Almost half the 6561 competing lots were rejected from this winter's competition (46.3%)! The roasting of this season's Oolong was also much more intense than in the spring. Most of the dry leaves we saw were very dark, almost black.
I served as guide for these 3 Tea Institute (@Penn State) students. The highlight of our visit was that we could taste the 11 best Oolongs of the competition.
Local politicians, tea judges and farmers gathered around us for pictures! This was a cheap price to pay for the privilege of tasting these very different teas. Amazingly, the winning lot doesn't come from a high mountain, but from a new plantation at an altitude of 800 m only! The preference for a higher roasting level this winter probably also helped the chances of this tea.
The reason we heard for the higher roast level is a customer feedback asking for Oolongs that are more stable and can be aged longer. However, I think that it has more to do with the warm and humid weather this october and november that didn't produce very fine and light aromas. Such leaf material had to be processed with a heavier touch.
The top prized Oolongs were really sweet and tasty (of course), but the lower, more affordable grades we tasted with the farmers lacked persistence and strength. Luckily for the farmers, most of the competition Oolongs sold out rather quickly (before lunch), helped by the approaching Lunar New Year festival and the need for prestigious gifts. (I didn't select anything).
In the afternoon, I took the 3 Tea Institute members to the organic tea plantations managed by the National Taiwan University at the Feng Huang garden. This is one of the highest point in Dong Ding.
This area was already active for tea during the Japanese era. That's why we can find a few hundred years old Assam tea trees. They are several meters high now:
Their leaves are very large and are still harvested by the university. They serve as exclusive red tea gifts!
The Dong Ding Oolong competition dates back to 1976, but the history of tea production in Dong Ding can be traced much further back, as these Assam leaves show.
I live in Taiwan since 1996 and have been studying tea with Teaparker. He's a worldwide tea expert and author of over 30 tea books. The study of tea isn't just theoretical, but it's also rooted in daily practice. It's a path of continuous improvement. As my brewing technique improves I get access to better teas and better accessories. These things go hand in hand. My blog documents my learning since 2004. And I have set up an online tea boutique with my selection of top quality teas, accessories and tea culture.