Mitch of Alishan – the tea-maker who came back from the city
"My dad said: although the autumn flood washed out the plantation, at least the kid was harvested".
Mitch tells us his story as he drives the serpentine mountain road. He drives fast as he is familiar with the passages atop.
Though he grew up in the tea county, Mitch never thought he would one day return to it; he went up and down the mountains ever since he was a kid, and when the time became to descent to the city for studying, he thought to leave behind the windy mountain roads for good.
"You know how tiring it is? Others went to play after the class was over, but I had to help with the tea plantation, especially if it was harvest time", he laughs.
When the typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan hard in 2009, the resulting landslide ruined the family plantation. Everybody here knows it brought him back, but he only mentions the story about how he rescued a small black dog from the ruins of a broken wall.
He talks enthusiastically about tea, Alishan mountain, farming policies and environmental issues like he was never away. Since 2009 he has shifted from not understanding tea to knowing it and making it himself. Even though his fondness towards tea has remained in low-key, it is nevertheless there.
Dad´s hat, which he has won as an award for his accomplishments, is big. Mitch returned home to learn tea anew, and the endured hardships during the process are difficult to describe just in few words.
Mitch recalls the first days when he began working in the tea industry:
he left before the sunrise and returned when the stars twinkled, and it was good to have his adopted border collie, Ding-ding, as a partner to cheer him up.
Not only can Ding-ding distinguish the good tea leaves from bad, but it has also become an indispensable partner when it comes to entering the tea circles; although they had lived together for only 342 days, Mitch came up with a tea brand that is to Ding-ding´s liking, thus changing the way people feel about Alishan tea.
When it comes to Alishan tea, nothing is thrown away and half is fermented, as it is crucial to making oolong tea. Mitch chose specifically black tea, perhaps out of fearlessness of being young, thinking that, if he really is to make tea, then it should resonate with the trends of the day. After studying history and the consumer trends in the market – given also his girlfriend´s fancy towards black tea – the renowned Ding-ding series of black tea products came to be.
For this species of tea, the plants are grown environmentally friendly, implementing the concept of being safe for medicinal use. The plantation does not look neat and pretty, and the yield is low too, but under Mitch´s attentive care, combined with technology, the plantation not only grows delicious black tea, but also several kinds of oolong teas which are unique and individual products in their own right.
Mitch´s tea manufacturing is not just about manual labor, as he collects digital data and tries to understand tea cultivating from a scientific perspective; why do different tea leaves have different fragrances, what factors constitute to the taste of tea, what exactly do all the things related to tea-growing do?
Like a teacher, Mitch has a method for letting us unveil the mystery that is tea-growing.
There are several reasons behind the digital data collection: our senses start to get weaker as we get old, the quality remains at the same level, the experience can be passed on to another and everything can be recorded.
In addition to being a certified tea-making technician, for the past couple of years Mitch has attended an agricultural academy in order to further understand the tea industry.
Mitch dares not to argue that he has mastered tea cultivating; "the past six years has been just the tip of the iceberg – there are still many things I do not understand".
However, staying humble and venturing ever deeper, he has come up with various kinds of teas: with the help of technology, he has cultivated Taiwanese tea and turned it into a Japanese style green tea, and with the four seasons of Taiwan come the corresponding flower teas.
The boy who left for the city came back to master the tea-making, and, though he started late, he has mustered the powers of the age-old and the modern to pave his long and windy road to comprehending what is tea.