Our friend Mr. Lin makes our two Sun Moon Lake teas along with our several Tung Ting oolongs and Tung Ting black tea. Sun Moon Lake black tea has a long history on Taiwan, (having been developed during the Japanese occupations) and there have been times when it was the only black tea produced in Taiwan, as has also been the case at times for the famous Taiwan Lapsang Souchong smoked tea; but today’s young tea makers such as Mr. Lin are changing that and every year we are seeing a few new interesting black teas offered.
Taiwanese black teas are quite rare and expensive, and they are worth every penny, as the flavor is unique and exquisite and cannot be replicated anywhere else on earth, and they are definitely teas that are on every tea enthusiast’s life-list of teas to taste as much as is possible. They re-steep nicely, so that brings the price down by at least two-thirds, which makes them actually quite competitive in price with other rare (and even some not-so-rare) teas. Whenever one encounters fully oxidized leaf made from what might otherwise be partially oxidized, it is well worth tasting that tea, it will almost always be interesting, and in most cases, excellent. Tea makers who are experienced experiment with this phenomenon and make great tea, those who are novices have not yet tried to accomplish this, so the risk of getting bad tea is small. In tea growing regions such as Taiwan, the tradition of black tea manufacture has been a very well-kept secret until the last decade or so, and now the choices are very good.
Sun Moon Lake tea has long, sturdy, twisted leaves, unlike the generally-more-familiar Taiwanese semiball-rolled style leaf (as exemplified by famous teas such as Tung Ting oolong and Tung Ting black tea). It has a delicate, woodsy flavor that suggests sweet osmanthus, cinnamon, and candied orange marmalade. Whereas the Ruby Red #18 has a tiny hint of old-fashioned garden mint (or even camphor or wintergreen) in the background (or after-taste); this Assamica version does not, and stays within the woodsy, earthy flavor spectrum.
In the region surrounding Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan, black tea was developed for export by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan in the years preceding and during WWII. In 1925 the Japanese tea research center imported tea seeds from Assam, India, with the intent of cultivating tea bushes for the production of black tea for export.
The Japanese succeeded in establishing those tea bushes in Yuchi Township, and later, after the departure of the Japanese from Taiwan, the Taiwan Tea Research Institute continued research into suitable tea bush cultivars for the production of black tea.
The resulting cultivar was a cross between indigenous Taiwan tea cultivars (Taiche) and the tea bushes established by the Japanese in 1925. The resulting tea bushes were named Ruby Red or No. 18, which are used to this day to manufacture Sun Moon Lake’s most-well-known black tea. (see our Sun Moon Lake Ruby Red #18)
Other tea bush cultivars have been planted since, and improvements have been made to the plantings derived from the assamica seedlings and seed-plantings that the Japanese started so long ago. Without the hybridizing with the Taiwanese cultivars, the flavor profile and taste is quite different. There is a greater depth to this tea and a focused, Indian Assam-like slight maltiness that is quite unique. This is a fine example of terroir and the influence that ‘place‘ has on a cultivar if grown and sustained long enough.
While we generally tend to prefer the character of tea made from older tea bushes that have developed roots well into the ground, in some cases there are modern cultivars that surprise. Our Sun Moon Lake Black Assamica tea is one of those cultivars, plucked from large-leaf tea bushes that are descendants of the original plants. The best of both worlds! The leaf is carefully plucked by hand, and expert tea makers manufacture a world-class black tea from these unusual cultivars. Why aren’t they more well-known? Because there is so little inventory of them available, and it is all drunk in East Asia by those who follow the progress of the new young tea makers. The rest of the tea world is primarily interested in the Ruby Red #18, which is a terrific tea, but some of these other cultivars will eventually rival it if these tea makers continue to progress as they have been. We believe that our Mr Lin is ‘there’ now and offer his excellent teas to you with a hearty ‘Bravo’!
As with the Ruby Red #18 and most ‘original’ varietal black teas, Mr. Lin believes that this tea is delicious when it is just made but that it matures and gets better with age. We love mellow, rested and aged tea, so on his word we purchased a quantity to last a few years and see how it develops. In all our years of working together he has never steered us wrong, so we are suggesting that you trust his expertise as well!!
This tea is just beginning its prime drinking period…
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