I went to Muzha to visit Farmer Zhan today. He and his wife were busy working on remodeling their teahouse and I was grateful they took the time to drink some tea with me.
During the Japanese occupation era, it is believed two Zhan brothers brought the Tieguanyin tea plants from Anxi China and planted them in the Muzha area of Taiwan. Farmer Zhan said he is the fourth generation of this lineage. When asked when he started learning to make tea, he replied ,"At age 6, my father would give me some simple tasks. By age 9, I followed my father around when he was making tea. I remember my father would wake me up and ask me to start a fire for roasting tea. I would fall asleep from time to time when I fan the fire and my father would wake me up. Sometimes I would cry because I was very sleepy. One time my father told me I have to do my job, regardless of whether I cried or smiled. Since then, I have never cried."
Making a traditional style Tieguanyin takes days. Tieguanyin tea has a particular process that other oolongs don't have. Tieguanyin tea has to be rolled many times. For high mountain tea, this rolling happens close to be the end of the processing. The purpose is to squeeze some of the juice out to the surface and to shape the tea. For Tieguanyin, the rolling happens in the middle of the process and helps bring out the rich flavor and body. This process alone can take 2 1/2 days. Farmer Zhan told me it takes him four days to finish a batch of tea.
Farmer Zhan believes in tradition. He said Tieguanyin tea is very special and we are blessed with the tea processing skills from our ancestors. He said he has to do his best to keep this special gift. I love to listen to him talk. His face brightened up with one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen.
Farmer Zhan is also very proud of his organic farming. He said lots of farmers use chemicals to kill the grass on the fields to save time and money. He uses a wonderful natural fertilizer for his precious tea plants that enhance flavors and act as a natural pesticide.
I asked him what flavor and body I should be looking for when I drink a Tieguanyin. He said, "satisfying." I laughed and totally knew what he was talking about. I have met a lot of farmers and tea drinkers in Taiwan and notice that none of them describe tea flavors in details. He continued, "Tieguanyin is a long lasting tea. One can make a lot of infusions. When you drink a good Tieguanyin, the broth is rich and you should feel a warm energy reaching to the area below your belly button."
I drank some teas with him and chose one that I feel has good tea energy. The tea broth is rich and soft. I think some of you will really like this tea, just like I do.