taiwan

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.

Tea Learning

Learn | Famous Taiwan Tea #2 Oriental Beauty Oolong

What's the second famous Taiwanese tea on our list? 

#2 Oriental Beauty Oolong 

Let's start with some weird facts. There's multiple names for this tea each with different reasons. Here's what we know,

Yanzai Tea 煙仔茶
Yanzai refers to the green leaf hoppers

Pongfong Tea 澎風茶
Pongfong meaning bluffing because it was sold at high prices when it was thought to be worthless

Oriental Beauty Oolong 東方美人茶
Named by British royalties for it's beautiful colours and shapes. It seemed like a lady dancing in the tea pot.

White Tip Oolong 白毫烏龍
White tip refers to the white buds that are caused by the hoppers

Champagne Oolong 香檳烏龍
A name given for its high status among the oolongs

Five Colour Tea 五色茶
Referring to the 5 colours of the dry leaves

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Where's the origin? Oriental Beauty Oolong were first made in north western part of Taiwan, at a low altitude of around 600m between the plains and the mountains and mostly by Hakka people. Emei 峨眉, Baosan 寶山 and Beibu 北埔 are the three major production town in Hsinchu, Taiwan. This pesticide free method inspired the creation of 'honey scented black tea' in east coast Taiwan.  

Old picture of Hsinchu taken early 1900s. 

Old picture of Hsinchu taken early 1900s. 

What makes the tea unique and what's the tea like? The invention of Oriental Beauty Oolong began with green leaf hoppers and a few hardworking Hakka people in Taiwan. Bitten tea leaves are consider ruined but Hakka people, known for their frugal character, decided to make it into tea for the family to drink. Green leaf hoppers populate during summer times in Taiwan. They are about 2.5mm with yellow green body, beige feelers and grey white eyes. Green leaf hoppers feast on the tea leaf juices like vegetarian vampires. The leaves' natural chemistry reaction is to produce more polyphenols and tea tannin. The bitten tea leaves grow slower and curls up while the tea buds turn harder and yellow white in colour. The production process is a rare heavy oxidization at 75~85 % with an additional second oxidization step. The result is a unique one of a kind honey and ripe fruit flavours along with orange and maple leaf tea liquid colours. It's sweet, full body and easy drinking.

Oriental Beauty Oolong is often expensive. Why the high price you ask? Because it takes double the amount of fresh tea leaves to make the same weight of tea compare to other teas. The second reason is because we got to rely on the green leaf hoppers to do the biting!

How do you choose good Oriental Beauty Oolongs? Look for dry tea leaves with multiple colours, red, white, brown and green. And for the top notch Oriental Beauty Oolongs, looks for the extra colour, yellow!

Oriental Beauty tea brewing in the standard tea cup. Observe the beautiful small brown red leaves dancing in water.

Oriental Beauty tea brewing in the standard tea cup. Observe the beautiful small brown red leaves dancing in water.

First brew of the tea in standard tea cup. 3 grams of tea in 150ml of 95 Celsius water.

First brew of the tea in standard tea cup. 3 grams of tea in 150ml of 95 Celsius water.

Second brew of the tea in standard tea cupping    3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. Notice the small leaves and buds. 

Second brew of the tea in standard tea cupping  3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. Notice the small leaves and buds. 

Next time when you see a tea with one of the six names, you'll know what they're talking about! Hope you enjoyed the read. Next time, we'll talk about Baozhong Oolong.

With tea,
Jenny

Tea Learning

Learn | Famous Taiwan Tea #1 Alishan Oolong

Taiwan, a mountainous island nation,  is famous for oolongs, especially high mountain teas. Little has it been know that Taiwan also produces amazing green teas and black teas. In this blog, we'll introduce you to the unique Taiwanese teas one by one.

#1 Alishan Oolong

Alishan Oolong comes from The Greater Alishan Tea Farm Region in and around Alishan Township in Chiayi Province. To put it into perspective, it's the central southern highlands of the island with an altitude of 2190 meters (7190 feet), population of around 5500 and 428 square kilometers. Interestingly, Alishan Township is also part of Alishan National Scenic Area that is well known for it's Alishan Forest Railway and its breathtaking scenic sunrise.

View of Alishan from early 1900s.

View of Alishan from early 1900s.

To make matters a bit more confusing, Alishan Mountain Range is the name given to the natural environment of the Alishan Township. Alishan is a combination of '阿里' taken from 'alit' which means ancestor mountain in local first nation languages and '山' simply means mountain.

The government approved 'Greater Alishan Tea Farm Region'  runs along Alishan Main Road also known as Taiwan No. 18 Province Road (台18線省道). This greater area includes townships of Alishan, Fanlu, Zuqi, Zhongpu, Dapu and Meishan. The main varietals are Qingxin Oolong 青心烏龍 and Jinxuan Oolong 金萱烏龍. 

So, why are Alishan teas so awesome? Alishan is grown around 1000 to 2300 meters altitude. The mountains provide a foggy environment with year long low temperatures that is perfect for qingxin and jinxuan oolong tea plants. Furthermore, clean spring water from the nearby mountains are used for irrigating the tea plants making the teas just that much better.

Our favourite tea farm villages are Zhizuo (Stone Table), Dabang, Tefuye and Ruili. Zhizuo is at 1300-1500 altitude with a year round foggy climate therefore its got a bold 'high mountain qi 高山氣'. The tea leaves are soft, large dried tea balls, heavy in fragrance and has jade green complexions.  Dabang and Tefuye are first nation aboriginal villages. They are known for 'forest qi 森林之氣' since it's surrounded by fog with soil that has good ventilation and rich micro-nutrients. The teas produced here are sweeter and smoother than others. 

Ruili Alisan Oolong dry rolled leaves.

Ruili Alisan Oolong dry rolled leaves.

Ruili Alishan oolong first brew in standard tea cupping 3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. 

Ruili Alishan oolong first brew in standard tea cupping 3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. 

Ruili Alishan oolong second brew   in standard tea cupping 3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. 

Ruili Alishan oolong second brew in standard tea cupping 3g / 150ml / 95 Celsius degrees. 

Ruili is our absolute favourite village. This village along with Taixin and Sancun are three important villages since the beginning of Taiwan's tea history. Ruili produces the infamous Jinxuan 'Milky' High Mountain Oolong known for its creamy scent and sweet liquor. The classic foggy climate, temperature difference and humid climate is again, perfect for producing Qingxin Alishan High Mountain Oolong which is famous for its floral fragrance and 'high mountain qi'.

Here we end with a saying we learn from the local indigenous Tsou People.

Mimiyo (mi-mi-yo)
n. stroll without purpose

Thank you for reading and sippin' tea. Next up, we're heading a tad north for the champagne of oolongs. The clue is in the photo below.

With tea,
Jenny

Tea Stories

Story | Tea Picking

Tea picking has always been a dreamy job to me. Imagine being surrounded by tea trees every day and working in the sun, who wouldn't want to do that everyday? 

Do you know what tea pickers do? 

Tea picking is a physical demanding job, in the past and in the present too. Premium Taiwanese teas are hand picked so the leaves are wholesome instead of missing the stem or missing half the leaf. The tea pickers carry big bamboo baskets on their back, get up to work before dawn and then spend entire mornings working up and down the hilly tea farms. Sometimes the pickers also help with oxidizing the tea leaves on bamboo trays and sorting out the quality of the leaves in the afternoon and evenings.

Did you know Taiwan had tea picking competitions?

In early and mid 90s, Taiwan held annual tea picking competitions. It gathers all the best tea pickers in Taiwan. They competed on 3 things:
1. Cleanly pick all the good leaves from the section they are assigned.

2. Two leaf one bud standard with first leaf 70% of the second leaf.
3. The weight of the leaves they picked.

Let's hear it from a retired tea picker...

My grandma was a professional tea picker. In mandarin it's called "採茶女" which means "picking tea lady". One weekend afternoon, she sat down and told us all about her passion.

She use to attend tea picking competitions every year. There's one summer she'll never forget. She picked long and hard under the summer heat along with the other contestants. She was so confident her teas would be the best thus winning the grand prize however, all the contestants were asked to put down their tea baskets to take a few photos. When she return to find her basket, she realized the tea baskets were all mixed up! No one knew which is which anymore. Grandma was so upset about what happened she remembered till this day. 

Tea picking ladies wearing big bamboo hats and bamboo baskets.

Tea picking ladies wearing big bamboo hats and bamboo baskets.

Tea ladies doing quality control. They are sorting through tea leaves and picking out the teas that are not up to standard.

Tea ladies doing quality control. They are sorting through tea leaves and picking out the teas that are not up to standard.

Next time you sip tea, treasure it and appreciate it! Every single leaf was picked by by hand with passion and dedication for tea. It's an essential element to amazing Taiwanese teas.

That's all for now everyone! Thank you for reading, next week, we'll talk about the different kinds of Taiwanese teas!

With tea,
Jenny