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!
Tea grown at high altitude is known for its substantial composition and smooth texture, particularly when the leaves have been sufficiently oxidized. This batch of tea offers that creamy texture and subtle complexity of flavor as a base, with a pronounced charcoal roasted component at the forefront. The charcoal roast is prominent in the first few brews, and the underlying complexity of the tea flavor comes through more and more with each brew.
Spring growing season had a long slow start this year, due to almost no rain until the beginning of April. The long awaited rain gave the tea trees what they needed to bring their spring buds into maturity. And we got a full week of good weather toward the end of the month, which turned out to be perfect timing for both our Shan Lin Xi and Alishan High Mountain Oolong sources.
We feel that the constitution of these tea leaves that were grown at high altitude with optimal farming methods, and crafted by some of the top tea producers in the industry, is what makes this batch so special. We cherish both the knowledge and the quality tea that Mr. Zhuang generously shared with us. We will miss him dearly.