This is the next installment of a series of blog posts on Tea Terroir.
Tea terroir is the set of environmental factors that influence the taste and overall characteristics of a tea. Read the other articles here:
Tea terroir is a combination of climate, elevation, soil, ecosystem, and countless other environmental factors that influence a tea's quality. In this article, I'm going to delve into two teas' terroirs.
Wu Yi Shan oolongs are from Wu Yi Shan region in the Chinese northern Fujian province. This tea is known for its long dark strip-like appearance and bold flavor. Also known as “cliff teas” they are grown in a 35-mile mountainous region. The terroir is rich in rocky limestone, surrounding flora, and shaded misty weather. All these factors contribute to a wonderful, mineral dense tea with a unique and high-quality flavor. The limestone and surrounding vegetation lend lots of nutrients to the tea. The foggy weather slows the plant’s growth, allowing the plant’s sugars to store in the bud and older leaves for a pleasant sweet flavor.
Oriental Beauty is an oolong tea from Hsinchu county in northern Taiwan. This oolong is very unique because of its relationship with the surrounding ecosystem, specifically the Jacobiasca Formosana insect. When this insect, also known as the green leafhopper, bites the tea plant, the plant releases chemicals as a defense. These chemicals give the tea “mi xiang”, or a “honey fragrance.” This tea is highly valued for its wonderful natural sweetness. Taiwanese tea farmers producing Oriental Beauty do not use insecticides, instead encouraging the bugs to feast on their crops. However, managing the relationship between the green leafhopper and the Camellia Sinensis plant is a delicate operation as too many bites can cause a decline in the quality of this remarkable tea.
As you can tell from these case studies, everything in a tea's growing environment contributes to its final flavor and reputation. Hearing information about a tea's terroir can help you evaluate teas, anticipate their flavor, and appreciate their complexity.