Dong Ding - Hometown of Taiwan Oolong Tea
A few weeks ago, we harvested our summer Dong Ding Oolong.
The area of Dong Ding is actually made up of three small villages; Fenghuang Village (鳳凰村); Yonglong Village (永隆村); and Zhangya Village (彰雅村).
Dong Ding Mountain's elevation is 600-900 meters. Many people often mistakenly think that Dong Ding is high mountain oolong tea (高山茶). In Taiwan, the real definition of high mountain oolong tea (高山茶), is that the tea grows at an elevation of over 1000 meters. If someone says their Dong Ding is high mountain tea, they are, by definition, wrong.
Given the fact that Dong Ding is not true high mountain tea, why is it still sought after by so many people? This is in some part due to the wonderful growing environment of Dong Ding, especially Yonglong and Fenghuang Village. The average annual temperature of Dong Ding is not very high, the rainfall is abundant, the environment is humid, and the villages of Dong Ding are shrouded by clouds all year round; these combined factors make Dong Ding very suitable for the growth of tea. Especially the famous cultivar of Qingxin Oolong（青心烏龍）.
After raining, the tea leaves is growing beautiful and lush. At 5 AM the harvest begins. This time we spent 7 hours to hand pick up. At 11:50 AM the harvest ends.
Pictured above are our hand pickers in action. During harvest time, we are like a big family! We all support each others tea gardens to help hand pick up the tea leaves. Now in Taiwan, skilled hand pickers are very difficult to find. Almost nobody from the younger generations want to do this kind of work. When we are working, I like chatting with the pickers; they are very friendly and warm people.
After weighing, we collect the fresh tea leaves in large baskets - one basket weighs from 24KG, to 30KG. We carry the baskets on our backs, and walk to the road outside. Because the tea plantation is steep and terraced, the car can not drive inside.
Next, we have to do withering. In a week of bad weather, this day we got very lucky. The sunshine was soft - not too intense. It was really an ideal day to make tea. Tea leaves are interesting, if kept stationary, the tea can not oxidize. But, If we turn over the leaves, the tea fragrance will change from a grassy smell, to a sweet fragrance. The oxidation process is the key step in making good oolong; if the oxidization is too little, it will be like green tea, no strong aftertaste feeling, but if you do too much, the tea soup color will be deep, not bright and clear. During the oxidation, we must be very careful not to break the tea leaves. If we break the tea leaves, the tea will become bitter.
The oxidation takes a long time. While we wait, I want to introduce some attractions in Dong Ding.
The above photos are in Zhangya Village. From here we have a beautiful view of Fenghuang Village (left hand side of the big picture). Actually, above Fenghuang Village, you can see the garden our tea is from. As you can see, this makes it one of the highest gardens in Dong Ding.
Zhangya Village (彰雅村) is also home to one of the most historic tea places in Taiwan. Here we have the history of Lin Fengchi (林鳳池). It is largely thanks to Lin Fengchi that Dong Ding became such a renowned tea growing area. However, we are sad to say that time has almost entirely forgotten his efforts. Of the tea trees he planted in Dong Ding, only one now remains. The rest have been removed to make way for more profitable crops like vegetables. Even this last tree is in danger. It is being choked by the current land owners crop of green beans.
We think this has historical significance, but now people don’t seem to pay attention to it. It is very hard to look at this beautiful old tea tree without feeling deep sadness.
We recommend that if you have the opportunity to come to the Dong Ding Mountain, you must look at this old tea tree. Maybe the old tea tree will disappear in the near future.
Across from the Old Tea Tree, is an old tea garden. Here, at the top of Zhangya Village, the land has largely given up it's ability to grow Qingxin Oolong. We can see the tea is weak and old. This is why many local residents have shifted to growing vegetables, beans, and fruits.
The next thing you must see if you visit Dong Ding is Fenghuang Mountain Temple (鳳凰山寺). This temple has famous god hall dedicated to Cankui Zushi (慚愧祖師). Fenghuang Mountain Temple is over 300 years old.
In the initial stage of development in Taiwan, the Taiwanese Aboriginals have a head hunter culture. When the Han people first came here, many people lost their lives to Aboriginal headhunters. In response, the Han people who decided to settle here prayed to Cankui Zushi (慚愧祖師) to show mercy towards them and help protect them against the headhunters. To this day, we often pray here to ask for protection. Before every harvest, we will come here to ask Cankui Zushi (慚愧祖師)to bless our harvest with good weather.
Everyone is welcome to come to Fenghuang Mountain Temple. You must experience the beauty of this place, and feel the great history of this temple.