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Friday, January 02, 2009

Taiwanese Tea Varietals

In my last post, I talked about Chin Hsin Oolong and Chin Hsin Da Pa. Here are some other varietals that are as popular as the previous two.

In 1895, Japan occupied Taiwan and set up a tea research institute for educating tea farmers, and selecting and breeding tea varietals. After WWII, the Taiwanese government continued the tea breeding work with 茶葉改良場, the tea reform institute. So far, there are 18 successful varietals that the tea instutite has named.

Jin Xuan金萱: In 1981, Jin Xuan was given its current name. Among the 18 recognized varietals that have been bred, Jin Xuan is number 12 (台茶12號). In the breeding process, it was also given 2027. If you ever go to Taiwan, you might hear farmers talking about 12 or 27. Both of these numbers refer to Jin Xuan, so don't be confused. Jin Xuan yeilds 20 to 40% more tea per plant than Chin Hsin Oolong and Chin Hsin Da Pa. Its signature fragrance is like osmanthus (桂花香) or milk (奶香). I have not come across a genuine milky one for a long time. Some customers came in with some milk Oolong and said tea merchants told them the tea plant was watered with milk, which produced the milky taste. I have never seen or heard any farmers doing that. The amount of Jin Xuan plants grown is only next to Chin Hsin Oolong. Jin Xuan plant branches grow wider, and its leaves have an oval shape and are bigger than Chin Hsin Oolong. Jin Xuan is widely grown throughout Taiwan in elevations less than 1600 meters.

Cui Yu 翠玉: Like Jin Xuan, this varietal was also named in 1981. Cui Yu is number 13 (台茶13號) and also number 2029. Cui Yu produces 20% more tea per plant than Chin Hsin and Chin Hsin Da Pa. It normally has a hint of Jasmine (茉莉花香) or Yu Lan flower (玉蘭花香). Cui Yu is rarely grown in the high moutain region, for its stems contain too much water. The chance to make high quality tea, like that from other tea varietals, is lower. Cui Yu plants are more straight and its leaves are rounder.

Four Season's Spring/Four Season's (四季春): A farmer in Mu Zha discovered this varietal. It's believed to be the product of a cross breed between Wu Yi and Chin Hsin Oolong or Chin Hsin Da Pa. This tea grows fast and has 6 crops per year. Farmers like to make this tea when they can't or aren't working on other teas. Four Season Spring plants are medium in size and its branches grow closer to each other.

In the next post, we will talk a bit about Buddha's Hand, White Hair Monkey, Tieguanyin, and Wuyi.

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