The winter harvest is all over the map this year as various regions are hit by rain/typhoon/rapid cold. It is uncertain what we will be getting, but our current small batch of High Mountain Light is one of the most fragrant and rich batches in memory. At least we have that…..’ Burnt Sugar Red’ from our Miaoli Taiwan Beauty far arriving next week!
Nagatani-San, the founder of Sencha, who was elevated to kami/diety status, the official tea god of Uji- discovered a way to make quality Sencha in the 1700s, and the landscape of Japanese tea was changed forever. It took him 15 years to figure out how to remove the bitterness from the tea leaves by studying how the farmers remove the bitterness from the persimmons when they are making hoshigaki. Carefully rolling the leaves in heated troughs into needle shapes, it would take 5-6 hours to make 500 gms. And it would sell for what is today, 70,000 yen per 100gms- or $600 for ¼ lb! Only the richest merchants can afford the leaves, and after they finish drinking the tea, the second tier merchants would dry the leaves and then drink them again. And then….. The poor samurai class would get to drink the leftovers after that.
Good water and soil, check. We understood those to be crucial factors in the agriculture of tea. The wara, or river reeds, are first used for the shading system above the Gyokuro tea plants, and then later, as ground cover and fertilizer. The rains that soak the reeds filtrate the nutrients down to the soil.
But we walked into one of the most fruitful persimmon seasons ever, the fuyu kaki. The farmers explained to us that how they discovered the way to remove the bitterness from the tea leaves was by the same way they remove the bitterness from making dried persimmons!
The strongest tea in the universe, the 12,000 RMB (about $1950 USD per lb), Rougui oolong from the Cow Fence Enclave. Yes, that’s the name of the most sought after micro-terroir of the Main Cliff 正岩 of Wuyi region. There was a little enclave in one of the vertical cliff areas, a farmer discovered that he could force his cows up there but they can’t come down and run off easily, a natural cow fence. So per serving is what, about $30? What a steal! Lasts about 20 infusions, so my per sip cost just went down to 45 cents! Well, math geniusness aside, I have the Communist government crackdown on corruption to thank. This leader grade stuff was never before accessible to commoners. Strong, aggressive, thick viscosity like broth, and stamina through all 20 infusions- this is the boxing champ of teas.
I get to taste Mr.Zhang’s competition entry, his Shuixian that sports the most outrageous richness of the fragrance of osmanthus, citrus flowers, and orchids. Pervasive and silky, this ultra smooth oolong is intense, but not even close to the aggressive and dominating Rougui he served up next. Is he confident, I asked? Confident but not over confident, said Mr. Zhang. There are over a thousand entries, the top prize is a 180,000 rmb car! For me, the perk of enduring traveling in China is this moment.