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Taiwan's Top Ten Most Famous Teas

September 14, 2018

Shanlinxi High Mountain Oolong Tea harvest. Tea leaves being picked by hand.

Taiwan is home to some of the finest tea in the world, particularly in the Oolong category. Yet, Taiwanese teas are not widely recognized or understood by name. So here is an overview of the most famous names of teas from Taiwan.

  1. High Mountain Oolong Tea

  2. Jin Xuan "Milk" Oolong Tea

  3. Dong Ding Oolong Tea

  4. Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea

  5. Sun Moon Lake Black Tea

  6. Wenshan Baozhong Tea

  7. Tieguanyin Oolong Tea

  8. Tsui Yu "Jade" Oolong Tea

  9. Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea

  10. Sanxia Bilochun Green Tea

high mountain oolong tea

This name refers to any tea that is grown over 1000m elevation, and processed as a lightly oxidized, unroasted Oolong Tea. There are famous place names within this category that represent geographic growing regions. These include: Alishan, Shanlinxi, Lishan, and Dayuling. Virtually all High Mountain Oolong Tea is made with the Qing Xin Oolong cultivar.

Flavor: Fresh, floral, vegetal, and pastry notes. Smooth, substantial composition. Lasting finish. Invigorating.

Jin Xuan "Milk" Oolong Tea

Jin Xuan, also called Tai Cha #12, is a hybrid cultivar that has become increasingly popular since its inception in 1980's by Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES). It is a hardy, high yielding strain that is very versatile both in its cultivation and processing. Jin Xuan is mostly grown in Nantou and Chiayi Counties, but it can now be found all over Taiwan and beyond.

Flavor: Mildly sweet, buttery aroma. Delicate vegetal notes, with a smooth milky character. Pleasant, creamy aftertaste.

Historical Dong Ding Oolong Tea growing villages in Lugu Township, Nantou County Taiwan.

Dong Ding Oolong Tea

Dong Ding, or "Frozen Peak" is the name of a mountain in Lugu Township, and now represents a traditional processing method, using the original Qing Xin Oolong cultivar that migrated from Mainland China. Dong Ding Oolong is the most popular traditionally made tea in Taiwan. It's distinctive qualities result from medium levels of both oxidation and roasting.

Flavor: Rich, complex aroma. Full-flavored, fruity/roasted character. Heady, long-lasting finish.

Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao Oolong) Tea

Oriental Beauty is the name that was given to this type of tea by the Queen of England. Bai Hao (white fur) Oolong is the name that is locally used to refer to this tea, based on the harvesting and processing methods.

The leaves are harvested very young, when they still have their protective fur. The fully processed leaves are slightly curled, and multi-colored. The leaves are heavily oxidized, to the point of resembling a Black Tea in character.  A true batch of Oriental Beauty is only produced when the new leaf growth has been affected by the Green Leafhopper. This "bug bitten effect" results in a distinct honey essence in both the aroma and the flavor profile.

Flavor: Rich, fruit compote character with a dry heady finish. Distinctive honey notes (if bug bitten).

Sun Moon Lake Tea growing region in Nantou County Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake Black Tea

Tea cultivation in the Sun Moon Lake area dates back to the Qing Dynasty (17-1800's) when Chinese settlers began cultivating the naturally occurring wild tea tree. In the early 1900's, the Japanese colonists developed large scale Black Tea production using the Assam strain here, following the British model in India. The pre-existing wild tea strain naturally cross-bred with an Assam strain. Taiwan's TRES spent 50 years refining this hybridization  before it was publicly registered in 1999 as Tai Cha #18.  In 2003, was given the name Red Jade at the 100 year anniversary of the TRES, and honored as a Taiwanese specialty tea.

Flavor: Complex bouquet of clove, cinnamon and mint in both fragrance and flavor profile. Dry, refreshing finish.

Wenshan Baozhong Tea

Baozhong"s distinctive character results from the leaves only being slightly curled after the tumble heating/cease oxidation stage, then dried. This allows the leaves to maintain more of their structural integrity, both visually and in terms of the chemical compounds within the leaf. This preserves the original, fresh green leaf character. This freshness is complemented by a substance of flavor and a distinct aromatic profile that puts Baozhong in a class of its own. It is easily distinguished from its Green Tea cousins, but also stands clearly apart from High Mountain Tea as an unroasted Oolong.

Flavor: Fresh herbal aroma. Balanced, floral and buttery vegetal notes. Clean, fragrant aftertaste.

Tea leaves tightly wrapped into cloth balls in the rolling and drying process

Tieguanyin Oolong Tea

One step in particular sets traditionally made Tieguanyin apart from the processing methods of other Oolong types. After the "kill green" or "cease oxidation" step —where the leaves are exposed to high heat, they are partially rolled and dried, and then put in the roasting oven while still in the cloth wrapped balls shown above, and slightly "steamed in their own juices". This results in a subtle, tangy fermented character that makes Tieguanyin unique. This anomaly of traditional tea making in Taiwan, combined with heavy oxidation and heavy roasting give Tieguanyin Oolong its bold, rich and distinguished character.

Flavor: Hearty, dried fruit aroma. Rich, tangy, toasted grains flavor. Smooth, soothing finish.

Tsui Yu "Jade" Oolong Tea

The name Jade Oolong comes from its registered name in Taiwan as Tsui Yu, or Tai Cha #13. It's a hybrid strain that was developed by the Taiwan Research and Extension Station at the same time as Jin Xuan/Tai Cha #12, aka Milk Oolong. Jade Oolong is appreciated for its distinct herbal/floral character in its flavor profile. Jade Oolong is now becoming increasingly rare however, as a result of the popularized Four Seasons Spring strain that offers a much higher yield than Jade Oolong, and also has a very prominent floral character when made as a "Green Oolong", i.e. a lightly oxidized, unroasted tea.

Flavor: Fresh, herbal aroma. Green leafy character, mildly sweet. Refreshing flowery finish.

Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea

Around 1981, a Mu Zha tea farmer in Taipei County discovered a naturally occurring hybrid oolong in his tea garden that proved to be particularly suitable to the climate on Taiwan. Since then, it has gained popularity for its prolific produce and unique flavor and character. Now it is cultivated extensively as a signature oolong tea that is unique to the island of Taiwan. The name Four Seasons Spring was chosen for the plant’s prolific year-round leaf growth, allowing for at least four harvests annually that produce a fresh, fragrant character of tea that is unique among oolongs.

Flavor: Sweet, creamy aroma. Balanced, mild  sweet/dry character. Delicate floral aftertaste

Sanxia Biluochun Green Tea

Sanxia is a historical tea growing region just outside of Taipei, where Biluochun  Green Tea is produced. An heirloom strain of tea known as Qing Xin Gan Zai (青心柑仔) is mostly cultivated here for the production of this Green Tea. Like its predecessor in mainland China that was a precious tribute tea to the emperor, very young leaves are harvested to make Bilouchun. The appearance of the slim, gently curled leaves is a vibrant green color, with ample fur in tact on the leaf buds. 

Flavor: Fresh, stimulating wheatgrass and subtle seaweed notes. Delicate, yet distinct garden fresh finish.

So there we have it — Taiwan's most famous tea names explained in a nut shell! Please feel free to post any questions you may have in the comments below, as well as share your own knowledge and experience of the teas we introduced here!

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