|A general term that denotes excellence |
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 |
Ling Xi 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 Dong Ding
varietal is grown here, which was originally brought over by the scholar
Ling 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
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.
|Elevation matters |
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
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 |
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.