Kevin Liang – Taiwanese Tea Farmer

I’ve known Kevin Liang for a long time. Our first meeting was somehow accidental. It was a summer afternoon and my father and I went to Yuchi for business. It was really hot that day and we were all thirsty. Suddenly, I noticed there was a small cottage by the road.

“It looks like a black tea factory. Why don’t we pull over and check? Maybe we will get some tea.” I said.

That’s how I came to Kevin’s house in the first place, Dong Feng Black Tea. All by accident! But, I am very glad that I stopped by that day because their black tea is by far the best I’ve ever tasted.

Besides the quality tea, I like Kevin and his family very much. They are all traditional Taiwanese – honest and warm hearted people. We talked a lot that night, including the tea knowledge, the history of Dong Feng Black Tea and the tips of making tea…ect.

Kevin’s story reflected the recent tea development in Taiwan. Young people abandoned tea farming business and left for big cities for an easier job. Kevin is one of the young people who left his hometown; the difference is that he came back.

Q: Please talk about the history of Dong Feng Black Tea

A: I grew up in Lugu, Nantou (the origin of Dong-Ding Oolong) with our family who lived there and grew tea for generations. The tea garden was my playground when I was a baby. When I grew older, I learned the knowledge/skills of tea, such as tea tasting, the art of tea brewing, tea garden management, the skills of tea manufacturing including withering, rolling, fermentation, etc. – from the family elders.Tea Farmer

In 1993, after finishing my education and two years service in the army – in Taiwan, (it’s mandatory for males to serve in military) one of the elders in the family instructed me to find another job out of Lugu as she thought there was no future for me to continue the family tea business. Therefore, I left my hometown and finally settled down in Tea Research and Extension Station, TRES – before 2003, it was called Taiwan Tea Experiment Station – TTES.  We will use its new name TRES, hereafter.

In TRES, I read many valuable tea documents left by the Japanese who once ruled Taiwan for 40 years. That was the time I realized how limited my knowledge was. As the passion for tea in my heart has been aroused again, I started to think what I could do for the tea industry in Taiwan. At that time, there was a governmental plan to revive the black tea industry, damaged greatly by the 921 earthquake in 1999. TRES was helping the tea farmers to rebuild their tea farms with the newest developed cultivar, Red Jade, or Ruby black or TTES#18. So I jumped into tea industry again. This is where Dong Feng black tea started.

Q: Could you share your experience in making tea?

A: The essence of producing tea is how to make the water depart from the tea leaves smoothly. If it goes too fast, the tea will lack flavor. On the other hand, if it is too slow, the tea will be dull. Normally, the cell of a leaf contains water, tea catechins, theanine and other ingredients which are in equilibrium status. However, when you start the process of making tea, the molecules of water will be separated from the tea leaves which will make the remaining molecules collide with each other. There are chemical changes occurring from these processes which bring out the aroma and flavor we will later taste in tea cup.  Therefore, water management is the key in producing tea.

Tea Farmer 2In addition, we, Dong Feng Black Tea, will add an extra procedure, “Tea Storage”, after all other producing steps are completed. Tea Storage keeps the tea in constant temperature (25C~28C) and constant humidity (70 RH) in order to increase the level of post-fermentation and thus strengthen the flavor of tea. Normally, Red Jade (aka Ruby Black or TTES 18), will be aged for three to four months; Red for four seasons; and Old Tea Tree Black Tea will be aged for more than one year.

Q: Will the aroma of tea volatilize in the process of tea storage? For Green tea and Oolong, it is required to package the tea ASAP to prevent the aroma from volatilizing. Why is it different with Black tea?

A: For green tea or Oolong, there is more vitamin C and catechins left in the tea due to lower oxidation. But for black tea, most vitamin C and catechins have been transferred into theaflavins and thearubigins which have been proven to have the same antioxidant effect as do catechins. Moreover, theaflavins and thearubigins also have the effect of prevention of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure. Since theaflavins and thearubigins are relatively stable in structure, the aroma of black tea will not volatilize as fast as green and oolongs do. The purpose of aging is to increase the transformation of theaflavins and thearubigins, and thus to strengthen the flavor of black tea.

Q: What keeps you in this business?

A: I think it is due to the love for my homeland, Taiwan. Our family has witnessed the rise and fall of the Taiwan tea industry. Before the 1960′s, tea was the main export product. After the 1960′s, Taiwanese tea started to lose its market share due to price competition. Many tea farmers changed to other agricultural products. Tea gardens have been abandoned. I was one of many young people who left tea farms to look for other jobs at that time.  Later, I was inspired by the historical document kept in Yuchi TRES, and started to think about the future of Taiwan tea industry. I believe we must develop the tea industry in a more delicate way. This is what keeps Dong Feng Black moving. We want to keep our commitment to produce specialty tea in a natural, safe and healthy way; our hope is to share the pleasure of tea with you, tea lovers.