[Note: This post was originally intended to give a brief introduction and history of Lugao Village. After checking a previous blog post that also covered the history of Lugao, we decided that it would be better to combine the posts. The information and photos presented in this blog are a combination of our recent visit to Lugao, and our visit during the winter season of 2018.]
Taiwan is an incredibly verdant and fertile island; almost all of Taiwan is suitable for growing tea. Yuchi Township（魚池鄉）(the township that surrounds Sun Moon Lake), is no exception to this. What makes Yuchi exceptional, is its history. Very few tea growing areas can claim to have the vibrant history that Yuchi, and especially Lugao Village（鹿蒿）, has.
From Left to Right:
Above, On Stone wall we see the Chinese characters is meaning that The Hometown of Assam Black Tea 阿薩姆紅茶的故鄉. This area is the first place to grow black tea,.
Black building is named Chin Mu Hong Cha Chang(持木紅茶廠), In 1936, 新井耕吉郎 (Arai Kokichiro) who is the father of Taiwanese black tea, he asked Mr.Chin Mu(持木 ) to help build a black tea factory in LuGao,which was the main black tea factory in Yuchi Township at that time. For generation of people is a landmark of memory. But now this build is replica, can not go inside.
受吉宮 (Shou Ji Temple), Local patron saint, the farmer will pray for good weather and good harvest in special tea festival.
It all started in a tiny village called Lugao. Located just 6km from the scenic banks of Sun Moon Lake, Lugao would become home to the first attempts to farm black tea in Taiwan. In 1925, the Japanese introduced seeds from the Indian Assam cultiver to the verdant hills surrounding Lugao. Lugao, and Yuchi Township, is a land of rolling hills, sheer mountains, and beautiful basins. Because of these wonderful geographical features, the temperature of Yuchi Township goes from very warm during the day, to very cold at night. This makes it ideal for the production of black tea. In Yuchi Township, the average tea growing altitude is around 600-800 meters. In fact, Lugao was chosen specifically because the climate is similar to that of the tea growing area in Assam. Thanks to the gifts of nature, and with careful cultivation, the people of Lugao turned these initial seeds into a booming black tea industry.
Above Left: These tea trees are around 10 years old. We can see the trunks are thin, and the leaves growly densely, with many younger leaves and buds.
Above Right: Old growth tea trees beneath a canopy of tall trees. These tea trees are over 70 years old. The growth of these trees is very slow; the quantity of young leaves and buds are very little per year. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to harvest these trees. Instead, they exist as a living relic of Lugao’s past.
Below: This is a tea tree of the Taiwan Native Tea（台灣山茶）cultivar. As you can see, the trunk is thick, and has many branches. This characteristic can only be found in tea trees that are very old. In this case, this tea tree is over 70 years old.
For making the finest black tea, hand harvesting is a must. Farmers need to harvest when the tea leaves are still young, and tender. To test for this, they twist a freshly picked leaf into a tight spiral; if the leaf breaks, then you know that the leaf is too old, if the leaf can be twisted without breaking, and quickly returns to its original shape, then you know the tea tree is ready to be harvested. If the harvesting is done using machines, it will cut and tear the older and larger tea leaves. This makes the leaves difficult to twist. Because of this, the rolling process can not be done properly; which means the oxidation process, which is the key point in making high quality black tea, will not be done well. This results in a tea that has a cloudy liquor; no obvious black tea aroma; and an ugly finished leaf. In contrast, hand picking will allow the leaf to remain intact, which makes it suitable for a well executed rolling process. This results in a black tea with a crystal clear liquor; strong aroma; and beautiful finished leaf.
You can imagine that after many hours of hand picking tea, your hand would become sore and raw. Eventually, some smart farmer decided to adapt the double-edged razor blades used for shaving, to the hand picking process. The blade is folded in half, then attached to the index finger of both hands. This not only protects the harvester from damaging their hands, but also greatly increases the speed that tea can be harvested at.
When I was young, I remember seeing my grandmother cut up an old soda can to make this blade. The first time that I saw her do this, I thought she was making herself a very special ring. With her handmade soda can blade, my grandmother could pick over 60 jin (over 36,000 grams) in one day.
Ivy and I believe that this man represents the true spirit of Lugao black tea farmers. He is 75 years old, but still goes out and harvests tea every season. As you can see, he may be old, but his body is still strong. Not only is he strong, but he is fast. In just a short time, we saw him harvest enough tea to fill up the bag he carries on his waist. Once he is done for the day, he walks through the garden and cleans up any trash left over from the harvest.
We asked him why he still does this hard work, and he says it’s because he loves black tea. He says after a hard day of work, he always looks forward to going home and having a relaxing cup of black tea.