Opening the foil pack, vacuum-formed around the tea nuggets, I’m greeted by a fresh, green and fruity scent. Aaaah, the new crop is such a fine event! The rolled-up tea is smaller than other batches of Ali Shan I’ve had, and this is borne out later by the smaller-than-usual wet leaves. I covered the bottom of the glass gaiwan a couple of layers deep in the green half-balls of tea and poured on a little hot water, dumping it immediately for a quick rinse. The first steep astonishes me with its thickness, coating mouth and throat with buttery goodness. I thought I got a whiff of grain, or perhaps popcorn, in there, too. Very tasty. Second steep, sweeter, with intermittent notes of lilac and rose. Good flavor and aroma, even though the liquor of each steep tends quite pale yellow-green. Fourth steep, at 5 min long, the gaiwan is full of leaves and the tea’s full body continues. I’m still drinking greedily, almost hungrily … it’s that satisfying and thirst-quenching … and I did a 5th infusion, too. The rich texture and buttery taste are what make this tea most memorable for me. I’m really enjoying it!
2010 Winter Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong - 1,500m Elev.
-Winter Harvest 2010
-Growing Area: Alishan Scenic Area, Chiayi County, Taiwan
-Varietal: Qing Xin (Green Heart) Oolong
-Altitude: 5,000 ft (1,500 m)
-Roasting: Very Light
Our Winter Harvest High Mountain Oolong Tea comes from the Alishan Scenic Area in Southwest Taiwan’s Chiayi County. This particular tea was grown at an altitude of 1,500+/- Meters (5,000+/- feet) above sea level, and it was harvested in early December during the Winter harvest season of 2010.
The most notable difference between higher altitude Winter teas like this one from the Alishan region is the unique aroma & flavor of the finished tea, but there are some physical differences between the tea leaves from the Winter harvest and those from warmer seasons’ harvests as well. Physically, the winter harvest’s leaves tend to be smaller and a little bit thicker/sturdier than teas harvested in warmer seasons and/or at lower altitudes, a result of the plants having to work harder to stay healthy during more strenuous weather conditions. As with most plants grown under moderate stress, a more intense “high mountain” aroma and flavor tends to be present in winter harvest teas from this region (as a comparison, think of the more pronounced heat of a chili pepper grown in dry/hot conditions vs one grown in a more temperate climate).
The garden this finished tea was produced from was badly damaged in the typhoon that hit Taiwan in 2009, and it is still recovering. Due to the fact that this garden still isn’t up to full productivity after the typhoon and because of adverse weather conditions this year, only 24 KG of tea was produced in total from this garden for the entire winter harvest season. We were only able to get 3 Jin (1 Taiwan Jin = 600 grams) of this tea in total, and we were very lucky to be able to acquire this tea at all because we were behind several other long-standing local customers on this season’s reservation list!
Tea grown at this altitude is not roasted more than a very short time just to emphasize the amazing aroma in the leaves. Roasting it more than just a little bit could diminish the highly sought after aroma that is so unique to this altitude and harvest season.
This batch of tea has a pronounced Winter “High Mountain Aroma” that can best be described as “orchidy” or floral. The flavor is crisp and bittersweet with an awesome winter flavor that I find very difficult to describe. The “hui gan” (literal translation: “return sweet”), or sweet aftertaste that comes after the initial bittersweet flavor fades, is very floral, bittersweet, and long lasting.