Variations in High Mountain Tea Processing
We just sourced our winter batches of Alishan High Mountain Oolong and Alishan High Mountain Jin Xuan Oolong, and they are on the shelf now! We decided to do a side by side tasting of these two winter teas to experience how they differ from each other — particularly the two batches that we just procured. We've gradually realized how much more significantly oxidized winter crops of High Mountain Oolong are in recent years compared with decades ago. Especially from our sources of Alishan and Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Tea. There are two main reasons for this.
The consumer demand is for a minimally oxidized, greener character that has become the signature flavor profile for Taiwan's High Mountain Tea. However, dedicated tea makers are increasingly acknowledging that this simpler, more reliable processing method does not produce optimal results with winter crops of tea. Spring flushes are inherently more fragrant and complex in their aromatic profile. Maintaining those constituents through minimal processing is usually suitable in the making of spring tea. Winter flushes are different. The trees are coming to the end of their annual growth cycle, and the constituents in the leaves are naturally different. Minimal oxidation of winter tea results in a much less strikingly aromatic flavor profile. Optimal results can be obtained via a gentle but more persistent coaxing of the leaves to a more thorough degree of oxidation.
The second reason is related to the world's largest and most prestigious Oolong Tea competition. The Lugu Farmers' Association Dong Ding Oolong Competition has over 6000 entries. There is also a replica competition held by the Lugu Tea Cooperative with a similar amount of entries. There is a massive local industry demand for tea that will be roasted to the competition standard. Tea merchants buy High Mountain Tea in large volumes for use in these competitions. Roasting requires a significant level of oxidation for optimal results. So a lot of the High Mountain Tea produced in these regions is made in preparation for competition.
Winter High Mountain Jin Xuan Oolong is much less obviously different from other seasons however, and sometimes is comparatively less oxidized. So we wanted to briefly explore what the differences in oxidation levels actually have to offer, and the reasons why the tea makers intentionally do this. The distinct milky flavor profile of Jin Xuan Oolong is most pronounced when the leaves are minimally oxidized, and maintain their original fresh green, aromatic constituents. When Jin Xuan leaves are oxidized to just the right degree, they offer a balanced, well rounded composition that is not too vegetal, with a creamy aromatic profile as well.
Top Two Taiwan Tea Cultivars
Jin Xuan, or Tai Cha #12, is the most popular hybrid strain that was developed by Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station and promoted in the 1980's. It is a hardier and more prolific cultivar that has become famous for its distinctly buttery, creamy, milky character. It is commonly cultivated at low to mid-elevation, and as high as 1200m. Qing Xin Oolong is the most popular and commonly cultivated strain, especially above 1000m elevation. Qing Xin Oolong was brought from mainland China generations ago. The Qing Xin strain produces a clean, refined flavor profile with a distinctive, long lasting finish that lingers from the throat up through the sinuses. This is what most noticeably distinguishes Qing Xin from other strains. It also has versatility in terms of processing methods, and performs well from minimal oxidation all the way to heavily oxidized traditionally made teas. It can also endure extensive roasting better than most strains.
The quick rundown on our winter 2021 batches of High Mountain Oolong is as follows. Li Shan High Mountain Oolong Tea is the least oxidized and closest to the classic standard of a high elevation Oolong. Our Alishan High Mountain Jin Xuan has a similar degree of oxidation to the Li Shan, but with a distinctly different flavor profile due to the cultivar and growing region. Alishan High Mountain Oolong is next in line for relatively minimal degree of oxidation that offers a fragrant aromatic profile with a smooth mouthfeel and balanced competition. Our Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong Tea is the most significantly oxidized batch of our winter High Mountain Teas. It offers a well-rounded, full-bodied character that is rich in flavor with a mellower nose, but a very satisfying finish.
Watch the video below for the full scoop on how these two batches of winter tea taste and compare with each other!
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