Baochong oolong and a little history behind Taiwanese tea

Ran across this newsletter from Teance today, and I just thought I should take notes:

Oolongs from Taiwan enjoy renown and prestige, as well some of the highest prices, in the world today. The locals happily consume most of what is produced, and little of its best teas ever get exported. But Taiwan did not start out to be the Oolong powerhouse it is today. When the Dutch conquered Formosa in the early 1620s, part of its plan was to export tea from China, via Taiwan to Persia. This port island served to package and re-export, but its own native wild tea plants were largely unnoticed.

In the early 1800s, the southern part of Taiwan was prosperously growing agricultural items like rice, sugar cane, etc.; but the north, being hilly, foggy, and colder were less suitable. However, tea was found to grow well by the Fujian Chinese immigrants in these high mountains. Tea plants and seeds were imported from China for planting on those terraced hills, and Taiwan’s own tea industry began between 1810-1827.

Wenshan, in particular, in the north, was one of the first areas to feature a uniquely Taiwanese brand of style and taste in its Baochong oolong (originally spelled Pouchong). At first, lacking confidence, the Taiwanese farmers added jasmine flowers to enhance the fragrance. Soon, they found it more compelling to grow fragrant flowers all around the tea bushes instead.

By 1881-1894, Baochong tea exported to the South China Seas has become the second most popular tea to be exported out of Taiwan. The name Baochong came about from its then packaging: standard feathery paper, with unit measures from one liang (about an ounce) to four liang. The word Bao meant ‘wrapped’ and this varietal of tea then was called ‘Chong’ in local slang(*).

The signature fragrance of Baochong oolong, one of the most intensely aromatic teas in the world, is a category of tea all its own called ‘Blue tea’. Boasting of being close to green tea in its low oxidation and thus retaining much of its nutrients, Baochong also offers the intoxicating aftertaste and body of the richest oolongs.

Today, other popular oolongs in Taiwan, like Tung Ting, High Mountain, Jin Shuan, and even Dayuling, are modelled after Baochong’s fragrance profile.

(*) My Chinese vocab of the day: Baochong – 包種茶, literally translated in the same word order: “wrapped seed tea”. The Japanese on reading of these characters is ほうしゅちゃ |ho-shucha|, and this site categorizes hoshucha as a half fermented tea with oolong being fermented tea. I think they confused “fermentation” with “oxidation”. Oolongs are oxidized, puers are fermented.

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