Our aim, as was Philip's in making his visit to us, is to bring Taiwanese tea to the world, make the teas, their stories & the island more well known & of course encourage you to explore! You won't be disappointed!
We are only able to bring you such unique tea events & share these insights due to the partnership & generosity of our partners - Comins is such a wonderfully collaborative community - we hope you enjoy the read!
In our last blog we looked at a truly unique Taiwanese White Tea T-18; now we continue our exploration towards green tea. The tea we are focusing on in this blog is Bi Luo Chun - originating from an area of Taiwan called Sanxia - a few km south of Taipei in the North.
First lets take a look at the beautiful leaves
The first question you may be asking is 'Isn't Bi Luo Chun a Chinese Style Tea?' Well this was indeed the first question asked at our recent event & to start to answer it Philip first took us back to the point in history when the Dutch controlled the island for 40 years [1624 to 1662 & from 1664 to 1668]. During this period many people were hired to take care of the industries on the island - agriculture, heavy industry etc. This created an influx of people from the Chinese mainland - predominantly the neighbouring provinces of Fujian & Guangdong where there is strong tea heritage. These people settled & it is this population that has continued to grow on the island. Fast forward to the late 1940s early 50s and the Chinese civil war when the nationalist party decided to retreat to Taiwan causing a mass movement of people. Chiang Kai-shek - the leader of republic of China - brought half a million [mostly military] people with him. It was one of the largest influxes of population that Taiwan has lived through. Following the Dutch control [discussed above] the Chinese Emperor had made it illegal to traverse into China....so the half million settlers had to find work. As mentioned most were military but some people brought tea plants from China & along with them their tea making expertise. Their knowledge was how to make Chinese style tea & Sanxia, where we find ourselves when discussing this tea, is one of those areas. The tea history here is recent - only from the 1950s - & there are only a few families making tea like this one. The Li family who make this tea are predominantly involved in export & to protect their business they have had to ensure that they meet very strict standards on pesticides making this tea possibly one of the cleanest in Taiwan!
So this is a Taiwanese version of Bi Luo Chun based on the history shared. If you are familiar with Chinese Bi Luo Chun when you come to taste this tea you will find that it tastes very different. The key reason? TERROIR - where the leaves are grown, the minerals in the earth, the cultivars that are used - Taiwan has a unique geomorphology - Philip shared how 65% of plants & 70-75% of animals are endemic - so Taiwan could be presented in being in a category all of its own
At this point let's take a pause to look at the naming of teas in Taiwan. There is a consistent approach when looking at Taiwanese teas which identifies 2 - 3 components of the tea and tells us something of its identity. These are :
- Origin [Sanxia]
- Style [Green, Bi Luo Chun]
- Cultivar [Qing Xin Gan Zhi]
The leaves are from a small garden with just a few acres - this is typical of the Taiwanese set up. To make good quality of tea Mr Li relies on 70 gardens to supply leaves on a daily basis but the leaves for this tea come from 2-3 gardens owned by one grower whose leaves consistently produce the best teas.
So how do tea growers/makers/drinkers know that a tea is good? First look at the leaf - Philip shared with us if you were to use one word to characterise Taiwanese teas it is fragrant- a tea should be both a joy with the nose and the tastebuds. The nose is critical in Taiwanese teas - for tea growers Philip shared how aroma of the tea is their criteria number one - even before they talk about the taste. When you smell a tea you can sense its imperfections, is it well made? Is it fresh? Why not try for yourself with dry leaf, wet leaf & infusion?
And what about the preparation of the tea? At the tasting event boiling water was used for every tea including this green tea. Philip shared, & we have experienced on our travels in this region, that if you were sat in a Taiwanese tea house or in front of a tea producer the question of temperature never arises. It is the standard & common practice to pour boiling water on leaves. When you are making tea we are walking a fine line with amount of leaf, water temperature & infusion time. These are all variables that can be played with. With a good quality tea you can brew longer & still not detect any tannins on the taste - green teas can have a 'bite'; many of you have told us about that experience; but with this tea even if you push the infusion the flavour is smooth. So why do we often recommend lower temperatures? The reason we often recommend lower temperatures to our customers, especially those starting with tea or trying a new tea, are that they give us a little more room for manoeveure - we often use a little less leaf, a lower temperature & a longer infusion. At the tasting we used more leaf, hotter water & a short or 'flash' infusion. So you can see there are many decisions to be made in tea making - & also many opinions. In Philips opinion a lower temperature water will never extract all the leaf has to offer as he explained - you end up with molecules or components with 'umami' left in the leaf. Its a different taste. Of course with all the teas we will explore in these blogs and many of the teas on our website you are able to enjoy multiple infusions - each one revealing a different character of the tea. We really liked the way that Phillip explained how this particular tea changed through the 6 infusions we enjoyed at the tasting - multiple infusions are like taking shavings off of a piece of wood revealing other colours, other nuances, the first infusions are the sweetest, buttery because in the drying process of the leaf where it is stabilised it bakes the leaf a little bit and you get a cookie dough feel to it - as you shave the initial layer you get more vegetal & mineral notes which you experience in latter infusions.
Something to consider : we can perhaps make a comparison with some Japanese green tea makers we have spent time with who Rob has spent time discussing different temperatures for different infusions - starting low and moving to boiling in the latter infusions. Why not give it a try or ask us to prepare tea this way next time you come to the Tea House?
So what is the answer? The joy of tea is that there is no definitive answer. We share these blogs & host these events in order to stimulate your curiosity. During our evening sharing Taiwanese tea we discussed how its important to experiment, make errors & find your own perfect 'recipe' for making tea. Of course you must also adjust according to the teapot you have. If you have a large traditional teapot for example then you will make the tea differently [longer infusion] than if you are using a small yixing style pot - & the results will be different - perhaps a more watered down version of the tea.
Let's just end by saying : Experimentation reps rewards > Explore for yourself & most importantly have a fun & delicious tea time!