Roy Reports from Taiwan: Milk Oolong

After over 30 hours of no sleep, I arrived Taipei at 5:50 AM. My friend Mr. Chang met me at the airport and we headed toward the mountains.

There's been a lot of buzz in the US about Taiwanese "milk oolong" tea. I haven't entertained the notion of selling it, as most of what you find on the market was produced by spraying a milk-like flavoring agent onto the leaves. However, the original Taiwanese milk oolong (nai xiang, or milk fragrance) is a higher-grown Jin Xuan varietal of green oolong with a thick, rich, almost milky texture. It has a mouth-coating quality a little bit similar to milk. I cupped several newly harvested nai xiang yesterday and found some with possibilities, but since I was barely alive after two straight days of travels, I decided not to make any decisions. Instead I asked the producer to make some changes and wait for my return in mid-May.

What's the story on real (not artificially flavored) milk oolong, you ask? Some organic tea farmers started using a solution of egg, milk powder, soy bean meal, fish meal, honey, and yogurt that they fermented and used as liquid fertilizer. It seems to work well, as you can see from these photos: it produces an abundance of happy bugs and healthy looking leaves. I'll be adding some of these teas to our inventory this spring. But buyer beware when it comes to "milk oolong." The fact is, if it really tastes like milk, think flavorings! The fertilizer solution does not create tea that tastes like milk; it produces a very good-tasting green oolong with thick mouth-feel.

I returned to the hotel late at night and slept like a log. Now I'm on the way to the town of Yin Ko, Taiwan's ceramics capital, to look at some teawares promised me. After that, I have a quick flight to Beijing to meet up with some business partners and see my ailing friend Mr. Yang Wu, who is about to undergo surgery for cancer yet again. Mr. Yang has been fighting cancer for years and has outlasted every doctor's prediction, but unfortunately, the prognosis is very bad this time. I hope to see him one last time.

Then I'm scheduled for Hunan, which is affected by drought but has more tea currently than Hangzhou, where I generally stop first. Unfortunately, the Eastern coast of China - including Hangzhou, Fujian, and Guangdong - were hit with a severe late frost. The early harvest of green tea has been devastated. Thankfully, higher-grown and later-harvested teas survived. I've decided that this is the year to try a different approach. With frost in the East and drought in the West, including Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou, I'm hoping our new tea-growing project in Shaanxi will save the day and yield immediate results by offering a new channel for interesting green teas.

Right now, I'm feeling every second of my 54 years in this wonderful world of ours...

Not just people, but all kinds of bugs seem to love nai xiang

The ingredients for the special fertilizer used on "milk oolong." It's not lovely to look at, but the tea plants can't get enough!