What's Special About Taiwan High Mountain Tea?

May 06, 2020

Wonder what makes Taiwan high mountain tea special? Find out as we take you behind the scenes in our latest sourcing trip for Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong!

Shan Lin Xi Oolong Tea harvest

High Mountain Harvest

Both the Alishan and Shan Lin Xi high mountain tea growing regions in Taiwan have experienced a good spring this year in terms of both the growing season, and the weather conditions during harvest. After a couple of years of erratic weather patterns, this has been a particularly rewarding spring season in Taiwan so far. The remaining crops to be harvested at higher elevations were more or less affected by a single night of frost, but still look promising in terms of quality, if not quantity!

The batch of Shan Lin Xi spring tea we just procured is the same day's harvest that we watched being processed, and the photos posted here are snapshots from that night we spent in the factory.

Removing tea leaves from bamboo tumbler
Taking tea out of the tumbler after withering

Most of the tea harvested from this farm is processed in preparation for being roasted and entered into the Lugu Farmers' Association Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition. This is the largest and most prestigious Oolong Tea competition in the world, and the competition players take it very seriously!

Weighing out tea leaves for processing
Leaves being weighed after the second/final tumbling, in preparation for tumble heating/kill green. Tumbling revives circulation in the leaves, making them pert.

Location is Key

On the day we visited our source to taste and choose his spring batches of tea, he explained to us how the micro-climate of his farm is what gives Shan Lin Xi Tea its special flavor. It is the combination of elevation and geographic positioning that provide ideal growing conditions for producing a tea with a distinctive high alpine forest character. The direction these steep mountain valleys face is generally northeast, which limits over exposure to direct sun. It also allows for wind patterns to circulate up through these valleys, resulting in daily afternoon fog following a few hours of late morning sun. These are the conditions that produce a flavor profile that is noticeably distinguished from other high elevation tea growing regions in Taiwan.

Tea leaves going into the dryerTea leaves going into the dryer

Skilled Tea Makers

Our friend who manages the farm is only interested in processing his share of the fresh produce as High Mountain Tea, meaning that the leaves are considerably less oxidized than leaves that will be prepared for the local competition. However, the craftsmen who are curing these leaves are considerably more professional, and well — more skilled than the general High Mountain Tea producers in Taiwan. This is what makes our source both more special and more sustainable — since reaping the best quality and value from ones resources is a fundamental premise of sustainable practice.

Prepping high mountain tea leaves for rolling and dryingPrepping the tea leaves for rolling and drying

Proper Curing is Key

In making High Mountain Tea, the most important part of curing the leaves is the slow and steady depletion of moisture from the leaves, which results in a delicate, but uniform degree of oxidation. This is the crux of where the distinctive flavor profile and substantial, yet delicately complex character come from. Yes, the leaves need to be fixed properly in the "kill green" phase, and then rolled and dried properly. But it is the initial stages of solar withering followed by indoor withering and shuffling that are most pivotal in producing the best quality Oolong Tea! The video below shows this process of withering and shuffling.

The Final Tea

The final tea from this sourcing trip is now available in our store. Get some Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong spring tea for yourself and see how it tastes! Check out our tasting video below to learn more about the intricacies of this tea!


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