Have there been any significant changes in tea farming trends recently in Taiwan?
No pesticides: Oriental Beauty & Concubine Oolong.
One recent trend among Oolong Tea farmers is to refrain from administering pesticides for at least one growing season (typically summer) which allows the new growth leaves of that season’s harvest to be affected by an insect called a leaf hopper (Jacobiasca formosana). This results in the tea leaves producing a special flavor and robust compositon that has gained great popularity. Traditionally, this type of tea was produced in the Hsin Chu County area of Taiwan as Oriental Beauty Oolong.
About ten years ago, the Lu Gu Farmers’ Association in Nantou County (central Taiwan where Eco-Cha is based) established a club for local farmers to promote the production of this type of “bug-bitten” tea and gave it the name Concubine Oolong. Now, it is produced on a larger scale throughout the island and is a new hot item in the Oolong Tea world. (Eco-Cha’s Concubine Oolong is one of our best reviewed and most popular teas.)
Back to the farm & open communication
Another recent trend, on a smaller scale is the decision by this generation’s inheritors of family run tea farms to “go back to the farm”. A significant number of well-educated, and in some cases professionally trained individuals, are leaving their career pursuits in other professions and taking on the family business. This has brought new innovative approaches to the traditional tea industry that help promote the value of artisan quality tea production as a product value. These ideas understanding and marketing the value of traditional cottage industry produce, more sustainable farming practices, more scientific research of tea production and methodology, and more forum style communication in the farming community. In a nutshell: modern education and awareness applied to traditional artisan industry.
The Tea Research Extension Station (TRES) and Taiwan’s local farmers’ associations have recently started providing a more modern approach to professional training via seminars, intensive courses, and standard tests that supplement the traditionally inherited apprenticeship form of learning the trade. This all spells a new age renaissance of traditional culture.
The current age of farmers are working on a much more public platform – utilising the resources offered by the above mentioned organizations and also in the form of locally formed clubs that provide a context for sharing ideas and experience. There is a fresh trend of pooling resources, experience, and innovative ideas. This is where Eco-Cha meets the new age of tea artisans on our level. We can learn from and provide each other with support from our respective roles.