. Ours is no ordinary oolong, however. Its strong floral character tantalizes the palate with tasting notes of milky sweetness.
Mother nature is full of peculiar wonders. One of them being a miraculous phenomenon called symbiosis, a close relationship between organisms of two different species, from which at least one organism benefits. In the Terroir of the Taiwanese tea regions, the tea jassid lives off the Camellia sinensis. When this little green leafhopper bites the leaves, they experience early oxidation while the leaves are still on the plant. This defence mechanism flourishes muscat grape like notes, and develops a magnificent rich savour, which results in a flamboyant riot of white-tipped leaves.
One of the few teas that actually goes through this natural interaction is our Oriental Beauty N°403, an Oolong with hints of fruity, peach and citrus notes. Oriental Beauty was also the favourite tea of her Majesty Queen Victoria. Although Oolong is a lesser known type of tea, the flavour this interplay produces is so exquisite, that we also refer to Oriental Beauty as our Champagne of Oolongs, grown in the Miaoli region, a place akin to paradise on earth.
Since the island of Taiwan is limited in size, there is a natural limit in the land available for tea production. Consequently many Taiwanese tea producers have emigrated from Taiwan to other regions of SouthEast Asia, such as Thailand. Carrying their plants and peculiar techniques, Jin Xuan for example, a cultivar developed in Taiwan, is now being used in the production of famous Milky Oolongs. Our Milk River N°406 is a Jin Xuan cultivar that originated in the hills of Northern Thailand. Its cultivation and production have infused elements of Chinese and Taiwanese tea-making into their own practise, as the two tea giants exported their culture to the world. Unlike some other teas, however, Milk River N°406 exudes a delectable milkiness which naturally arises from the tea plant. Alternatively, other teas may achieve this same taste by scenting with milk steam. As you enjoy notes of sweet greens, orchid, and cream allow the rich flavors to blossom and carry songs of cloudless days that open you to valleys of awareness.
In Taiwan, the most common way to prepare Oolong tea is Gong Fu style, where the tea is served in small cups, and the same Oolong tea leaves can be infused many times. The Gong Fu style with its short brewing times allows the sweet savours of the Oolong to fully prosper in an ethereal cup.
Taiwan has something unique. They understand that tea production is not just an industry, but an art. Is not only about soil, weather and plants. It is about the harmony between those and the people. Tea is culture and a heritage, not only for the Taiwanese people, but for the whole world to enjoy. Their kindness is outstanding and they always welcome you to share a cup of tea.