Pleasant fragrance, complex mouthfeel and long endurance
This winter harvest oolong was made in October 2022, over a two-week production run. It started with light rains and proceeded with dry weather and clear skies.
Compared to the Spring harvest, the Winter one features larger leaves and stems. It has a more toned-down aroma but a softer mouthfeel with plenty of aftertaste goodness. The tea feels very clean as it flows down the throat and spreads the natural fragrance of the Qingxin Oolong varietal around your mouth and throat.
The story of Mr Huang in Ailao Mountain
Mr Huang was set up to be a sailor, he went into tea business instead. The way of the leaf was stronger than the call of the sea for him. He started trading oolong tea on his native island of Taiwan. After a few years, he realized he wanted to grow tea in a more natural environment. Oolong tea production in Taiwan relies on a lot of fertilizers and pesticides to achieve a fancy fragrance.
He travelled to China in the early 1990s, in search of a suitable environment for his project. At the time, mainland China was welcoming towards Taiwanese investments and technology. He visited Yunnan and found Ailao Mountain, in the middle of the province. After long negociations, he was allowed to buy land around Du Juan Lake, bordering the Ailao Forest National Park.
The region was extremely impoverished and remote, with the nearest town hours away by driving on dangerous dirt roads. One of his friends fell off a cliff while driving there. Despite all the difficulties, Mr Huang wanted to carry out his vision of a sustainably grown high mountain oolong tea. He obtained an organic certification, which is very rare for high quality oolong tea.
Establishing the plantation and the factory was challenging, but the tea sold very well in Taiwan and received a lot of praise from the tea enthusiasts. Things ran smoothly until the China-Taiwan relations soured, and the Covid restrictions put a sudden stop to the tea trade. He quickly needed to find new customers and used his connections on the mainland. A great product can take you a long way, and he managed to save his business in the past two years.
You’re not in control of the environment, a steady business can suddenly come to a stop, because of politics, or a nasty virus. Mr Huang understands the importance of diversifying his market, and this is where our interests met. We’re in charge of promoting his tea abroad.
We visited him three times, during the harvest seasons. He makes tea twice a year, over a two-week period. This is intense work, during which he can only sleep three hours a day.
The making of oolong tea requires an intense monitoring. It is by far the most complicated processing path: sun-wilting, withering, shaking, oxidation, fixation, rolling, shaping and drying. Each of these steps require a constant attention, a single mistake can waste an entire batch.
Here is the processing of high mountain oolong tea explained in more details:
Growing organic oolong tea is very hard. Indeed, unlike the assamica varietal, the qingxin oolong cultivar is highly sensitive to pest and disease. It also requires a good amount of fertilization. Mr Huang set up a composting unit with advanced treatment to satisfy the needs of his bushes. He collects a variety of local agricultural waste and manure, piles them up for fermentation, and applies a heat treatment to meet the requirements of the organic certification.
The management of the gardens require a lot of workforce. The bushes grow tiny leaves, which take time to pick. The remote location of the gardens makes applying compost a giant undertaking. And the gardens need to be monitored for pest and disease, sometimes, insect cocoons must be plucked by hand, or specific organic treatments must be applied to keep the fungi in check.
A lot of work and expertise in required to make this tea, and this is what makes this product unique.
The tasting profile of this tea offers a new experience to the taiwanese oolong enthusiast. You can surely enjoy the fragrance of the original qingxin cultivar, they have the exact same genetics as the ones used in Taiwan. Where it differs is in the mouthfeel.
This tea has a good endurance, it opens up in a different way than the taiwanese oolongs. The fragrance is not as fancy, but persists across a dozen infusions. The soup feels clean and goes down the throat easily, leaving a satisfying sweetness, and a hint of Cha Qi in the whole body.
The terroir explains this difference. First, this is among the highest altitude oolong tea gardens you can find. The gardens are established at an elevation of 2400 to 2500 meters. Few gardens in Taiwan are planted so high. Second, the soil and climate are different. Ailao is far into the mainland, the closest shore, the Mekong delta, is 750 kilometers away. Finaly, the ecosystem is unique, with the Ailao National Park hosting a good number of endemic species and a distinct landscape.
We hope you will enjoy a fine cup Ailao oolong, a very unique experience, better enjoyed Gongfu style.
This is a really great Taiwanese style oolong that competes with the best from Taiwan. The dry leaf is intensely floral, whilst the wet leaf has a bit more umami to it with some buttery notes. The first couple of steeps are very floral with slight dairy sourness. As the steeps progress it gets more creamy, with a notably coconut flavour coming out as well. I'd agree with the description that this is perhaps slightly more restrained than some "brighter" Taiwanese oolongs but that is b no means a criticism, as this has fantastic smoothness, depth and a real absence of any flaws or off notes in the flavour. Overall, a delicious tea!
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