http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffk/3748050710/Dong Ding (aka Tung Ting) is one of Taiwan’s most popular oolongs, both locally and internationally. Many people who taste it fall in love with its rich, strong flavor, along with its typically complex and wondrous oolong characteristics and pleasantly sweet aftertaste. It is quite different from the lighter oxidized high mountain oolongs that are becoming very popular now. The technique for making the traditional Dong Ding is more complicated and requires considerably more time than the lighter oolongs. Many younger tea farmers today even prefer to produce Dong Ding tea with a lighter oxidation and roasting, primarily because it is easier and not so time consuming to produce. Traditional-style Dong Ding is processed with 35-50% oxidation and a medium-to-heavy roast. The tea is usually grown below the 1,000-meter elevation and is harvested in all four seasons, with the spring and winter harvests yielding the highest-quality tea.

Dong Ding tea was originally named because of the location (Dong Ding mountain) where it was first grown. Today, however, most Dong Ding tea is from elsewhere. Dong Ding mountain has a tea-growing area of approximately 50 hectares, which produces less than 50 tons of tea annually. Apparently, the tea plants in many of the gardens in the region are not as healthy and strong as they were in the past.

In the Lugu Tea Association’s Winter Dong Ding Tea Competition last December, there were over 5,000 entries (that’s a lot of tasting for the judges!) and most of these were from tea gardens outside of the Dong Ding area. The top award-winning tea was from a tea garden on the nearby Da Lung mountain. The teas are judged primarily on the overall quality and taste acquired through the level of oxidation and the final roasting process.

Having a suitable quality oolong to begin with is, of course, an important prerequisite to a high-quality final product, but oolongs can be grown in several different tea-growing regions in Taiwan – or even in mainland China or other countries. The main criterion for a good Dong Ding is the final taste. Some people can get a bit overly concerned that they bought a “fake” Dong Ding because it did not come from Dong Ding mountain, but this need not be the case. However, there was a situation a while ago that received quite a bit of publicity in which a company was marketing a very low-grade tea from Vietnam as genuine Dong Ding.

My company has several Taiwanese Dong Dings teas, including Hong Shui, which is a special type of heavily roasted Dong Ding made in the traditional old-fashioned way. We also have an organic Dong Ding grown and processed in Anhui province in China. As our blender specializes in Dong Ding teas, we offer our clients the option of “customizing” their Dong Ding oolongs by supplying them with a heavier or lighter roast according to their preferences. So there is quite a range of Dong Dings teas to be enjoyed – both in terms of quality levels and roast levels.

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