He Gang was once a major red tea producing region in Taiwan. This can be traced back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), when Japan didn't want to rely on the British to import Indian red teas. But after the second world war, cheaper Indian red teas and an emphasis on Oolong led to a continuous decline of Taiwan's red teas.
Recently, though, red teas are experiencing a strong come back on the East Coast. (I recently showed another example with a red tea that has its leaves bitten by tea jassids).
Today, I'm taking you to a breathtaking tea plantation of ruby (Hong Yu) tea trees. This is the cultivar No. 18 from Taiwan's Research and Extension Station. They obtained this cultivar by crossing a Burmese Assam tree and a Taiwanese wild tea tree. Thanks to its Assam characteristics, this cultivar is very well suited to make red tea.
You can see that the leaves are quite big. The bud is of a lighter color and is very thin. These buds are not very fragrant (contrary to most Oolong or green tea cultivars), so the harvest only happens when the leaves have grown to a certain size, but before they are old and hard. This ruby cultivar plantation in He Gang is a real gem by itself! The trees are growing on a previous field of Jin Zen (gold needle) flowers. These flowers are still growing there, even if they are not harvested, because their presence helps to reduce the proliferation of herbs and other unwanted plants. This way, the trees grow in a natural, organic environment and the farmer spends less effort to maintain the field.
Below, I took panoramic shots all around this plantation. Click on the pictures to enlarge. This gives you a good overview of the field and the surroundings where this tea comes from.
These long, black dry leaves have harvested early April 2008. The dry scents remind me first of a mellow high grade Indian red tea.
For testing, I brewed 3 grams for 5 minutes in a competition set (10 cl). The color I obtained was dark red with a good transparency and white fog on the surface (see last picture below).
The fragrances are rich and complex. I smelled licorice, honey and cinnamon. It reminded me of breakfasts on the Côte d'Azur, when I was a kid, because it also smells warm and mellow, like the morning air in Provence.I found the taste truly remarkable. The tea enters the mouth without any reaction on the tongue. It feels as pure as the plantation where it grows. Then, I feel that it's mellow and sweet. And a fraction of a second later, I also sense a hint of bitterness. The aftertaste is very long. This brew is strong, stronger than my other East Coast reds. Still, thanks to some roasting, this red tea is very sweet and enjoyable without milk or sugar.
To optimize the brew, I recommend to shorten the brewing time a little or use fewer leaves.