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From In Pursuit of Tea

A general term that denotes excellence
“Gao Shan cha” translates into ‘high mountain tea’, a term often used by the Taiwanese to describe a premium oolong that is grown at high elevation. People in the west are sometimes confused by the vagueness of this category, so we wanted to explain in more detail as to what makes a “high mountain” tea.

Famous Mountains

San Lin Shi is a beautiful mountain in Taiwan that is renowned for its excellent oolongs. Narrow roads wind up to 2000m, revealing magnificent views of lush tea fields hugging the steep slopes. The Tung Ting varietal is grown here, which was originally brought over by the scholar Lin Fong Chi, who returned from his studies in Fujian at the end of the 18th century. He brought back 36 tea plants, all from the Wuyi, Fujian area, and 12 were successfully cultivated. Now Taiwan has several hybrids and over forty different types of oolongs, along with red teas.

Another mountain famous for growing high mountain tea is Ali Shan. This mountain is also very popular as a scenic tourist destination, which actually lowers its cache in some tea circles.

Both our Twelve Trees & High Mountain are grown in the San Lin Shi area.

Elevation matters

At higher elevations, the climate change is much more dramatic. With colder nights and hotter days, the greater temperature changes occur in a much shorter time frame, with morning dew giving way to blinding sun often within minutes. These factors give high mountain tea leaves a unique characteristic that is somewhat tougher, thicker, almost leathery. When met with the hands of masters, the results are richer, deeper flavor characteristics that cannot be replicated from average tea leaves.

High mountain oolongs usually get three pickings – in spring, summer and winter. Spring crops are usually more fragrant, and the yields are higher, whereas winter crops produce less, yet are more rich in flavor.

Tea pickers usually pick one month straight per season. Taiwan has recently been experiencing a labor shortage at tea farms, so during the peak season many family members are brought back from the cities to help out, along with bringing in workers from Indonesia, or elsewhere.

The best way to prepare high mountain tea

Use a gaiwan or yixing tea pot to prepare these teas gong-fu style. The irregular ball shaped leaves are tightly rolled and benefit from a quick rinse to begin the steeping process. The complexity of oolongs are best tasted through several short infusions.

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