Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The dark side of the Shan Lin Xi tea mountain

This is a typical view of tea plantations at Shan Lin Xi in Central Taiwan in spring. On the picture above there's a balance between plantations and mountains. But even though tea plantations are quite beautiful, sometimes their presence can look too intensive. When all the vegetation that remains are tea bushes, it's more easy to forget the extraordinary fact that we are on a high mountain, at 1500 meters above sea level.
So, today I propose to show you some pictures from the Shan Lin Xi National Park, just a few kilometers away from the tea plantations. I took them a month ago, early January. This protected area doesn't look subtropical at all! Tall pine trees dominate the bamboo.
But it's not just the vegetation that changes. These pictures also show how quickly the morning sun is replaced with fog and clouds in the afternoon. The temperature drops quickly.
Everything is big, dramatic and extreme at this elevation. The light coming through the fog looked bright, but everything else became dark and mysterious. This fog brings moisture and freshness to all the plants, including our Oolong leaves. This afternoon fog is the secret ingredient of high mountain Oolong and explains why its leaves can grow so long while retaining their suppleness and freshness.
These dark colors have inspired the following Chaxi:

These dark green leaves are Qingxin Oolong from Shan Lin Xi, of course. But they are medium roasted, Hung Shui style and were harvested on April 26, 2014. There are few stems, because they were originally intended for the Dong Ding tea competition.

A sweet, light and dark roasting scent comes from these dry leaves.
This nice smell is also present in the brew. It starts with the sweet and nutty roasting flavors and fades into lighter and fresher notes. The complexity of a roasted high mountain Oolong has been well preserved.
It can be brewed with porcelain gaiwan, or with an Yixing hungni teapot. In both cases, it's important to well pre-heat the vessel before the first brew. Spring 2014 Oolong is still young and tightly rolled: it requires energy (high temperature) and time to unfold well.

Hungshui Oolong is always more difficult to brew than one-dimensional Oolongs (without any roasting). It's more important to pay attention to balance the flavors and to respect the character of the leaves. This is a good, affordable Hung Shui Oolong to practice your brewing technique. It all starts with realizing that each brew is different from the previous one. The more you are sensitive to these changes, the more you'll be able to learn with experience.
These leaves do unfold completely after several brews. This is a sign that the roasting process wasn't done too hot and didn't turn the leaves into charcoal.
High mountain Oolong isn't always just green and fresh. When it's nicely roasted, it will develop a dark side that is just as bright and beautiful!

2 comments:

Marilyn said...

Your photos always enchant me. The mountains are just beautiful, but so are your settings for tea.

Stephane said...

Thank you Marilyn,
By seeing the mountain and the Chaxi on the same post, I also wanted to show how the setting can recreate the feeling of being on the mountain! We first taste with our eyes...