I love me some Ali Shan! :)
Smooth and sweet – delicate and almost wine-like
Our “High Mountain Beauty” is a Summer harvest Oolong tea grown in the Ali Shan Scenic Area of Taiwan. This tea is distinct from but shares some common characteristics with another style of Oolong that goes by several names, Bai Hao, Dong Fang Mei Ren, or Oriental Beauty being the most common.
What our High Mountain Beauty has in common with the Bai Hao or Oriental Beauty style tea is a very interesting and unique environmental factor that causes amazing flavor profiles to become possible. In the Summer months of May through July, a particular type of Leafhopper (Cicadellidae) known as a Tea Jassid flourishes throughout Taiwan. These tiny green insects use their mosquito-like poker to suck nutrients out of the most tender leaves & buds of the tea plants, causing a very small amount of damage and stress to the affected tea plants. The bitten tea leaves then oxidize at the feeding location and produce unique polyphenol compounds and tannins which attract spiders and other predators to where the tea jassids are highly concentrated. The wonderful coincidence that happens is that that these defensive compounds give the tea a sweet and sour taste with a totally unique mild honey overtone.
Typically, Bai Hao or Oriental Beauty oolongs are much more oxidized and are of the unfurled leaf style, but this tea is only about 20-25% oxidized and was processed in the tightly rolled style typical of other Ali Shan Oolongs. The base flavor of this tea is typical of other green style oolongs from our friends’ tea plantations in the Ali Shan area, but there is a unique honey-like overtone to it and some bitter and astringent flavors that weave themselves into the mix as well. It is really a lovely treat that isn’t produced every year.
Steeping this tea is a tiny bit tricky, but a couple of pointers will help until you get the hang of it. If you are steeping this tea western style in a large teapot, lower the amount of leaf that you use and shorten your steeping time. If you typically use 6 grams of leaf, try starting with 3 grams, and If you normally steep green style oolongs for 5 minutes, start with 2-3 minutes with this tea. The reason for this reduction in time and amount of leaf is that the bitter flavors can become overpowering if oversteeped. All this being said, the best way to enjoy the different layers of flavor in this tea is to steep it Gong-Fu style but with a lower amount of leaf than you would normally use. My personal taste has sort of settled on about 3-4 grams of leaf in a 150cc gaiwan or teapot, and I tend to reduce my normal rhythm of steeping times by about 5-10 seconds per steeping.
Each order is a vacuum sealed 50 gram package with a desiccant pack shipped in a resealable high barrier stand up pouch for short term storage and to protect the tea once it has been removed from its vacuum packaging. Obviously, do not consume the desiccant pack, but keep it with the tea once the vacuum bag has been opened to absorb any moisture from the environment that might accumulate in the tea leaves. This tea is not suitable for storage over a period of months once the vacuum seal has been opened. Please consume within 30 days after opening for best flavor & aroma.
Drank some of this for the first time in a while, and it was terrific, rich, spicy, sweet, delightful.
Can’t believe I never wrote this one up. It’s awfully good stuff. I’m not sure my taste buds are up to distinguishing the specialness of the jassid-bite effects, but it is terrific.
For those who are interested, I should point out that more is available, on end of harvest sale, vacuum sealed and still lovely, from Norbu.
Finally finished off my stash of this, the last package gone. It was rich with a quality that I am having trouble describing—a bit like cantaloupe, perhaps, almost a hint of umami, not just floral and sweet nor caramel warmth, but rich and fruity. Sigh. Are the jassids biting this year?