This is the first interview which I kept in the draft section for a long time. It is originally a plain record of the conversation between me and the tea farmer. I was not planning to publish it until someone told me he/ she wants to read something specific about the farmer and the farm. So I looked back at my notes and journal and worked out with my first interview article.
Farmer: Kevin Liang /Dong-Feng Black Tea
Location: Yuchi Township, Nantou County, Taiwan
The story of Kevin exactly reflects what I said about Taiwanese tea industry development in I mentioned before.
Due to fierce price competition from foreign tea, the tea plantation acreage in Taiwan decreased dramatically in recent years as some people abandoned their farm and went for an easier job in the city.
He is one of the young people who left hometown when the tea business was in downturn. The difference is he come back and rejoin the tea ranks...
Q: Please talk about the history of Dong Feng Black Tea
A: I was grown up in Lugu, Nantou (the origin of Dong-Ding Oolong) with our family who lived and grew tea in Lugu for generations. Tea garden was my playground in my childhood. I learned the knowledge/ skills of tea, such as tea tasting, the art of tea brewing, the tea garden management, the skills of tea manufacturing, incl. withering, rolling, fermentation, ect…, from the elders in our family. In 1993, I finished my 2 years term in the army (NOTE 1, in Taiwan, it’s mandatory for male to serve in the army (or the navy/ air force)) and returned to home. The family elder instructed me to find another job out of Lugu as she thought there was no future staying in Lugu to continue the family tea business. (NOTE 2, it’s a reflection of tea industry development in Taiwan, that is young people leaving the tea countryside for other jobs in the cities) Therefore, I left my hometown and finally settled down in Tea Research and Extension Station (before 2003, it was called as Taiwan Tea Experiment Station (TTES), however we will use its new name TRES hereafter)
When I was in TRES, I have access to many historical documents left from Japanese occupation era. I read many of them. That was the time I realized my understanding of tea is limited and the passion for tea deep inside my heart has been aroused. I started to think what I can do to help with the tea development in Taiwan. In 1999, 921 earthquake hit Taiwan, in order to rebuild hometown and to respond to the governmental revival plan for black tea industry in Yuchi township, I jumped into the rank of producing tea again. That’s how Dong Feng black tea comes from.
Q: What makes Dong Feng black tea different from others?
A: It’s our commitment that makes a different
Nature: Our tea garden is grown by natural farming method without the usage of chemical fertilizer and herbicides. You could easily found insects and small bugs in our tea garden. It’s the evidence of natural farming and representing a small, healthy and balanced environment here.
Hygiene: We have a high standard in tea manufacturing, in which the requirement of hygiene is the most important and fundamental. For instance, it is mandatory our people to wear a standard suit of clothing, hat, and mask in the processing of tea making. We do not lower the standard because the temperature is high or for the convenience of people. It’s a basic respect to the customers. You have to respect people first and then they will respect you in return. That’s why we set our tea manufacturing line next to our selling store. Our tea factory is completely transparent to our customers through a glass window. People could see clearly how we are making tea here. We are doing this based on the confidence in our hygiene management.
Health: Fully comply with the two above commitments and Health is a matter of course.
Q: Could you share your experience in making tea?
A: I think the essence of making tea is how to wither the tea leafs properly. If the moisture leaves too fast or too slow, the tea will be less in flavor.
Q: Please introduce a typical day in Dong Feng black tea
05:00 A.M. Departure to tea garden for tea plucking.
06:00 A.M. Arrived and started tea plucking which is done by hand not by machine. An interesting note: everyone is wearing waterproof pants because morning dew in tea garden is so heavy which is sign of natural and healthy tea garden.
06:00 ~ 15:30 During this period, the tea plucking continues, in the meantime, the tea leaves plucked will be simultaneously sent to Dong Feng tea plant for various processes, including:
Withering: Withering is used to remove excess water from the leaves and allows a very slight amount of oxidation.The leaves can be either put under the sun or left in a cool breezy room to pull moisture out from the leaves. For black tea, there is usually indoor withering only. Tea leaves will be collected on the natural withering tile rack for about 18 to 22 hours. A properly withered tea leaf will become soft and strong which will not be easily broken in the next step “ Rolling”.
Rolling and Pressing: This step is to roll and press the withered tea leafs by hand or by machine, usually done by machine nowadays. Only very exceptional tea is rolled by hand with very small quantity. This step breaks down the structures inside and outside of the leaf cells and thus releases essential oils and some of the leaf juices in the surface of tea leaves, which makes it dissolve in the hot water easily when brewing tea.
De-Lump: In the process of rolling, the tea leaves will be press into lumps. The temperature of tea leaves tend to rise due to lack of air flow. Thus, it is necessary to de-lump once in a while to prevent tea leaves from deterioration due to overheat. Besides, since pekoe needs less time in rolling than tea leaves, it is also needed to separate pekoe from tea leaves when de-lumping.
Fermentation: The purpose of fermentation is to have oxidation effect between chemical component in tea and air, in order to reach certain liquor color, taste and aroma. In general, fermentation will takes about 4 to 5 hours, from rolling& pressing to drying.
Drying: Drying is the last step. It removes excessive water from the tea leaves and stops the fermentation.
The process of making tea could not be stopped once start. Thus, tea masters usually need to stay up all night when making tea.
Q: What keeps you doing this business?
A: I think it is due to the love to my homeland, Taiwan. Our family has witnessed the rise and fall of Taiwan tea industry. Before 1960’s, tea is the main export product. After 1960’s, Taiwan tea started to lose its market share due to price competition. Many tea farmers changed to other agricultural products. Tea gardens have been abandoned. I was one of many young people who left tea farms to look for other jobs that time. Later I was inspired by the historical document kept in Yuchi TRES, and started to think the future of Taiwan tea industry. I believe we must develop tea industry in a more delicate way. This is what keeps Dong Feng Black moving. We want to keep our commitment to produce specialty tea in a natural, safe and healthy way.