Invigorating Tea Additions from Taiwan and India

By Evan Howe

While Taiwan has ranked right at the top of our favorite tea origins for many years, Passenger has rarely featured green teas from Taiwanese tea producers in the past. With the addition of Taiwan Spring Green and Taiwan Bi Luo Chun, we are excited to change that, and proud to share two teas that deliver bright, fresh flavors of the Spring 2022 harvest. Both of these teas come from producers in Sanxia, Taiwan - a region ringed by the Baiji mountains and known to possess ideal conditions for green tea production. And while these teas are quite similar to famous Chinese green teas of the same name, there are at least two differences to be aware of. First, Taiwanese producers typically favor a different cultivar, Qingzin Ganzai, for teas of this style. Second, Taiwanese green tea producers often allow the leaves to wither for approximately 12 hours before “fixing” the teas with the application of heat (allowing the development of floral qualities that can hint toward oolong teas), whereas Chinese green tea producers typically initiate the fixing stage much earlier (preserving more of the fresh, vegetal qualities of the leaves in the cup).

Our two additional Taiwanese releases, Pinglin Oolong and Honey Fragrance introduce a shift from the refreshing flavor profiles of the green teas, inviting us to embrace the floral, caramelly, spicy delights of oolong and black tea styles. Pinglin Oolong is named for the Pinglin District in southeastern New Taipei where this tea was produced. It is a fine example of the “Red Oolong” style of processing that was developed in Taitung County in the 1960’s. Red oolongs are somewhat unique within the oolong category due to their high levels of oxidation. While some aspect of controlled oxidation is a defining characteristic of all oolong teas, red oolongs push oxidation much farther than most, moving close to fully oxidized black tea territory. One advantage of this processing style is that the higher oxidation levels tend to produce very stable teas that are well suited to longer-term storage and enjoyment over time. In contrast to the Taiwanese green teas, which were harvested last March, this Pinglin Oolong selection represents the 2021 harvest, and is tasting incredible at the present time. Look for deeply sweet notes of caramel, red fruit, and wood with a complex finish that lingers memorably on the palate.

Mi Xiang, or “honey fragrance,” is a stellar example of a famous bug-bitten tea style of Hualien County, on Taiwan’s eastern coastline. It is thought that the delightful aromatic qualities of these teas can be traced to compounds secreted by the tea plants as a defense against a specific insect that thrives on tea plantations: Empoasca vitis, commonly known as the tea green leafhopper. When a leaf is bitten by one of these insects, the tea plant secretes a chemical that attracts natural predators of the leafhopper. And following damage to a single plant, the entire field of tea plants begins to produce these compounds as a shared defensive response to fight off the invading pests. To the human, the consequence of this natural defense mechanism is a lovely honey-like fragrance: clearly apparent when passing through a field of bug-bitten teas and intensified by the producer through skillful processing of the tea leaves. While the bug-bitten aroma of Mi Xiang teas is certainly desirable, tea green leafhoppers can cause a drastic reduction in a producer’s yield if they cause too much damage to the tea plants. The producer must carefully manage this variable to produce an exquisite tea while ensuring that a viable harvest is preserved. This particular Mi Xiang is a small-batch black tea produced by Mr. Hsieh of Hualien County. The lot that Passenger purchased is a blend of harvests from August to September, 2021. This tea possesses a delightfully creamy mouthfeel and lovely notes of rose, honey, and stone fruit.

Among all tea regions, the municipality of Darjeeling in India’s Eastern Himalayas surely ranks among the most famous, and remains the source of some of the most beloved and sought-after teas in the world. Tea plants at the famous estates of Darjeeling grow at staggeringly high elevations (ranging from 2000-7000 feet) and experience severe cold during the winter, slowing leaf development and contributing to the famously complex flavor profiles of the region’s storied teas. When spring rains arrive in January-February, the tea bushes are stimulated to produce their first tender leaves, typically in February or early March. The first pickings in the early spring season, (a fine plucking of two leaves and a bud) are known as first-flush teas and are eagerly anticipated by Darjeeling lovers each year.

Passenger’s latest Darjeeling offerings are first-flush selections from the Gopaldhara Estate and the Rohini Tea Garden. Gopaldhara Peony is a rare, fully handmade white tea, from plants cultivated on one of the highest elevation estates in the entire Darjeeling region. Harvested in March, 2022 from AV2 clonal tea plants, this lot presents a lovely bouquet of sweet florals, citrus, and apricots. Rohini White Oolong was processed according to a modified white tea production method: in addition to withering and drying, the leaves and buds were fixed and gently rolled. Due to the hybrid approach to processing chosen by the team at the Rohini Tea Garden, this particular lot lands somewhere between traditional white and oolong tea styles. In the cup, this tea presents a delicate array of floral and fruity notes, and is further distinguished by a clean, refreshing finish.

Invigorating Tea Additions from Taiwan and India