Friday, November 09, 2012

Confusing end of the year seasons in Taiwan

When Lu Yu wrote his Cha Jing, the only season that really counted was spring. He deemed it much better than summer or fall teas. This made sense, because during the Tang dynasty, the tea was processed green and it was produced in Sichuan or Hubei.

But Oolong faces a different climate in more southern Taiwan. First, Oolong tea isn't entirely about freshness (like green tea). Its semi-oxidation and roasting add more complexity to its aromas. A great oolong taste is also defined by its smoothness/sweetness, energy and persistence of its aftertaste. And Taiwan's fall climate is quite warm and can be quite confusing.

November 7 was Li Dong, the start of winter according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Today, the temperature was around 30 degrees Celcius around noon! (86 degrees Fahrenheit)! This summer-like weather isn't unusual. Tea leaves grow well with this kind of weather. That's why there is a winter season in the low elevation areas in the time around Li Dong (end of october/early November). The fall season happened around mid September in low elevations.
So, how come that my winter Da Yu Ling was harvested on September 14 ? Why isn't it considered a fall harvest when it's technically still summer until September 20? The reason is the different climate at 2300 meters elevation and 300 meters. In spring, the high mountain plantation are the last to be harvested, because the temperatures are colder longer and prevent the leaves from growing in early spring. At the end of the year, it's the opposite: the temperatures drop earlier in the mountains than in low elevations. Therefore, the leaves stop growing earlier than in lower elevations. So, since is their last harvest of the year, it's also called a 'winter' Oolong!

(By the way, the winter Baozhongs have arrived. The quality is close to exceptional. You can check my selection and send me an e-mail to request my updated price list.)


Steph said...

It will be interesting to observe how the seasonality has/is adjusting with global climate change.

Petr Novák said...

Thanks for explanation. Here is one more question: Do farmers, who pick up their "winter" leaves during September, also have "summer" and "fall" teas? It would mean that they have four harvests in, let say, 4-5 months... Or do they have just Spring and Winter teas? Thanks.


Stephane said...

Thanks for your comment Steph.

For very high mountains, between May and September, there is just one opportunity for an additional harvest. Often, though, the farmers prefer to let the trees rest.

For lower mountains and for low elevations (below 1000 m), there is more time for the leaves to grow and it's possible to make a summer and a fall harvest (if the weather is right). However, here also, the farmers will consider their inventory and the demand from their customers. Sometimes it's not worth to harvest and transform the leaves if the summer tea can't sell at a good price. An alternative is to make red tea or Oriental Beauty (or concubine Oolong) with summer and/or fall teas.