Guidance : Liang Xiangtian,Author : Zheng Xiang , Photos: Xu Hongwei
In this article, we visit the Taizhumiao district. Its environmental conditions for growing tea axe less favorable than the tea growing areas we have described in the past several installments. The soil is relatively poor, and the elevation and terrain are quite low. Tea growers have, nonetheless, been farming this area for decades with impressive results. This is because they possess the best tea variety for growing in this area. This variety is one Taiwan's four major early tea types - Qingxin Damao.
According to former Tea Research Institute researcher Xu Yingxiang, Qingxin Damao is a Taiwanese native variety. It rose to prominence over 100 years ago in the Wenshan District of Taipei Prefecture (today Wenshan District, Taipei County). Originally in the Taoyuan and Daxi area, tea growers called it Damao or Qingxin Damao. In the Xinzhu and Zhudong areas, they called it Qing Xin. Later the Taiwan government wanted to increase the tea's growing area and unified the name as Qingxin Damao." Many tea growers still persist in calling it either Qingxin or Damao. Although Qingxin Damao is no longer one of the four main tea varieties, its growing area in Taiwan is still quite large, primarily including Taoyuan, Xinchu, and Miaoli areas.
Qingxin Damao is a small leaf tea with medium sized trees, The branches and leaves spread outward, and the leaves arc a dark green color. They have the shape of open needles or long ovals and are widest in the center. The leaves are blunted at the base and are concave at the tip. The edges have sharp saw teeth and the meat of the leaves is thick and somewhat hard. They have clearly visible veins. Young buds are purplish red. They are large and thick with fuzz. The sprouts grow in regular arrangement. Even if a week or two late picking the tea, it will still be relatively free of yellow parts (huang pian). The tea is harvested once per season, and the summer harvest is best for producing Oolong tea.
Qingxin Damao trees are characterized by their deep roots. The main root can reach depths of three to six meters. The trees grow strong and do not easily catch disease. They can be planted in both higher and lower elevations. Even in periods of drought, they are able to absorb water beneath the surface and even take in significant nutrients. With their relatively wild nature, they can be planted in a wide range of environments and are well suited to growing organically. Greenleaf cicada suck nourishing liquid from them, resulting in a sweet fragrance that is very easy to detect. Because the leaves do not have a particular flavor, they are extremely amenable to processing. The dark green leaves are well suited for making lightly fermented green tea. Alternatively, we can unleash the special character of small leaf tea and produce heavily fermented black tea. Most able to bring out the unique style of this tea, though, are half-fermented tea products.
During the period of Japanese occupation, Qingxin Oamao was the main component in exported Eastern Beauty (Dongfang Meiren) tea. Along with big leaf Oo-long, hard branch Hongxin, and Qing-xin Oolong, it was one of the main tea varieties used in tea exported from Taiwan. Together these teas were known as the four major tea varieties. Large leaf Oolong and hard branch Hongxin are early growth teas, while Qingxin Damao is a middle growth tea, and Qingxin Oolong is a late growth tea. Their germination periods arc different, ensuring that tea growers are not too busy at harvest time. Former director of the Pingiin tea museum Liang Xiangtian told us an amusing story. Around fifty years ago when tea farmers were dividing up property, those who received rights to plots of Qingxin Damao were ecstatic, while those who received Qingxin Oolong were on the verge of tears. At the time, the two teas commanded similar prices, but Qingxin Damao had much higher output. Tea growers, consequently, favored this tea, while they disliked the low yield Qingxin Oolong for its low profits.
Because of export demands, early Taozhumiao district tea growers grew half Hongxin Damao and half Huanggan. They produced black and Sencha from the Hongxin Damao, while the Huanggan was only suitable for making black tea. Later, around 1980, the government began promoting domestic tea sales based around half fermented teas.
This caused tea growers to convert Huanggan plantations to Qingxin Dsimao, resulting in the dominance of Qingxin Damao in the Taozhumiao area. Later, because farm head Wu Zhenduo favored only Qingxin Oolong, numerous tea growers switched to growing these trees. Qingxin Oolong is better when grown in high mountains, but it still affected growth of Qingxin Damao in Taozhumiao. Fortunately, the Taiwan Tea Union began to promote Eastern Beauty tea (or Pengfeng tea), and the market also embraced it. As the variety best suited for producing Eastern Beauty, Qingxin Damao gradually won over area tea growers and regained its leading position in the Taozhumiao tea district. Today it accounts for over 90% of the tea grown there.
Why is Qingxin Damao so well suited to Eastern Beauty? According to Miaoli County, Toufen Township tea grower and Toufen tea production and marketing second shift team leader Xu bitten by greenleaf cicada. Qingxin Damao with its solid trees and deep roots is naturally a fine choice. Eastern Beauty is a heavily fermented tea. This high degree of fermentation may change some elements in the tea, Qingxin Damao has a strong base, and heavy fermentation may give it a fruity and honey-like fragrance. There is no way to reach the same level of fragrance using other types of tea. Xu Shiwen also said that if greenleaf cicadas have sufficiently bitten Qingxin Damao, the tea produces a fragrance resembling the light scent of sandalwood on Taoyuan's Lala Mountain.
Pointing to the tea plantations out the window, Xu Shiwen said that he uses organic farming methods to manage them. He does not use pesticides or other such products, and many weeds grow among the tea trees. The dried leaves of the organic tea produced are not especially thick and strong, but they let off a rich floral fragrance. The tea is mellow and rich as it enters the mouth. It has strong body and sweetness and pronounced huigan.
Today, Eastern Beauty tea is also made with tea of the Jin Xuan variety. Quantities are low and prices are cheap, but Xu Shiwen is not at all worried that Qingxin Damao will lose its place in the Eastern Beauty market. He said that although Shiwen, Eastern Beauty requires tea that has been Eastern Beauty made from Jin Xuan tea has attractive white hairs, its houyun (sensation in the throat) and kougan (mouth feel) are not equal to Qingxin Damao. Also, teas produced from Jin Xuan have a particular fragrance, which may affect the flavor of Eastern Beauty tea. Qingxin Oolong is similar but without the prominent white hair. Its outward appearance is not sufficiently attractive. In comparison, Qingxin Damao is superior.
Miaoi tea grower Li Zhanfeng, who last year won the special award for "10 great classic teas," described Qingxin Damao as a highly moldable tea. For instance, leaves of the Assam variety do not make very good Bao Zhong tea. Varieties such as Jin Xuan and Cui yu bring their own flavor. Qingxin Damao does not have such issues. Whatever you make with it is as it should be. When Qingxin Damao is processed at the highest level, it can also bring about a pleasant milky fragrance.
Li Zhanfeng served us the Eastern Beauty tea he had carefully produced using Qingxin Damao. Made from tender young leaves, its white hairs were large and clearly visible. The brown dried tea looked glossy and had a pronounced floral fragrance. The brewed liquor was fresh and yellow with intense aroma and gentle kougan. He explained that Eastern Beauty produced using Qingxin Damao has pronounced differences in quality within the marketplace. This is a question of management of the production process. He emphasized the quality of the raw tea material will affect the flavor of the resulting tea product. Only if the organic quality is high and the tea making craft is properly managed will the resulting quality be ideal. All professional tea growers should understand how to apply these principles.
On the road back to Taipei after leaving Miaoli, I thought about the fact that only the existence of Eastern Beauty tea allows Qingxin Damao to face the competition among tea varieties and avoid elimination. This provides a vehicle for its sweet fragrance and strong, rich kougan and allows it to survive on this plot of earth.
Also because of this, Taozhumiao district tea growers have developed their own style. Eastern Beauty tea made from Qingxin Damao is not only favored in Taiwan. It is also popular in other parts of Asia as well as Europe. Knowing that there are so many fine teas in Taiwan, isn't this an excellent example of a foot soldier making a huge contribution? A talented person will not be overlooked. Likewise, a good tea will not be ignored. I hope that the future sees even more Taiwanese tea products able to fully develop their unique character and bring even more glory to the land and tea growers of Taiwan.