It’s been an utterly wild year. Admittedly, it feels a little silly writing a tea release blog post—but that’s where we are, folks, and I’d argue that’s just what tea is all about! When the human world is in turmoil, you can reconvene with nature. If you let it, tea provides perspective, comfort and peace. We’re five years old this month and, like most other food and beverage outfits, in the fight of our lives. So, if you’re here, thank you! I hope you enjoy the Wild Mountain and take some time to sip and savor.
There’s been a lot of moments this year that bring me back to our first year as a tea importer, Jordan and I zigzagging around Taiwan with our future team member, Kevin, driving. It was that typical all-day affair where you’re shown around gardens, tea houses, lunch, a museum, another garden, dinner—and finally sit down to talk business and select teas. It sounds lovely (it totally is) but it’s also exhausting. Unfortunately, that night had not gone so well. We were with a big corporate source masquerading as a small garden, who did very little to assuage our doubts. We were tired, over-caffeinated and, as we were finally winding down the tasting late that evening, Kevin was asking us for a favor. He wanted us to visit his close friend, who he said was also a tea farmer. When you’re sourcing, this tip—from your driver, from a concierge, from a shopkeep, from a tea friend—is not unusual. It’s up to you to devote your severely jet-lagged, waking hours on what you think will be most fruitful. At that moment, Jordan and I decided that item was late-night food. Kevin said we could get food at a nearby open-air market, whilst meeting with Mr. Yang. We agreed.
We were pretty slaphappy at this point, but Mr. Yang, in the bright living room of his father’s house, prepared a series of teas on a simple, stone tea set. He explained that these selections came tea gardens dating back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. In typical fashion, these gardens were devoted to black tea production and were abandoned after the fall of the empire. By the time the Yangs purchased the lot, the bushes were wild, overgrown and essentially feral. They’d been unattended by humans for years and had done their own thing. Rather than try to “re-tame” the beautiful bushes—the Yangs opted to work with them in their relative nativity. You’ll find a number of different varieties and crossbred cultivars in central Taiwan that are completely singular to the region and this one, ye sheng shan cha (literally ‘Wild Mountain Tea’) is one the Taiwanese believe to be indigenous to the island.
As we drank cup after cup of these beautiful, sweet and wild tasting teas we were restored—by good leaves and good company. We knew we’d made the right decision to come out. I still haven’t forgotten the hospitality of Mr. Yang and his father in the middle of the Nantou night. The amazing market-stall dinner across the street only made it sweeter! This is why we’ve placed his demure likeness on the label!
I think this is a very simple, enjoyable tea from storied trees. The elements of a good cup are quite simple. You’ll want good spring or charcoal-filtered water just off a boil; a big dose and a short amount of infusion time. If you honor these core principles, it’s more than likely you’ll get a delicious result, no matter your iteration. Gongfu works great. Western style works great. It’s easy to enjoy and such an uncanny glimpse into the vanishing story of gardens like these.
This a rugged, naturally sweet tea—the inclusion of so much huang pian or "yellow leaf" / lower leaf material, is a deliberate sorting choice that adds some earthy funk to this one. As an experiment, I once removed the huang pian from the core leaf material and steeped each separately—the pure sweetness of the top leaves and the damp autumn foliage taste of the huang pian. Without the huang pian mixed in, it tends to veer towards the cloying and, ultimately, they belong together.
Wild Mountain Gongfu Style:
- Pre-warm your teapot (I used a porcelain gaiwan)
- Measure 2-4 grams of leaf into your preferred vessel.
- Pour 100ml of 200F water
- Steep for 50 seconds
- Let it cool. This is one of the most essential steps, the tea gains clarity and sugary sweetness the longer it cools. Look for the ultra-sweet vanilla, bubblegum/cotton candy notes on the first infusion.
- Re-steep for 40-50 seconds with the same temperature. If you're using white or transluscent teaware, look for a burnt honey color, veering on "safety orange"—decant.
- Appreciate the big leaves! The second infusion has more of a cinnamon, melted cherry, pastry crust aroma.
- For each succesive infusion, add an additional thirty seconds.