23 July 2009

Old Happy's Alishan

It was my second time visiting his shop.  Its not particularly easy to find and it's interior is quite disorganized.  Walking past it, I would never have guessed that it was the headquarters of such a skilled and well-known Alishan high mountain oolong producer.

But there I was, standing next to giant drums of tea as I stepped inside the fluorescent tube lighted room.

"I don't have time to drink tea with you today."  The busy tea master was sitting on one side of a square table, the type that you'd find many Chinese people playing Mahjong on, accompanied by 3 assistants, all hurriedly picking at something, discarding, and adding to a growing pile of green balls at the table's center.

tea stems Stems only

           De-stemmed oolong  oolong without stems

"Thank you, but I'm not here to drink tea.  I'm here to order samples for purchase." 

YES!  Purchase was the magic word.  As the last syllable echoed in the room, a jubilant woman flew out from the back room, shuffling her slippers as she ran.

"Oh, it's you, young sir!  We had no idea you would visit us today, come, come, sit here."  She pulled the desk chair from her computer table, on top of which an ancient looking block sat; a computing device that probably displayed archaic fonts in the ugly green of yesteryear's technology.

I watched as the table full of tea people hurriedly picked and sorted tea.  They were picking off the stem from completed Alishan oolong balls, separating the good stuff from the coarse stuff.  The tea master pointed his mouth towards me but kept his eyes on his work, as he excitedly said, "We're preparing for the competition.  This is our best Alishan this season.  I would let you try it, but I have no time now.  Maybe you can try it if you come back later." 

My light conversation with his wife revealed how much the flavor changed by picking off the stem.  She told me that less-stemmed tea doesn't have the astringency, bitterness or "distractions" of stemmy oolong.  It is a time-consuming process, but the labor produces a brew that focuses on the best aspects of the tea's flavor. 

Farmers tend not to waste any consumable part of their harvests.  Tea producers are no different.  Stems can be brewed, further roasted and brewed, or roasted and used for a different purpose, one of which I'll share with you in a future post entitled "Tea Stem Deodorizer."

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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