Tea Learning

Learn | What are High Mountain Oolong Teas? 什麼是高山茶?

Everybody has heard of high mountain oolong teas. If you are reading this, you probably know a little bit already. High mountain oolongs (Gao Shan oolongs) are made in Taiwan and are the utmost prized kind of Taiwanese tea. A lot of people have asked us about high mountain oolongs so we are here to debunk misleading information, help you understand more about it and learn how to buy them. 

Tea farms on Chiayi, Ali Mountain area.

Tea farms on Chiayi, Ali Mountain area.

Why are high mountain oolong teas unique? 

Only teas grown above 1000 meters altitude are considered high mountain teas with the highest altitude at 2700 meters in Li Mountain. There are even some people in Taiwan who only consider teas at 1500 meters and above as high mountain teas. The high altitude means that daylight is shorter and there is large temperature difference between day and night. Because it's grown in the mountains, it means that there are more mist conditions. The combination makes the teas grow slower and contains more of what tea connoisseurs call "energy" or more particularly "mountain qi". The exact taste, smells and appearance of teas vary differently depending on the many other factors such as the micro geography, the micro weather, harvest conditions, processing conditions, humidity, and tea masters skills to the point of how customers store them before drinking. Visit our high mountain oolong teas section to discover different flavours.

WHERE DO HIGH MOUNTAIN OOLONG TEAS GROW IN TAIWAN?

The four major areas are Li Mountain area located in Taidung province, Ren'ai and Shan Ling Xi areas in Nantou province, and finally Mei Mountain and Ali Mountain areas in Chiayi province. The highest altitude region is the Li Mountain area. 

Is higher the altitude the better?

No. Absolutely not. Not only does high mountain teas rely on the conditions described preciously, it also relies on the micro geography of the tea farm, the micro weather, harvest conditions, tea master's skills and much more. Which direction does the tea slope face? Did the micro weather create frost? What time of day and what kind of weather did the tea leaves get picked? How was the condition when the tea masters were processing the teas? These are all contributing factors to whether a tea is great. Simply relying on "higher altitude the better" belief will not guarantee the best quality of tea. 

The price for high mountain oolong teas vary vastly, how do I choose?

High mountain oolong teas require intense human care and relies strongly on the weather. Elements such as year, season, regions, particular mountain, tea picking skills, raw material quality, quality of tea makers and the final product of tea will all change the pricing of the teas. To simplify the matter, we broke down the minimum cost of making 600g of tea. 600g is one unit in Taiwanese unit scale called "tai jin".

$250NTD (New Taiwanese Dollar) tea farm management includes rent, growing maintenance, fertilizer and pesticides if farmers use them
$400NTD tea picking costs include tea picking cost, food, transportation and lodging for tea pickers
$250NTD tea making costs include 5-10 tea makers, facility, equipment and transportation
$100NTD  costs for refining tea quality and general production loss

This means that in general, the cost of making tea is a minimum of $1000NTD (which is $41 CAD and $32 USD). This is the cost of the lower altitude high mountain teas (1000m-1100m); the cost increases as the altitude increases. Tea without pesticide and fertilizers will increase the price as the harvest is much less yet more valuable due to health factors. At this point, supply and demand fluctuations, shipping, packaging and profits for the farmers are yet included. Overall, $1800-2800 NTD is the general price range per tai jin from farmers. With these numbers in mind, you have the knowledge to determine whether $10 for 100g is good quality and whether $100 for 100g is a fair price. 

Related subjects such as how to pick tea and the misconception of award winning teas will be posted soon. Stay tuned!

Thank you for reading.