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THE WORLD OF FORMOSA TEAS
Many people in Canada are unaware that some of the world's finest teas are grown in Taiwan, formerly know as "Formosa" (Beautiful Island), the name Portuguese explorers gave to the island. Taiwan enjoys an excellent climate for growing tea. Summers are very humid, but not overly hot, and winter temperatures rarely drop below 10C.
Taiwan is most renowned for its production of superb OOLONG TEAS. Oolong teas have long held a special place in the hearts of tea connoisseurs as one of the worlds most revered teas. Oolong, which translates to "Black Dragon", is known for its bright liquor, incredible bouquet and complex character. Often overlooked because of the popularity of its siblings, green and black tea, it is no coincidence that oolong teas fall right between the two in most respects; colour, aroma, taste and caffeine. Oolong teas are any variety of the Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, that have been partially oxidized, more than green teas and less than black. Oolongs are often considered to be the perfect balance between the two and the purest of teas, because of their natural aroma and colour that is uninhibited by chemical processing.
Tea processing in Taiwan is considered an art form and tea farmers are often referred to as "tea masters", each with their own unique style and individual expertise, contributing greatly to the quality of the tea. This distinct title of "tea master" requires years of thorough training and practice, which is frequently handed down from one generation to the next. Taiwan's tea farmers, harvest about 20,000 metric tons of tea a year, most of which remains in the domestic market. This could account for why so many people are unaware of the high quality of Taiwan's oolong teas.
The processing of oolong tea is a delicate balancing act that takes the expertise and experience of the tea master. The freshly plucked leaves are dried on a flat bamboo mat and withered under sunlight for up to an hour. The leaves are then withered at room temperature for six to eight hours. Once per hour the leaves are gently shaken every hour causing the leaf edges to bruise. The leaves lose 20% of their moisture content during oxidation and the leaf edges turn a reddish colour while the centres remain green and emit an orchid-like fragrance. In order to halt the oxidation and deactivate the enzyme, the leaves are pan-fired. The leaves are then rolled several times and re-fired. Upon cooling, the leaves are rolled and fired one last time.
Highly oxidized oolongs are fruity in character. Highly fired oolongs are rather toasty and not as smooth. Each of these intricate steps require time and precision and processors must take great care in handling the leaves in order to produce the highest quality oolongs. This process, known as orthodox manufacturing, is lengthy and employs hand labor throughout. While this is very labour intensive, the precise processing of oolong teas make them a bit more expensive, but well worth the extra money.
The finest oolongs will produce numerous infusions (5-6) and the leaves will actually resist opening fully on the first brew. When purchasing dark oolong tea, look for a large leaf with the presence of white or silver tips. Excess stems and dry leaves is a sign of lower quality. Oolong teas that are produced in a orthodox fashion need to be brewed open in your pot. Please resist your desire to use a tea ball or other tea utensil that will trap the leaves and not allow them to open. These fine oolongs need plenty of room to open up or you are cheating yourself out of the magnificent flavour they impart. The leaves will open up sometimes to 1-2" and will achieve their flavour potential in an open style brewing method.
Formosa ( Taiwan )
Taiwan, formerly known by its Portuguese name, Formosa ( Beautiful Island ) produces some of the world's finest teas. Taiwan enjoys an excellent climate for growing teas. Summers are very humid, but not overly hot and winter temperatures rarely drop as low as 10C. Currently, the tea industry in Taiwan maintains a high annual output of 21,000 tons per year. The major types of tea produced in Taiwan are oolong and bao-zhong, while the green and black teas are minor types.
Taiwan has gained world renown for their production of oolong teas, which requires years of expert training. Dedicated study and practice, combined with the unique nature of Formosa tea leaves, produces the exceptional quality oolong teas. A pound of oolong can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the private market.
Brewing The Best Cup Of Oolong
Oolongs vary greatly in oxidation and therefore in caffeine content, colour and flavour. This means that we must look at the best methods for a wide range of oolong teas.
Western brewing methods differ greatly from traditional methods used in Asian cultures. In Asia Gung-Fu style brewing is most often used. To brew in a traditional Gung-Fu fashion, you must use a small tea pot. First rinse the pot with hot water. Add enough leaves to fill approximately 1/3 of the pot, then add hot water, pour off immediately, then add more hot water, filling the pot. Allow the tea to brew for 1 minute and serve. Continue this last step until you get no more flavour in your cup, up to 10 times. Even when utilizing western style brewing methods, oolong leaves can be brewed numerous times.
Similarly to brewing green tea, water should be below a boil (appox. 180F (90˚C) - when the little bubbles are rising to the top). Add 1-2 heaping teaspoons per cup and allow leaves to brew 3 minutes.
DARK OOLONGS Keep water under a boil (a little hotter this time, approx. 190F (95˚C) - when the little bubbles have risen). Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons of leaves per cup and allow leaves to brew for 3-4 minutes.