Mr. Li Chan-Feng (利展豐) is a fifth generation tea maker with 28 years of experience specializing in Taiwan High Mountain Oolong and a multitude of other varietals. We spent spring harvest 2011 with Mr. Li in Alishan, learning and admiring both his skill and dedication.
“The quality of the end product is also determined by the raw leaf quality and environmental conditions, but the most important factor is the human hand. If you have superior leaves but don’t handle them with respect, the result will always be poor tea.” When I traveled with him to Alishan to make tea, he didn’t hesitate to point out tea processing plants that had compromise on the quality and safety of their products. “You see the brown, dead grass? That means they used too much fertilizer and pesticides.” Mr. Li produces organic tea on his own farm in Miaoli county, and while his collaborators are not certified organic--“They just don’t have the financial means or incentive"--Mr. Li keenly scrutinizes their processes to ensure that the are producing tea that meets his quality standards.
A few years ago, Mr. Li began teaching a tea making course at the Agricultural University in Miaoli county. “Many tea makers want to keep their techniques a secret. For me, I want to share my knowledge with the next generation so that more and more people can enjoy good tea. I hope that one day everybody, not just those who can pay $60,000, will be able to enjoy the taste of an award-winning tea.”
During harvest season, Mr. Li often heads for the mountains at 6am. “I used to wake up at 4am and arrive before the tea farmers had even woken up. They thought I was crazy!” I can only admire and learn from his dedication. His looks beguile a man who is nearing 60, and when asked about his future, he tells me that he will rest when the next generation is ready to carry the torch. "With the bar that you have set, you may never be able to retire," I respond jokingly.
He tells me that he wants to continue to elevate the quality of Taiwan Oolong and to also identify overseas locations for expansion. “My vision is ambitious, but that’s the kind of person I am. None of my children want to continue my tea business, but I’m happy to settle with you continuing it!” Spoken like a true teacher with a real passion.
Mr. Li’s career has been characterized by infalible integrity and a relentless work ethic. For this man, tea is truly a labor of love. In 2003, as proof of Mr. Li’s infalible integrity and relentless work ethic, he was named “Taiwan’s Ten Best Farmers,” a distinction personally honored by the President of Taiwan.
In the winter of 2005, Mr. Li achieved the pinnacle of tea making success in Taiwan by winning The grand prize at “Taiwan’s Best Tea Competition.” Per tradition, the winner's tea was auctioned off, and 600g of his award-winning tea sold for $60,000.
He has also patented two tea processing devices and won numerous additional awards, including second place in a nation-wide tea-making competition for this "Oriental Beauty (東方美人).
Mr. Li has been, and will continue to be an invaluable teacher and a steadfast source for the finest Taiwan Oolong tea.