Muzha

 

This recounting of the story of Muzha tea is based on recollections and oral traditions related by Lin Wen Shin, a long-time grower and producer in the region. I have not verified the story against documents from the various periods for none exist; or at least none that I have yet uncovered. I have, however considered some of the other brief descriptions of the development of this wonderful tea area.[1]

The Muzha Gondola

Muzha, a region within the southern Wenshan District of Taipei City, was historically known as Mucha, a name derived from the wooden walls that settlers from China had erected to protect themselves from attacks by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples. Muzha is hilly and verdant, not what one might expect from its Taipei City status. It is home both to the Taipei Zoo and to the famous Taipei Gondola. And Muzha is home to tea; the classic Muzha Tie Guan Yin.

 

 

Dateline: Muzha 1875

Tie Guan Yin

The Tie Guan Yin cultivar, which originated in the Anxi region of Fujian Province in Chna, was introduced to the Muzha area by members of the Zhang family. The prevailing story is that two Zhang brothers introduced Tie Guan Yin in 1919. The story, according to Mr. Lin, is more nuanced than that.

 

 

The Zhang family came to Taiwan during the waves of immigration that occurred during the late Qing. Thy brought tea seeds with them but not yet the Tie Guan Yin. In 1875, Zhang Naimiao was born and he went on to become a leading tea master in Taiwan. The young Zhang Naimiao returned briefly to his ancestral home of Daping in Anxi County in 1895 to pay respects to his forebearers. While there he was seduced by the tea produced from the Tie Guan Yin plant and arranged to bring 10 bushes back to Muzha. He planted these in his home. The next year he went again to Anxi and returned with 100 Tie Guan Yin seedlings which he planted in the gardens of Muzha Tea Enterprises, of which he had become a director.

 

Dateline: Muzha 1919

 

At this time, however, the Muzha area was known largely for its Bao Zhong tea. Indeed, in 1916 some twenty years into the Japanese Colonial period, Zhang Naimiao won the top prize in the Japanese government’s evaluation of Bao Zhong tea. Three years later, Zhang travelled again to Anxi, this time with his brother Zhang Naiqian, and secured over 300 Tie Guan Yin seedlings. Sadly, the brother died aboard ship on the return voyage to Taiwan. This is how 1919 came to be associated with the introduction of Tie Guan Yin into Taiwan.

 

Dateline: Muzha 1926

Tie Guan Yin gardens in Muzha

With propagation, there were, in time, over 3000 Tie Guan Yin bushes growing in the gardens of Muzha Tea Enterprises (which was still principally a Bao Zhong producer.) Around 1926 these plants were given to farmers in various locations of north Taiwan but, it was determined, they grew best in Muzha. It wasn’t until after 1937, when Zhang Naimiao once again travelled to Anxi, that the methods for producing Tie Guan Yin became fully understood in Muzha and production blossomed.

 

 

Two items are of note. The first is that there are several clones of Tie Guan Yin but only the Hongxin Waiwei Tao produces the highest quality tea. These are the plants that Zhang Naimiao sought out on his travels. The second point is that the Anxi production methods Zhang brought with him after his last trips used the “stripe rolled” method of making tea. The ball rolling that we now associate so naturally with both Muzha and Anxi production was not developed until a few years later, most likely in Taiwan, not in China.[2]

 

Dateline: Muzha Today

 

Muzha Tie Guan Yin, generally oxidized to around 35%, is most often encountered in its high roast expression. These teas are roasted relatively rapidly after initial production and rolling; not like the Wuyi process which is extended over several months. Although some producers use electric heat to do the roasting, the best tea is still finished using charcoal. Sometimes the young tea can seem “fiery”, that is, the roast taste camouflages the taste of the tea itself; these teas are best left to settle for a period of time.

 

Muzha Tie Guan Yin is richly aromatic and often has the aroma of stone fruit, especially plums. The flavor is deep and penetrating with a noticeable line of “metallic” sharpness along posterior portion of the base of the tongue. The tea has a very long bright, toasty finish.

 

Almost certainly due to the popularity of “green” high mountain oolongs, Muzha Tie Guan Yin can be found in an unroasted version as well. I find these teas thin, vegetal and sharp. I am not a fan,

 

A Word of Caution

 

Leaves of the Tie Guan Yin cultivar command the highest prices in the market and the finished tea is never inexpensive. This is a situation ripe for exploitation by scoundrels seeking to make money through cheating. It is an open secret that a great deal of what is sold as Muzha Tie Guan Yin is, in fact, made with leaves from the Qing Xin or Jin Xuan cultivars. These leaves, grown outside Muzha (often Pinglin and environs) are hard to recognize when highly roasted but in the mouth the tea exhibits none of the classic Tie Guan Yin character. In particular, they do not possess the steely sharpness at the base of the tongue.

 

Classic Muzha Tie Guan Yin, although out of fashion in some circles, is one of the great teas of Taiwan.

That’s my take. What’s your view?

 

[1] These are various vendor websites as well as general references such as Chen, Huan Tang, 台灣茶第一堂課 (Taipei, Andbooks, 2008) and Gascoyne, Kevin et. al. Tea: History Terroirs and Varieties (Richmond Hill, Firefly Books, 2016)

[2] See my February 2018 post, “Getting the Ball Rolling” https://tillermantea.net/2018/02/ball/.

 

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