OK, first of all, I need to clear myself that I’m not advocating a machine cut tea industry. Actually, I’m totally against it. In Turkey (where I come from) tea growers already forgot that tea could be hand-plucked. This is because they are using a large pair of scissors that is connected to a bag. In reality, when it is tea picking season, they’re pruning teas and not picking them. I could see that some teas they collected go about 40 cm (maybe even more) which include several leaves and many stems and petioles. They go so deeply because of the state-owned tea company and the private ones that produce mainly CTC style black tea pay per kg.
This Taiwanese tea was machine cut, and it enables a reasonable price. It was not incredibly cheap, but cheaper than those that were hand-plucked. In Japan, the significant majority of teas are machine-cut. This is due to high labour costs. However, in Japan, some farmers use technological devices that can ‘pick’ the right size leaves/buds based on the criteria. Machines are also utilised heavily for sorting purposes. Hand-picked teas have traditionally been perceived as superior to machine-picked teas. Mostly because machine-picked teas tend to contain higher amounts of stems, old leaves and some cut/broken leaves. However, if the technology is improving and can really pick based on leaf size etc. then I can see that more and more tea farmers will start using machines. Although, I believe (because I do not have a proof for the time being) that hand-picking also affects the taste of the tea. But I will leave this topic for another occasion, perhaps I have some proof!
The rolled leaves that made up this oolong were significantly smaller than ‘regular’ oolong. Some of them were not even ‘balls’ but other small bizarre shapes. When they unfurled, I could see that some of them were broken leaves, and stems. Then I steeped the leaves to find that there are many small particles started to precipitate at the bottom of the fair cup, despite the filtering.
The taste was very mild, despite the broken leaves which tend to intensify the flavour. It was not unpleasant, but the tea did not carry enough flavour. Also, this is bizarre and may not be due to the tea, but I tasted saltiness. Having drunk some fine Taiwanese lightly-roasted oolongs, I can say that it is not worth going for a ‘cheap’ machine-cut alternative. On this occasion, I think it’s worth drinking less but better quality.
Harvest time: 2019
Leave colour: Tiny spherical balls with tones of green
Liquor colour: Yellow
Tea aroma: Faintly floral
Tea taste: Light with some floral notes and subtle saltiness
Steeping/brewing: Place 5 gr of tea in a gaiwan or teapot. Add 110 ml water at around 90°C, and rinse the tea cups with the first infusion. Infuse for 15 seconds for the second time, from the third infusion add an additional 5 seconds for each subsequent infusion. You can infuse for about 5 times or until the taste is lost.
Shelf life: 1-2 years.