The Eco-Cha Tea Club: Award Winning Alishan High Mountain Oolong
May 05, 2016
Andy takes a stroll onto the highest tea garden on the hill above Zhangshuhu in Alishan Country.
The Alishan mountain range is the southernmost renowned place name of Taiwan's world famous High Mountain Oolong Tea. The Tropic of Cancer runs straight through this region, and this latitude offers an abundance of a unique quality of sunlight that is considered ideal for tea cultivation. The warmer, sunnier climate at high elevation is what has given the name Alishan its Oolong fame. Our source has worked closely with a handful of farmers in this region for years to cultivate and process a quality of tea that has won him numerous awards in various tea competitions of Central Taiwan.
The Farmers' Associations in the Alishan region have adjusted their competition standards in recent years from a very green, unroasted quality to a slightly mellowed, more balanced, full-bodied and minimally roasted quality. In our experience, when Qing Xin Oolong leaves cultivated at sufficient elevation (beginning at 1100m) and processed with skill and attention to achieve optimal oxidation, they are brought to their potential in quality and substance. These sufficiently oxidized leaves are further cured by a delicate roasting that brings out more subtle flavors and offers a mild, yet complex and exceptionally balanced brew.
Andy's snapshot from a tea factory window in Taihe, just down the hill from Zhangshuhu.
The initial wave of High Mountain Tea popularity that began over 20 years ago made the greener, minimally oxidized, unroasted type the the tea of choice. This was mainly due to marketing a product that is more easily produced in high volume, as it is less labor-intensive and requires less finesse to provide a consistent quality. Thanks to the tea professionals at the Tea Research And Extension Station in cooperation with local farmers' associations, recent trends have accentuated the special qualities of each tea producing region, based on their history and agricultural potential. We are confident in saying that the tea being made in the Alishan region by tea makers following the recently set standards of local competitions is superior to the commercialized greener oolongs with minimal oxidation and no post production roasting.
This batch of tea is made from Qing Xin Oolong tea leaves cultivated in the Alishan region and prepared for local competitions in Alishan and Meishan Townships. It is a combination of last winter's harvest from four separate high elevation tea gardens in the Alishan region. After receiving the competition results, our source uses the small amounts of surplus tea leaves from each entry that achieved awards to offer to his friends and local customers. He combines these remaining amounts of tea leaves of very similar quality and character and delicately roasts them to achieve a balanced flavor and consistency. The overall amount of this combined batch was just enough to share with our tea club members. This is why we created this exclusive tea club, to share these unique batches of premium quality tea that are just too small for public sale.
Our friend who shared this batch with us says their is no significant difference in the degree of roasting between the initial competition batches and this combined batch. We feel that this combination of award winning teas of the same competition standards that have been subtly roasted to achieve an integrated consistency offers a substance and quality that surpasses the individual batches on their own. It is an exceptionally smooth and balanced High Mountain Oolong that leaves us spellbound by its fresh yet full-bodied and integrated character.
A well-worn rack of hand-woven bamboo trays that are used for the critical indoor withering phase of processing Oolong tea. The tea leaves are shuffled by hand on these trays at intervals spanning many hours to achieve the desired oxidation effect. These trays are often no longer used in large modern tea factories.
We look forward to hearing your experience of this unique blend of award winning batches of Alishan High Mountain Oolong. Share your words, photos, and/or videos of tasting this tea with your fellow club members!
The complex aroma of the brewed tea leaves has subtle hints of a bug bitten character, but not very obvious. The sufficient oxidation offers a fresh scone scent, with a touch of honey, making us think that there is some influence from the Green Leafhopper. It is very likely that this note is subtle due to the fact that it had rained very near harvest time, which is said to dilute or dissipate the chemical compounds that are responsible for this character of flavor. The texture is smooth and balanced, with delicate complexity.
We discovered this batch of tea through our mentor, Lisa Lin, who had already purchased a significant amount of this day's harvest. We introduced Lisa to Mr. Ye a few years ago, and she has been sourcing batches of bug bitten spring tea from him every year since. About a month ago, we were sitting at Lisa's tea table, and just happened to ask if she had bought any spring tea from Mr Ye. She said yes, and promptly brewed some for us to try. We were impressed, and called Mr. Ye the next day to see if any of this day's harvest was still available. He said yes.
The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.