The problem with quality, is that it is a singular and lonely road. You can keep striving for another higher level, just to look back and realize you are by yourself and not many people in your wake. Everything about quality means a deep, rich experience you offer others that you have given blood, sweat, and sometimes years for. But when others are not at a level to appreciate what you do, then how can your quality be of service to others?
Not that Marukyu Koyamaen has that problem. For the last 300 years, they have maintained their status and quality as the finest matcha in Japan. As recent as this generation, they have won more first place awards- or not, when they are the judges. It’s just that the perfection that is their matcha, and the levels they achieve, can not be understood by mere Chanoyu tea ceremony (mistranslation! Not ceremony, according to Mr. Koyama),nor matcha consumption for health. That sophisticated ratio of shibumi, umami, and amami sweetness, along with intense kaori (fragrance), is not something a philistine can argue about. And so, my tour group catches a glimpse of the richness and expertise that a family took to master over 300 long years- why, longer than US history! …..and with that Occidental viewpoint, one will never understand tea.
Taiwan Beauty is special. It can not happen without those tiny cicadas called Leaf Hoppers. Though this style of tea was discovered by accident, today, a whole different way of agriculture to production method, has been devised to create a tea that is a confluence of nature’s conditions. But some outrageous requirements remain that pushes this tea to the edge of impossibility. 70-80 year olds are the only ones dexterous and experienced enough to harvest the top grades, particularly for the competition. Read- some 50 or more years of experience required. Then, every single precious leaf has to be intact without breakage during processing, a crucial aspect of which is the hand oxidation. That takes more than years of experience and skill- it requires talent and extremely sensitive hands. But the difficulty of the production of Taiwan Beauty is in the overwhelming heat under which it is produced. As the top producer of this tea says: it is not a tea that a human can endure to make. So, we savored every drop today.
What do you want the Americans to know most about your teas, I asked Mr. Zhang? He being easily one of the most uncompromising tea artisans I know, I prefaced by saying that Americans are trained on mass produced black teas with cream and sugar so don’t expect too much. Mr. Zhang replied that Wuyi teas have the strongest body and an intensity that will get better with age, as opposed to light fragrance oolongs-sissies, to them. Their long 6 month charcoal roasting process is extremely demanding xtreme-tea-making, and no other tea in the world requires this much knowledge and expertise in its processing. Appreciate its depth, its thickness, its mouthfeel, palate fragrance, the 20 steepings. I think the most expensive tea we carry are now Mr. Zhang’s Wuyi oolongs. For me, it’s the last frontier and contribution to our mission at Teance of introducing the world’s best teas. Mr. Zhang does not need more demand for his teas though. Selling out just to the local connoisseurs are a matter of course. Taking years to introduce the tea to Americans, traveling 10,000 miles at a time- people do wonder about me a little. Here I pause and wonder why I bother, but tomorrow, I’ll head out to another farm again regardless. Sometimes there’s really no reason for doing something worthwhile.
Wuyi Yancha is the most laborious and difficult to make of all oolongs, and therefore, of all teas in the world. Even Taiwan Beauty does not need six months to make. Here at the charcoal pit roasting at 100 C, for the next 12 hours, the hard work is indescribable.
Haven’t had Shui Jin Gui 水金龜 (water golden turtle), one of the 4 classic main Wuyi varietals, since almost a decade ago, nor have I tasted the 紫紅袍 Zi Hong Pao (purple red robe), a new varietal, ever. Wuyi Rock teas are literally grown on 3 cm of soil above their rocks underneath, but the rocks are soft and the tea roots dig them apart. Still, this high mineral content soil, old grove arbor style trees, lively water, and unique labor intensive production makes for the most complex, heaviest water, darkest tasting, longest lasting, tribute of a oolong tea ever.
I will have 5 kinds for audience tasting.