Travel Journal #2: Out-of-Place Oolong and Hefei

April 25, 2014

This continues a series of travel journals documenting Hugo Tea's adventures in China. The previous entry can be found here.

Oolong out of Place

My Chinese friend Yang Fan and I stayed in the Yellow Mountain region for one more day, visiting a Certified Organic oolong tea farm. If you don’t know—oolong is a type of tea that falls somewhere between green and black tea, with some oolongs being very light and fresh (like a green tea), and others being virtually indistinguishable from a bold black tea. But remember friends—no matter the type of tea (white, green, oolong, black, etc.), all of it comes from one, single species of plant. It is the processing method and growing conditions that create the variety in tea.

Oolong tea is generally considered to be the most expensive tea in the world (premium oolong tea, that is). It is also the most difficult to make because of the skill necessary in finding the sweet spot between green and black tea.

Yang and I met with Mr. Chen, a Taiwanese gentleman who is proceeding with a great experiment to bring premium, organic Taiwanese-style oolong to the Yellow Mountain area. Traditionally, this area is not known for its oolong tea—only green tea. As such Mr. Chen casts himself as a bit of an outsider, and it was apparent that he enjoyed the reputation.

Mr. Chen's Garden in the Rain -- Huangshan, Anhui, China

We tasted many, many teas—all oolong style—most falling closer to green tea on the spectrum. Again we discussed tea plant varietals. Mr. Chen was quite proud of the success with which his Taiwanese tea plants had grown in this unfamiliar climate. You see—not only is Mr. Chen a transplant himself, but the tea plants on his farm are actually transplanted directly from Taiwan.

Mr. Chen serving his organic, transplanted oolong tea

While leaning toward green tea on the spectrum, his teas tended to be quite strong—too strong in my opinion. Beginning with a punch of bitter grassiness, followed later by an intense—almost menthol-like sweetness that lasts in the throat long after swallowing. Apparently Mr. Chen exports the vast majority of his crop for German markets where he has found a market for this rough-and-tumble style of tea.

Hefei (pronounced “Huh-Fay”)

A half-day later my friend Yang and I departed Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), for the provincial capital of Hefei. There we parted ways (over a cup of tea), and I met with her friend, Miss Zhu. Miss Zhu works for a tea export company in China which does not own farms. Hugo Tea prefers to purchase tea from consolidated operations—meaning farmers who make, process, and export crops on their own. This brings Hugo Tea closer to origin and allows for more discussion, transparency, and trust between us and the farmers.

Nevertheless, Miss Zhu treated me to a fine and extensive tasting of teas from the entirety of China. We chatted, not as business partners, but as friends. Miss Zhu has her graduate degree in Tea Genomics and Chemistry (yes, in China that is a thing). So we talked at length about the health benefits of tea.

Tasting, tasting, the day away. 

While understandably biased, she expressed her displeasure with the new-found belief that coffee is a “health drink” in China (and the world-over). Having a thorough understanding of the endless amount of research into the benefits of drinking tea, she is a strong advocate for drinking tea daily for good health.

You can read more about tea basics at hugotea.com/learn, but know that this only scratches the surface. We also occasionally post Tea Research articles on this journal that delve deeper into specific scientific studies on tea. These are worth a glance if you are interested in what tea offers for your health.

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In no time at all, the tasting and talking with Miss Zhu was over. I caught a cab to the grand Hefei Rail Station to continue the journey. It would be 48 hours of non-stop trains, planes, and automobiles before I would reach Yunnan Province—the Chinese frontier, the birthplace of tea, and the origin of Hugo Tea Full-Steam Black Tea.