I grew up in the city and I must admit that my experience with farmers was limited before I started Wang & Dickerson. I still remember my first few trips to tea gardens where nervousness about how to talk with the grower would mix with car sickness on the winding mountain roads.
After meeting the grower, I usually found myself sitting before his polished wooden tea table overlooking lush green tea gardens with inspiringly beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The grower was always pleasantly surprised when I wanted to go beyond the tasting table into the tea garden itself, digging my hands into the soil and asking questions about his agricultural practices and tea production methods. We would start to form a real bond when the conversation turned to the deep convictions and personal philosophies that were behind each and every detail of his tea artisanship.
Before I started my tea journey, I had no idea how much time, skill and care went into making a small batch of premium tea. I had no idea I would come to enjoy putting my hands in the dirt to evaluate the quality of the soil in a tea garden. I had no idea I would discover that each batch of artisan tea is a time capsule detailing what happened as it was being grown and processed. Everything matters, from the climate to the quality of the soil to the actions of each person involved in its production. Every sensual detail of the aroma and every nuance of flavor tells a story about the birth of that cup of tea.
With each new season, he pours his soul into the soil with the firm belief that the next harvest will be a true expression of his hard work, his skill and his passion.
Our organic high mountain tea grower, A-Shin always says, “Great quality tea begins in the tea gardens.” he says, “You need an intense population of microorganisms in the soil to make it work.” “Microbes and deep root systems form a profound underground network that pulls nutrients into the tea trees. And these nutrients have a huge impact on the tea flavor and the health benefits for tea drinkers.”
Pesticides and chemical fertilizers destroy microorganisms and cause the tea trees to form shallow root systems. When combined with high volume production methods, many of the health benefits can be reduced and the unique flavors and aromas of the terroir may be significantly altered. Only with organic, artisan tea can you experience the true taste of the terroir.
High Mountain Terroir: High Altitude, High Risk, Delicious Tea
In 2005 A-Shin took over the management of the tea estate after his father. Since that time, he has never used any synthetic chemicals on his tea estate because he truly believes that farming should be done in harmony with nature. In good seasons, he produces limited quantities of healthy, premium quality high mountain oolong tea. However, he has also experienced several significant events including drought and major insect attacks that dramatically decreased one or more of his seasonal harvests.
Like most of the tea grower-artisans I admire, despite the financial setback of a poor harvest, he holds firm to his belief in organic farming. With each new season, he pours his soul into the soil with the firm belief that the next harvest will be a true expression of his hard work, his skill and his passion.
A-Shin's tea is a classic example of the High Mountain Terroir. His tea garden is regularly shrouded in mist. His tea trees thrive in the cooler mountain climate. The cool air results in a slower growth rate which concentrates the flavor. In particular, winter is the longest growing season, requiring much longer for the new leaves to reach maturity. The natural flavors reach their peak in the spring when the leaves are finally harvested. This results in the full-bodied aroma and delectable flavors that make Spring Harvest High Mountain Oolong famous.
Taitung Terroir: Healthy Soil, Healthy Tea, Healthy People
When I visit Mr. Chang, our Oolong Rouge grower in southeastern Taiwan, he always gives me a tour of his lush, green tea farms. In these tours, he has taught me to recognize the different kinds of insects, spiders, and other arthropods on his farm. “Each part, from the soil to the animals to the insects that live on the farm, has an important role to play.” said Mr. Chang, “Increasing biodiversity takes a lot of knowledge and effort especially when you manage your farm without any pesticides.” It is the effective management of this increased biodiversity that differentiates the best organic tea growers.
With conventionally grown tea trees, pesticides are applied to repel insects that can damage the leaves. But in organic farming, the tea tree has to fend for itself. At first the number of insects can increase and more leaves are damaged, reducing the harvest. Over time the organically grown tea tree will begin to produce more natural phytochemical compounds to defend itself. This discourages the insects, harvests increase again and the higher levels of these natural chemical compounds can directly benefit tea drinkers' health.
Mr Chang's tea is an award-winning example of the terroir in the Taitung region. He brings out the robust flavors of his tea with roasting and higher levels of oxidation. The result is the rich nutty flavor and intense roasted aroma of his Oolong Rouge Tea.
In America, we can enjoy the best of the best from around the world. Premium versions of everything from fine wines to luxury automobiles are available almost anywhere in the USA. Yet for some reason, fine artisan tea is hard to find. The best tea typically sells out in Asia and never makes it to America.
My mission is to discover unique, high quality artisan teas and make them available to discerning American tea drinkers. I work with a small, elite group of artisan tea growers who I trust, respect, and admire. I travel to Taiwan every year to meet them in person, I visit their tea gardens, I verify their agricultural and production processes and I sample their tea. I do everything I can so that you can experience the finest tea in the world.
Photo credits : Mr. Chang and Ben Smith