Rise from the Ashes of the Phoenix – the black tea of Yuchi (Sun Moon Lake)
Many of you may be familiar with the Ruby Black (Taiwan Tea #18) at Sun Moon Lake if you are a fan of black tea. However, fewer people know about the story behind it. As the subtitle saying “Rise from the Ashes of the Phoenix”, it is not only a story of the rise and fall of black tea in Yuchi Township, but also a story of people strove forward when it seemed no hope at all.
Before telling the story, I would like to share with you some photos. In the midnight of 21th Sept. 1999, a great earthquake, which was later called as 921 earthquake, struck and woke up everyone in Taiwan . The epicenter was at southwest of Sun Moon Lake, near the town of Jiji, Nantou. 2,415 people were killed, 11,305 injured, and numerous people being homeless.
It was such a terrible earthquake. However, it did not have much impact on Yuchi’s balck tea industry even though the epicenter was just southwest of Sun Moon Lake. Why? You may be asking. The answer is simple. 921 earthquake did not kill/ have great impact on Yuchi’s black tea industry because it was already dying.
History of Yuchi’s Black Tea & its Terrior
魚池鄉紅茶歷史 & 風土條件
Yuchi’s black tea had its good old times which could be traced back to Japanese occupation era (from 1895 to 1945). It is said that the Japanese royal family loved to drink black tea. But since the high latitude of Japan is not suitable for black tea growing, the Japanese tea experts go to Taiwan in hope to find a ideal place for growing/manufacturing black tea. Finally, after looking up for hundreds of places in Taiwan, they decided to make it in Yuchi Township. (area around Sun Moon Lake)
Yuchi is around 600 ~700 meters altitude, with annual rain fall of 2,000~2,800 mm, and average humidity is around 80~85%. (trust me, it’s really humid and hot there!!! I got whole body wet with sweat in my trip to visit tea farmer) The temperature deference between day and night could be large, ranging from 15 ℃ at night to 35 ℃ in the noon. It’s usually foggy in the morning and evening. Plus the red soil with acid, all the conditions are very similar to the state of Assam, India where the Japanese introduced the first bath of assam tea seed into Taiwan.
魚池的海拔約600~700公尺，年雨量約2,000~2,800 mm，相對溼度介於80~85%之間，(相信我!真的是又悶又熱，在找茶的旅途中，全身濕了又乾好多次，難道紅茶就尬藝這味ㄟ?) 日夜溫差大，早晨氣溫15度，中午可到35度，晨昏間常有霧，加上帶有微酸性的紅土，所有的地理條件與日本人預計要引入的原生種所在地的印度的阿薩姆省十分相似。
(@Lawrence’s note, Yuchi means “fish pool” in Chinese, see below emblem of Yuchi Township and you will get what I mean)
Yuchi’s Assam Tea
According to old local people in Yuchi, the Japanese at first wanted to import some assam tea trees from India, but got declined by India authority. Nevertheless, one of the Japanese tea experts managed to obtain some seeds of assam, hidden in the head of his crutch, and brought back to Taiwan. (yeah! it was a time when no X-rays machine in custom)
The Fallen of Yuchi
The Taiwan Assam Tea was very successful in the first place. It became the Japanese royal family’s favorite tea, and soon become famous in the export market. However, in 1990’s, due to price competition from other foreign black teas, the price of black tea dropped greatly. Many tea farmers, in order to make a living, switched to grow Bing Lang (Areca catechu, which is another Taiwan spcial culture) instead. If you visit a tea garden in Youchi, you will probably find many Bing Lang trees grown besides the tea trees.
Dear readers, you might be asking that if the tea was really that good, why would it ever became so cheap that tea farmers could not make a living by growing/selling it? This is the question I am asking myself as well. After visiting and talking with numerous tea farmers along my tea trip, I have my own answers. I am not going to disclose my answer here, at least not in this article. I encourage you guys to find your own answers. But. If you are familiar with the concept of fair trade coffee, you are probably getting close to the core of my ideas.
(to be continued)