Wed, Jan 18, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Cultivating Taiwan’s artisanal teas

Meet the tea producers who are promoting tea grown in Taiwan as a specialty product abroad

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

She adds that part of the beauty of bringing Taiwanese tea into an American market is that consumers are not imbued with ideas of what “high quality” teas should taste like.

“They just go where their palates take them,” Liao says.

QUALITATIVE METHODS

The most obvious stance against over-development and harming the environment would be to promote and support organic farming, and organizations such as Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation (慈心有機農業發展基金會) have been at the forefront of this change. The Buddhist NGO’s latest efforts have been in Pinglin (坪林), where they assist farmers switching from conventional farming methods to organic.

“Many second generations who used to work in the cities see the opportunities in organic tea and come back to their hometowns to join the organic tea business with their families,” says Tse-Xin’s CEO, Su Mun-rong (蘇慕容).

While this describes a couple of the tea farmers that Liao sources from, she says there are other ways of growing tea that are also responsible. For example, farmers making use of the land they already have to grow smaller batches of tea rather than clearing new land to grow tea for mass production.

Liao admits she did not come from a “tea family,” though her grandfather had friends who owned small tea farms in Yilan, which she would visit. Liao says she is drawn to “small town” teas because of their distinctive flavors.

One of their regular suppliers is a young, third-generation tea farmer from Yilan who recently switched to organic farming. His specialty, which Liao calls “#2028” is a light oxidized Oolong which is slightly reminiscent of green tea.

“Their methods are very much qualitative,” says Liao of small tea farmers. “They feel and smell the tea leaves and they can look at the color of a leaf and tell you if anything went wrong during the growing process.”

Liao and her husband Frederico Ribeiro travel to Taiwan twice a year, normally during the April and November harvest seasons, to source tea and bring it back to New York.

It’s an exciting though laborious time, Liao says. The first thing she asks a tea farmer during harvest season is: “How many days have you not slept?”

LIKE WINE, LIKE TEA

Kincart isn’t buying the organic argument either. While “organic is justifiable in its own right,” he says that more important to him is the idea of sustainability. Like Liao, “sustainable” for Kincart means sourcing from farms where the land has already been used to grow tea for decades rather than land that has been cleared for the purpose of growing tea.

It also means helping to preserve tea-making traditions by letting independent farmers like Chang know that what they are doing is highly valuable.

“I am interested in farmers using their knowledge and skill to make a product that represents a unique, local culture,” Kincart says.

He prefers to see tea as a specialty product, like wine or craft beer, where consumers are aware of the product’s origin and how it is made.

Liao has a similar outlook. If you visit her shop in Manhattan, she’ll take the time to explain to you all about tea production and how it’s made on a molecular level — should you be interested. It’s one of her nerdy hobbies, she says, reading about the history and properties of tea.

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