A Man and his Bike, in the Land of Oolong
|Tea farm at the base of Alishan Mountain|
Next in our series on Taiwanese winter oolongs at Miro Tea, we are going to introduce you to the man behind the teas, my good friend Drew. It is Drew who helps me locate the best oolongs of each season and makes sure we are always well-stocked with the highest quality Taiwanese oolongs that are most representative of each category. I met Drew on my first day in college and to this day, he’s the friend who doesn’t let me live down certain events in my life that he had the fortune/misfortune to witness. We should all be so lucky to have such a good friend. In my first post, I had mentioned how a good friend was responsible for introducing me to what great tea was all about. Well, that good friend was Drew. He had already been studying and learning about teas long before I even met him and by the time we met, he demonstrated to me the variety of teas that existed outside of my limited knowledge of tea, at time, and introduced to me the concept of artisan teas, direct farmer sourcing and gung fu tea preparation. In my mind, the idea of Miro Tea was born the moment he served me that first cup of gorgeous delicious tea.
Since our college days, Drew left Seattle for warmer climates and settled down in Taiwan with his lovely wife Joyce, where they’ve established an envious life of teaching, exploring, and writing, as well as lots and lots of biking across the Taiwanese countryside.
I never considered how conducive the terrain and landscape of Taiwan was for cycling until I learned of Drew’s cycling endeavors and from reading his blog, Taiwan in Cycles. There, he chronicles all his excursions and the very rich cycling culture in Taiwan, all the while taking lots of photos of the people, locales, bikes and of course, tea! Some of the tea related rides that he’s written about are his Nantou trip, Ali Mountain, and my favorite piece on the Lugu tea district and it’s prestigious bi-annual tea competition.
And so it is during these bike rides that Drew ventures out to the Taiwanese mountainsides and discovers some of the obscure but talented tea growers whose teas we enjoy at Miro Tea. We’re so lucky to have him as our exclusive liason to help us insure that our customers have access to some of the most exceptional teas that Taiwan has to offer. He’s been generous by allowing us to access his long developed relationships with the tea farmers and has become our “feet on the street” or in this case, “wheels on the mountain” for premium quality, yet reasonably priced Taiwanese Oolongs. With his friendly disposition, sense of curiosity, and utmost respect for the farmers, he’s been able to establish great relationships with many of the local tea growers from each of the major tea growing regions.
|Handmade Tea Baskets|
One thing that people often misunderstand is the process of gaining access to teas grown by small tea farmers. It’s not as simple as picking up a phone or knocking on a door. Cultural rules dictate and respect for the farmers must be acknowledged. Relationships based on personal interactions and trust are established over time. Thankfully, Drew is the person that we trust to develop that special relationship for us in Taiwan.
|Teas in Taiwan are usually hand plucked by the family members who own and cultivate the tea farms|
When selecting teas, Drew knows the characteristics of a truly premium oolong and starts by looking for only hand-made, organically-grown Oolongs that are typically cultivated at a high elevation. This ensures that care was taken in making the tea and it further increases the chances that the cultivated oolong tea will be delicious. Also, Drew and I share a very similar palate for oolong teas, which allows me to put my full trust in his selections, enabling us to get premium oolong teas to our store and customers in very short order.
|Fresh tea leaves being spread out to wilt in the sun before the bruising and rolling process.|