Interview with Mr. Lee, Ming Zheng at Lee’s Tea Estate in Lugu, Taiwan

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Pre warming the tea pot

Prologue

In a summer afternoon, I stepped into Lee’s Tea Estate to interview its owner, Mr. Lee, an experienced tea artisan in Lugu, Taiwan.  I was so immersed in the talking (and teas as well) that I failed to keep track of time.  When the interview was finished, it was already dark outside.  Only then did I realize that we have been talking for almost 3 hours.  To be honest, I did not expect it would last so long.  I am never good at long talking, guess neither does Mr. Lee.  But, it was really amazing that two people who met each other for the first time felt like being old friends for many years.  There is an old Chinese saying which best describes this “A thousand cup of wines would not suffice when two confidants meet.”

Maybe because I am a stubborn person and stubborn people tend to appreciate each other.  What I saw from Mr. Lee is exactly stubborn or (I should say) persistence.  He insists to make Oolong teas in a traditional method which only few tea artisans are able use nowadays.  He is very clear in his mind of what a premium tea should taste like.  So he goes all for it, no matter how much additional effort/cost.  And no matter how market preference changes, he is not going to change his mind.General people would not understand why he adheres to traditional method so much so that he would stay up all night just to make a batch of tea right, while other tea masters would rest early.  Furthermore, in order to pursue the ideal tea plantation place, he searched all round Taiwan and finally determined to grow tea in Chi-Lai Mountain, which is above 2,000m altitude and 4 to 5 hours away drive from his home.

Plucking 2013 Spring Tea in Chi-Lai Mt.

Plucking 2013 Spring Tea in Chi-Lai Mt.

It is easier for me to understand since we all insist to preserve something valuable.  In the middle of interview, Mr. Lee asked how do I want to expand my tea business?  I am just smiling.  For me, I started as simply as a tea enthusiasm who wants to introduce the world with the exquisite tea in Taiwan.  Tea is not merely a simple product/ business to me.  It is an heritage and life style established upon complete and comprehensive culture through thousands of year.  I still remembered the smell of Oolong my grandpa brewed when I was little (and still miss it!).  For me, it is all about people.  That’s why I insist to interview with farmers when sourcing tea, and it’s the origin of the series of farmer interview.

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In this visiting, I tasted the following 3 teas, which I will publish detailed tea reviews in the Tea Tasting section in my blog soon.

  1. High mountain Oolong with delicate fragrance
  2. High mountain Oolong with traditional method
  3. High mountain Gui-Fei Oolong

前言

在一個夏天的午後,我踏進李家茶莊的家門,大概是聊得太投入以致忘我,竟沒發覺外頭下了一場雷陣雨,走的時候,天也都已經黑了。回到家整體訪談檔案,竟然發現時間長達三個小時,真讓我詫異,我從來就不是一個善於聊天的人,竟然在李家茶莊聊了這麼久,或許這就是『酒逢知己千杯少』!

為什麼會有這種感覺? 我想是因為我在李大哥身上看到相同的特質,就是執著!一般人大概很難理解,就在市場上一片倒地擁抱清香型烏龍時,怎麼還會有人堅持用傳統的方式做茶? 明明用清香型的做法,工序簡單,在市場上也好賣,可以輕輕鬆鬆地做,早點收工,早點休息,他偏偏要用傳統繁複的做工,做茶做到隔天早上五~六點才能睡,怎麼會有這種人?

更讓人難理解的是,這個人不舒舒服服地在住家附近種茶,跑到距離他家四~五個小時車程的奇萊山區種高山茶,然後居然還把高山茶的茶菁做成傳統烏龍茶,怎麼會有這種人?

或許同為固執的人,比較容易互相理解,進而欣賞對方的執著,訪談的過程中,問到我要怎麼擴展我茶葉的生意? 我只是笑笑,因為我只是單純地想要介紹、推廣好的台灣茶給全世界知道,我希望台灣的茶不只是商品,而是一個建築在完整、豐富人文底蘊上的文化。所以,我堅持親自拜訪茶農,也才會有這一系列的文章。

這次拜訪品飲三款茶品

  1. 清香型高山烏龍
  2. 焙火高山烏龍
  3. 高山貴妃茶

容我後續再發表在茗茶品評文章中

Interview

1. How do you start your tea making business?

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Old Master, Mr. Lee Jin Xue, the pioneer of Lee’s Tea Estate, phto taken in Lugu, 1970s 李家茶莊 開拓者 李金學老師父. (民國60年代 攝於鹿谷李家茶園)

Our family is local tea farmer in Lugu, therefore, I learned about tea making since I was a child.  However, to be more specifically about taking it as a career of lifetime, it should go back to a decision made by my father in 1970s.  I was still a high school student, studying at an agricultural school away from home, when my father decided to name the family tea factory in the name of mine – “Ming Zheng Tea Factory”.  Although my father did not say much to me, I already understood that he wanted me to come back and take over the family business.  So I learned from my father in tea making after graduation and took over the tea factory.

There is something needed to special mention is that I am the youngest children in the family.  Before me, there are two brothers and four sisters in the house.  So little did I expect my father will actually pass his lifetime business into my hand.  My father did not discuss with anyone in advance, incl. my mother, my brother and sisters.  Even I was notified later.  Maybe it’s due to the instinct of father, and his observation that made him think I am capable of this job.  So he decided before asking my willingness!

訪談

一、請問您是如何開始從事製茶的事業?

我們家是鹿谷在地的茶農,所以關於製茶,我是從小就有在接觸與學習。但若嚴格地說,真正地把製茶作為一生的志業,應該要回溯到民國六十幾年,從那時父親的一個決定講起。那時,我正在外地念農校,還是一個高中生,那時候父親做了件象徵意義重大的事,就是把家裡的製茶所正式命名為『明正製茶所』,而『明正』正是我的名字,雖然父親沒有明說,但是我已經明白,他是希望我回到家裡,接下這製茶的技藝與事業。所以我畢業之後,就回家跟著父親學習做茶,也慢慢地接手製茶所的事業。

有一點要特別說明的是,我們家有很多兄弟姊妹,我是家中最小的么兒,前面還有兩位哥哥及四位姐姐。所以,當時再怎麼樣也沒想到父親會將這製茶的工作傳承到我手上。而父親的這個決定,事先沒有跟任何人討論過,包括母親、哥哥或姐姐,甚至連我自己也都是在他決定了之後才知道。或許是父親的直覺,憑藉著對孩子從小到大的觀察,再加上製茶師的敏銳感覺,覺得我這個孩子可以,所以他就這麼定了,都還沒問過我以後要不要接呢!

2. What’s the features of your teas?

High Mountain Oolong

High Mountain Oolong

What I made is mainly based on the method of traditional Dong-Ting Oolong tea, which requires sufficient fermentation of tea and strong flavor in the mouth.  This approach is directly inherited from my father, the formal method used by tea masters in Lugu in his generation.

However, there are fewer and fewer people willing to/ be able to make tea in the traditional approach (highly oxidized teas).

One of the reason is the market’s preference to delicate fragrance of tea which would be achieved by decreasing the oxidized level.  For example, Taiwanese high mountain tea, Dai Yu Ling, is notably for its delicate fragrance and sky rocketed price, very popular in the market.  So did tea makers to pursue this trend by making almost every kind of tea in a light oxidized approach, which inevitably sacrificed many characteristics and flavors compared to its original version.  We call this “the danger of green” as the lower oxidation level the tea is, the greener color it will have. We ,Lugu, also have this danger of green few years earlier.  And this trend is not only in Taiwan.  In China, Tie-Guan-Yin in China is being called as Green-Guan-Yin to reflect its greener color in recent years.

The second reason is the traditional method takes more time and effort to be completed as it is more complicated in process, and requires higher skill level.  General speaking, tea makers could finish one day’s work at mid night if he uses light oxidized method.  But if uses traditional method, we need to stay up all night and could only complete one day’s work at 5:00 ~ 06:00 a.m.  These are the reasons why few people use traditional method now.

二、製茶的種類與特色

我做的茶是以傳統凍頂式烏龍茶為主體,而所謂傳統凍頂的做法,是講究茶的發酵程度要足、入口滋味要濃厚。這樣的做法是承襲我父親那一輩鹿谷製茶師傅的正統製茶方法。

然而近年來,傳統式的做法越來越少人在做,也越來越少人會做,探究其原因之一,是因為近年清香型的茶大行其道,大家都走清香型路線的結果,使得各種類型的茶逐漸失去原本的特色而『綠化』了,例如、大陸的鐵觀音,近年常常被稱以『綠觀音』。

(鹿谷前幾年,清香型烏龍茶的製法,也有綠化的危機。)

原因之二,在於傳統式的做法工序比較繁複,同樣一批茶,如果以清香型的做法去做,大約半夜十二點、一點左右就可以收工,但是若以傳統的製程,大概要做到清晨五、六點才能夠結束。這是為什麼傳統式烏龍茶逐漸式微的原因。

3. What makes you insist in traditional approach?

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It has been 30 years and I’ve always adhered to the traditional method. One reason is to preserve the old skills inherited from our ancestors.  The other reason is I think the traditional way makes the best tea.  It is true that high mountain tea has excellent aroma in nature, but most popular high mountain tea in the market is done with light oxidized approach which relies much more on the quality of tea leaves, not the skills of tea maker.  If it could have a higher oxidized level from an experienced tea master’s hand, it will take the aroma of high mountain tea to the next step, and the tea will be more balanced and even better.

I apply this approach in my tea garden in Chi-Lai Mountain with altitude of 2,000 meters.  What I do is use high quality high mountain tea leaves as a fundamental, processed with the traditional method, and then we have rounded tea body and strong flavor, which help bring out the fragrance and the after-taste could last longer.

三、甚麼原因讓您堅持以傳統方法製茶呢?

我做茶至今有三十幾年了,一直到都是堅持傳統烏龍茶的做法,除了是為了保存上一輩傳承下來的技藝,也是因為我覺得這樣的所做出來的茶最好喝。高山茶的清揚香氣 如果能配合足夠的發酵程度 那麼茶湯的醇厚底蘊 將會更加的寯永。

高山茶我也是有做,我的茶園在奇萊山區,海拔約有兩千多公尺,但我是用高山茶的茶菁 加上傳統的作法 求得更圓潤香醇的滋味,也讓香氣更持久而平衡。這樣的做法,不管是在成本或是製茶師傅投入的心力,都遠比製作單純的清香型來的高。因為清香型的高山茶,主要是依靠茶本身的資質,對於製茶師傅的技巧要求是比較低的,但是就像我之前說的,以高山茶優質的茶菁,再加上凍頂傳統的製茶技藝,可以為高山茶的香氣增加底蘊,使整體的茶感覺更加協調,也更好!

4. The terrior of your tea garden

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Tea Garden in Chi Lai Mountain

My main tea garden is located in Chi-Lai mountain, just opposite to the Cingqing farm.  Its altitude is 2,000 meters. It takes 4~5 hours drive to get there from my house in Lugu.  Why would I plant tea in such a distance?  Many years ago, I took a chance to make tea in the region and almost instantly I like the tea grown in there.  It is a mountain sloping field with gravel.  The characteristic of the tea is very different from other region.  If Shan-Lin-Xi tea is like a young, slim beauty, the tea from Chi-Lai mountain is more like a male warrior, more muscular and has more characteristics.

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四、茶園風土與特色

主要茶園在奇萊山區附近,在清境農場對面,海拔約二千多公尺,從鹿谷開車上去到茶園,單程就要四到五個小時。為什麼會種茶種到這麼遠? 其實是因為緣分,當初有個機緣到奇萊做茶,就很喜歡那裏種出來的茶的味道,再加上地形屬於石礫坡地,所產出的茶的茶性也與眾不同,如果說杉林溪茶是屬於比較柔弱的陰柔美,奇萊山茶是就是多了一份俠氣,比較陽剛、有個性。

5. The art of tea making

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Making tea is an art.  There are too many factors to determine the quality of tea, including the weather, the harvest situation, the tea garden management, and withering , fermentation process.  Even though I have been doing this for more than 30 years, I am still learning.  The situation changes every time when making tea.  There are too many variables to be controlled.  If any of this goes wrong, the tea is defected.  How to manage these?  Mainly relies on the experience of tea artisan and keen sense of smell.
Even today, I still do not dare to say I am 100% satisfies with  every batch of tea I made. However, if there is a satisfactory tea, I will smile as matter how tired.

五、製茶的要訣

製茶是一種藝術,影響茶葉好壞的因子實在太多,包含天氣、採收情形、茶園管理、萎凋發酵..等等製程,我到現在也都還在一直學習,因為每一次在做茶所面對的因素都不同,在每一個階段要控制的變因太多,如果其中任何一個環節出差錯,這茶就有了瑕疵。那麼,要如何將這些因素拿捏控制到好處? 其實主要還是依憑三十幾年來的製茶經驗,以及製茶師的敏銳嗅覺,去調整、控制各個環節。

即使到今天,我仍然不敢說每一批做出來的茶,都可以全部讓我覺得百分之百滿意。但是,如果有做出滿意的茶,這一天就算是再累,嘴角也都會偷偷地上揚、微笑。

6. A working day of an tea artisan

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Mr. Lee looks very tired

Since it takes 4 to 5 hours drive to the tea garden, I will attend to tea garden 3 to 4 days in advance in the tea harvest season.  Generally, I will hire 20~30 plucking workers nearby.  The average harvest amount will be 800~1,200Kg. 1 kg gross tea could be made out of 5 kg tea leaves.

The tea making is a continuing process.  Plucking workers will start by 7:00 a.m., and by 08:00 am the first batch of tea leaves are sending in.  And then it is a non-stop sequence till 05:00~06:00 am in the next day.  I have only 1 or 2 hours to rest (or no rest at all)  Those days will continue for one to two weeks in the harvest season.  So the day of a tea maker, especially in tea season, is extremely exhausting.

六、一天製茶的工作

因為到茶區要至少4~5個小時,所以每到採茶的季節,我都會提前3~4天就到茶區住在茶廠裡面,就近聘請附近採茶工人,一般大致是請20-30個左右,一天採收的量約是800~1200公斤,5公斤的茶菁可做成1公斤的茶葉。

製茶的工作是一直持續不停地,採茶工人大約7點鐘開始採茶,在8點鐘的時候第一批茶菁就開始抵達,然後是一連串、不間斷的製茶流程,一直到隔天清晨5、6點才能結束,稍事休息,緊接著8點鐘茶菁送到,又繼續一天的製茶工作,這樣的日子,依據採茶進度不同,通常要持續一個到兩個禮拜,所以在採茶/製茶季節的時候,製茶師傅是非常忙碌,也非常辛苦的。

7. The Tea Camp

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In this July, we host a tea camp for some of our tea lover friends.  The camp is in our tea factory located in Dong-Ting tea region in Lugu.  The participants were running through every process under the instruction of Mr. Lee.  Although it is only 1/6 work load of a common tea maker, everyone was exhausted.  After this experience, they all know how difficult it is to have a pot of tea, and thus more cherish of it.

七、製茶體驗營

今年七月的時候,我們為一些品茗的同好辦了一個製茶體驗營,地點就在鹿谷凍頂茶區的製茶廠裡面,這是一個原汁原味的體驗營,從第一批茶菁送進來,到最後殺青,完完整整地去做每一個流程,對於體力十分吃重,許多體驗者都大感吃不消,但這其實只是我們製茶師傅一天六分之一的工作量而已。經過這個體驗營後,這些茶葉的同好知道一泡茶是得來如此不易,從此也對茶更加愛惜。

8. About the Vintage Tea

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Vintage Tea

My father started to storage Dong Ting Oolong when its price was still very high about 30~40 years ago. For example, it iron can was sealed with wax very carefully.  It was a very advance thought at that time.  However, my father was only doing this for sentimental value, not expecting that the price of vintage tea will become so high.  We, now, also storage some teas, especially in the year which meant a lot to our family, for our precious memories.

八、關於老茶

我父親在當時凍頂茶價位還十分高的時候,就開始藏茶,把最好的春冬兩季茶留下來,例如、這個藏茶的鐵罐,還很細心的用蠟密封起來。這在三、四十年前的當時是很先進的想法,但父親並沒有特別利益上的考量,純粹只是為了情感上的紀念而留下這些茶,並沒有想到以後老茶會被炒做的那麼厲害,那麼多人要。我們現在也把一些特定年分、對我們全家有特別紀念意義的年份的茶藏起來,做為以後珍貴的回憶。

專訪 李明正先生 於鹿谷李家茶莊

Brief of Mr. Lee, Ming Zheng

  • Owner of Lee’s Tea Estate
  • Founder and Chairman of Junior Chamber International, Lugu
  • Appraiser of Dong Ting Cooperative, Lugu
  • Special Award of Tea Roasted Skill Competition, Lugu, 2011
Mr. Lee and Ms. Guo 李先生賢伉儷
Mr. Lee and Ms. Guo 李先生賢伉儷

簡歷 李明正

  • 李家茶莊 負責人
  • 鹿谷國際青商會 創會長
  • 鹿谷凍頂合作社 評審
  • 鹿谷鄉100年茶業烘培技術競賽 特等獎
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3 thoughts on “Interview with Mr. Lee, Ming Zheng at Lee’s Tea Estate in Lugu, Taiwan

  1. Pingback: Tea Tasting- 2013 Spring High Mountain Oolong, Delicate Fragrance, from Chi-Lai Mount., Taiwan | Easy Tea Hard Choice/ Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Tea Tasting- 2013 Spring High Mountain Oolong, Tranditional Roasted, from Chi-Lai Mount., Taiwan | Easy Tea Hard Choice/ Tea Blog

  3. Pingback: Tea Tasting- Guei Fei Oolong, High Mountain Oolong from Chi-Lai Mount., Taiwan | Easy Tea Hard Choice/ Tea Blog

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