A Guide to Unroasted Taiwan Oolong Tea
Taiwan makes some of the best teas in the world, especially of the Oolong variety. Given the breadth and scope of teas the island produces, it can sometimes be confusing exactly what tea to buy. To help you out, we've compiled a simple guide to Taiwan's unroasted Oolong Teas to help find your "cup of tea".
Unroasted Alishan high mountain oolong dry tea leaves
Unroasted Oolong Teas
The following is an overview of some of the more popular unroasted Oolong Teas from Taiwan. Read on for more details of each type.
- Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea: Fresh floral aroma. Clean, mild flavor. Delicate, lingering finish.
- Alishan High Mountain Jin Xuan Oolong Tea: Buttery aroma. Silky, smooth texture. Lasting, fresh vegetal aftertaste.
- Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong Tea: Mildly sweet, forest aroma. Balanced, full-flavored character. Complex, dry finish.
- Jin Xuan Oolong Tea: Mild floral aroma. Buttery, vegetal character. Soothing, clean aftertaste.
- Tsui Yu Oolong Tea: Fresh herbal aroma. Green leafy character. Refreshing flowery finish.
- Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea: Distinctly foral character, mildly sweet/dry finish.
- Wenshan Baozhong Tea: Fresh herbal aroma. Balanced floral and vegetal notes. Clean, fragrant aftertaste.
- Lishan / Da Yu Ling High Mountain Oolong Tea: Epitome of High Mountain Tea. Substantial, balanced, floral/fruity character, lasting, heady afterstaste.
What do the Names Mean?
The names of some of most famous teas in Taiwan come from one of the following:
- A place name
- A cultivar
- A processing method
Traditional tea harvesting baskets made out of woven bamboo
Place names usually represent geographic location and altitude. In Taiwan, the name High Mountain Tea classifies as any tea that is grown at 1000m elevation or higher.
Alishan high mountain oolong tea leaves, unroasted
Alishan is the southernmost High Mountain Tea producing region. This latitude offers both more direct and more abundant sunshine annually. The altitudes of the majority of tea farms in this region are 1000-1600m, with the highest farms at around 1600m.The climate conditions in this environment produce a milder, sweeter flavor profile with distinctly floral notes.
Spring tea harvest in the Alishan mountain region
Heading north, Shan Lin Xi is the next High Mountain Tea producing region we reach. The geography and climate here are significantly different from the Alishan region. Tea gardens range from 1200-2000m elevation, and the environment has a much more "high alpine forest" feel. The steep forested slopes provide less sun, more fog, and cooler temperatures. This all adds up to producing a character of tea with a forest essence. It offers a tea with deep, green-leafy and pine notes, with a more full-flavored nutty character.
Tea harvesting on a Shan Lin Xi tea farm
Continuing north, we reach the highest elevation tea growing region in Taiwan, which boasts the most renowned place names of Li Shan and Da Yu Ling at altitudes above 2000m and geographically located in a mountain range with climate conditions that have proven to be the most ideal for High Mountain Oolong Tea production.
The produce from well managed tea gardens in this region, combined with skillful processing, makes the best unroasted High Mountain Oolong Tea available on the market. When minimally oxidized, the leaves offer a fresh green flavor profile with heady floral notes. Slightly more oxidation of the leaves result in a balanced, subtle fruity aroma with a rich, balanced profile that offers a purity of character that sets it apart. The substance of flavor and texture of high quality Lishan and Da Yu Ling High Mountain Tea are truly unsurpassed.
Lishan high mountain tea growing region
Cultivars are specific breeds of plants developed by farmers for particular characteristics with some now being referred to as specific teas.
Jin Xuan / Tai Cha #12
Jin Xuan is often called "Milk Oolong" due to its distinctly buttery or milky notes in the flavor profile. It has a mild vegetal character with a smooth, buttery texture and aroma that makes it a friendly introduction to unroasted Oolong Tea.
Tsui Yu / Tai Cha #13
Tsui Yu literally means "blue/green jade", and is often translated as Jade Oolong. This hybrid cultivar is known for its distinct herbal/floral character and prominent aromatic qualities. It offers fresh, green, savory notes that set it apart from other strains of unroasted Oolong Tea.
Four Season Spring
Four Season Spring is a naturally occurring hybrid that is now widely cultivated at lower elevations. It got its name due to the prolific year-round yield it produces. It has a distinctly bold floral character.
Wenshan Baozhong Tea is the only one of our unroasted Oolong Tea selections that is distinguished by its processing methods. And the most prominent aspect of processing that distinguishes the character of this tea is that it is not tightly rolled like all of the other types mentioned above. There is something about maintaining the natural integrity in the leaf by only gently curling the leaves as they are dried that offers a deep green vegetal quality with a well-rounded complex character that is unmatched.
Dry Wenshan Baozhong tea leaves
This is what has kept Baozhong Tea in demand and alive in Taiwan's modern tea industry. It offers a fresh vegetal character with substance and balance, followed by a heady lingering aftertaste. It really does stand alone in the unroasted Oolong Tea category. Baozhong Tea is produced in the northernmost tea growing region, above Taipei, in the Wenshan/Pinglin mountainous area. This north-island environment offers plentiful rainfall, at altitudes of 500-800m.
New growth on a tea plant in the Lishan high mountain tea growing region
There you have it, a quick guide to the more popular unroasted Oolong Teas in Taiwan. What are you favorite unroasted Oolongs? Any we left off the list you'd like to hear about? Let us know in the comments!
Taiwanese Tea Sampler
Want to try some of the teas mentioned above? Taste for yourself the broad spectrum of flavors that have made Taiwan famous for its specialty teas in our Taiwanese Tea Sampler!
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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.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.