Monday, March 1, 2010

From TungTing Mountain

We spent our morning on Tung Ting Mountain visiting the tea gardens. The sun finally broke through the early morning mist and the cool air was just starting to warm up. It was a peaceful walk through an emerald landscape dotted with palm trees. The air tasted sweet and crisp.

Winnie standing beside the stone walls that separate the tiers of tea bushes in a traditional Tung Ting tea garden. While we walked through the garden, the constant hum of bees drowned out most other noises as they flew from flower to pollen-stuffed flower.

We had a chance to examine the aftermath of the Winter Harvest. The tender, top leaves of the branches are clipped very cleanly by hand and the rest of the plant is left in pristine condition. They are left alone to grow alongside the various other flora of the mountain and tended by the diligent bees until next harvest. We were reluctant to leave the serenity of the tea gardens but it was finally time to taste some tea.

We were fortunate enough to have an audience with the famed Master Lin, whose tearoom has hosted the leaders of Taiwan for generations. We were greeted warmly by his family. Both Master Lin's son and grandson joined us for tea at the table.
Master Lin started with his recently roasted Winter Harvest Tung Ting.

Light, sweet and full of delicate orchid notes. The roast gave an appealing nuttiness and depth to the body of the tea. It was the perfect refreshment after our morning walk.

Master Lin spoke lovingly about his gardens. He cultivates both tea and bamboo.
He also spoke about his dedication to traditional roasting styles but was careful not to divulge the secrets of his family's techniques. He would only say that he used the wood of a particular fruit tree and Michael knew it was unwise to press for more information.
Even his grandson, who was asked to brew the next tea has been kept in the dark regarding the roasting process. He's still in college studying forestry and hasn't been allowed into the roasting room yet. Once he's graduated, he'll start training in this crucial part of his family's tea traditions.

We moved on to Master Lin's selection of aged oolongs. The teas he sets aside for aging get re-roasted once a year. He had his grandson prepare the 6 year aged Tung Ting. We had come across some aged oolongs during our trip but Master Lin's was the most captivating. Our biggest compliment to him was that the tea tasted older than was stated. It was a comment he was very familiar with. More layers of sweet flowers, roasted nuts, wood and bamboo kept revealing themselves. the chaqi was relaxing and I started to feel very warm despite the coolness of the room.
Master Lin took over the tea table again to brew his 20 year aged tea.
The color of the liquor was dark like a decades old puer. The quality of the leaf and his technique was apparent in the taste. Rich, deep, fruity with a hint of malted sweetness. Michael was intrigued by the results of Master Lin's roast, so different from the Hong Kong style he's most familiar with. The chaqi had me blissed out and suddenly craving the sweet pineapple shortcakes we had left in the car. Our tasting was almost at an end, and we had experienced stellar examples of high elevation, hand picked teas produced by a master and brewed by the same. Now it was just a question of how much could we take back with us?

With his tea in such great demand, it wasn't even our place to ask to purchase some.
We waited, hoping we had made a good enough impression (or at least not a terrible one) for him to offer us tea for purchase. Most of you know we are able to sell his Winter Harvest Tung Ting on our website but he also allowed us to take home some of his 6 year and 20 year aged oolong. Sadly, we could only take enough for ourselves and had to promise not to sell any of it. It would be for our own personal enjoyment.
I still have some and very soon I hope to share it with you.