Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tea! Mt. Ah Li - The Journey Continues

We were pushing it for sure. Early in the season, trying to catch an in-between-the-rain harvest, and on the heals of a drought that lasted most of the season. Off the beaten path, on the small mountain roads, and we are lost. As long as everyone has their cell phones, this isn't usually a big deal in Taiwan. We call the guy, a local tea maker, and he comes out to meet us. He is on a scooter and we follow behind him in the four door economy car. It turns out we were close. After following for just a short stretch we are turning down a steep paved driveway. When I see the tea processing center, a large building with a steel frame and corrugated steel walls, I jump to grab my bag. I wanted to document any and all tea making in progress for my own tea education. We are invited through a sliding door into a room that has a brew station with a few modest chairs and a small fish tank with one fish. This place was not fancy, but it was professional. We drink some high mountain green oolong tea and then are invited through another set of sliding doors into a huge tea processing room filled with tea. This was the indoor withering phase of oolong production. The entire room is filled with racks upon racks of tea in the withering stage of production. I am ecstatic. Filled with joy. I am so happy, I feel like I could spit.

The tea leaf as it oxidizes in the withering stage of processing

The racks upon racks of leaf, oxidizing in the temperature and humidity controlled environment
Everyone working in this tea factory wear matching uniforms of army camouflage clothing. Pants and jackets. It gets cold up here at night. These digs seem to be all the rage amongst tea processing teams. The tea processors' movements seem like a choreographed dance against the backdrop of tea drying in round racks, with the tea stacked level after level, well over head. This is Tai He First Stop. A huge AC, and I mean huge, like the kind that is used for an entire shopping mall, is built into the wall. The ceiling was a series of slat style vents that delivered the dry cool air that the leaves reportedly love. “Today's tea likes to feel the cool air, so we turn on the AC.” This is common practice nowadays, but I'm not sure about the origin or history of this use, other than I know I've seen it since at least 2004. The effect of AC on the leaf is more even oxidation throughout the entire leaf vs. segmented off to the edges.

The farmer, Mr. Jian, showing us the tea leaf

The tea leaf is transferred to the tumbler. The tumbler bruises the leaf, resulting in consistent and even oxidation.  

This part of the tumbler keeps track of how many rotations the tumble completes.  It also has a timer, and can be set for a specific amount of time.
We checked out the tea, but nothing was finished yet. It would be another day or so until the Tai He First Stop would be ready. Tai He First Stop reported that Ah Li Shan Golden Lily tea picking started 10 days ago, and the Mt. Ah Li Green Heart Oolong started today. We are in luck!

It is midnight by now. Luckily this guy knew a place where we could sleep. It was late and we were so road worn by this point that I don't really remember much, just that the rooms were large. The windows were huge as well, making up nearly an entire wall that overlooked the magnificent tea growing landscape. I think we meant to get up early, but after the late bed time, 8 AM was about the best we could do. After asking about breakfast we are shown to the kitchen, and then we ask about tea. The man said he had some, to which we asked Jin Xuan or oolong. Oolong, we have oolong, he replied. He showed us around the kitchen and left us to eat.  

This Mt. Ah Li First Stop Tea is available on our website here: Mt. Ah Li First Stop link.

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