There are different varieties, aromas and flavors of oolong teas. These varieties include light and creamy, bright and bold, while some are soft with good taste. Taiwan and China are best-known countries for the production of oolong teas. Also, the most delicious and nourishing teas in the world come from the high mountain Gao Shan oolong teas, which include Ali Shan oolong of Taiwan also refer to as Ali Mountain oolong.
In the 1980s, the first high mountain oolongs were introduced after removing the world trade embargo against Communist in China. Before the embargo was removed, Taiwanese tea producers were selling low-quality variations of Chinese green tea around Southeast Asia. China began to sell high-grade tea variations after lifting the embargo, which makes Taiwanese tea markers to improve their production in other to keep up. The locals started to experiment in other to improve their tea products.
During their findings, they achieved a successful outcome by growing tea at higher altitudes. The result shows that high altitudes help to produce creamier and floral tea. Also, it was observed that the higher the altitude the tea was planted, the effect will be more remarkable.
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There is no research to explain why this happens, but there is one theory which shows that cooler temperatures, low sunlight and persistent mist “cloud and mists” that is common in Wuyi Mountains China prevents the tea from growing properly. This implies that the flavour depends on the leaves of the tea plant.
The cloud cover and the misty conditions can also lead to a high amount of amino acids, which makes Gao shan teas to have a lovely creamy nature. When you drink these teas, it seems that you are drinking a thick cream coat.
The Alishan Mountains is located at Southern Chiayi, Taiwan. Typically, the tea is grown at higher altitudes of 7,200 feet. It was the highest-grown tea in the country before the introduction of Li Shan (Pear Mountain) oolong tea.
Li Shan tea is grown in one of the highest mountain ranges at altitudes of 5,900 to 8,695 feet while Ali Shan tea gardens are located between 3,280 and 7,545 feet.
The Gold Lily oolong tea, also known as Jin Xuan (cultivator) was developed in the 1980s; it is also grown on the Alishan Mountain. Jin Xuan tea is a newly clonal variety of tea bush. This variety is used to produce Gold Lily, which consists of deep (mild) and natural, tasty flavour.
The high mountain oolong tea in Taiwan also refer to as Alpine oolong is grown in tea gardens at Sha Lin Xi and Ali Shan in central Taiwan. The tea gardens are located at altitudes, which ranges between 1,900 and 8,000 feet. They are grown in a small area of tea gardens, but it is hard to plant and harvest their produce because of the steep terrain.
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Harvesting of oolong can vary, depending on the bud and three leaves. The third leaf is known as “souchong” which consist of a steam cluster with four connected leaves. There are many varieties of Gao shan teas, and some of the high-quality varieties are planted on individual farmlands, where local farmers can easily harvest them. In some cases, these teas varieties are grown in small batches by one farmer.
It is also known as "handkerchief teas" due to the batches small size. These teas are usually produced and grown on a small scale by tea farmers that are interested in planting high-quality product.
This process requires a lot of hard work to produce high-quality mountain Gao Shan oolong teas. This may take more than 40 hours of continuous work to harvest one batch completely. Also, high-quality Gao Shan oolongs include Ali Shan, which requires more than ten steps to produce.
After the plucking process is done, the leaves are spread out on a trap under direct sunlight. The leaves will help in absorbing the floral aromas of jasmine, geranium and rose. The trap is usually folded and unfolded in other to sieve the tea, bruise the leaf and begin an oxidation process. After half an hour, the tea is taken inside and place on a large bamboo tray. It is kept on the tray to wither, and this can take up to eight hours.
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Rolling is the next processing step of producing Ali Shan oolong. Most of the high mountain Gao Shan oolong are semi ball rolled. Top quality oolong product have many stems attached to them. The rolling process is difficult and takes much time because each leaf is manually hand-rolled before shaping into a ball. This process can be extended to improve the flavor and aromas of the tea. Generally, it can take Ali Shan tea producer about eight hours to complete the rolling process.
The next step involves finishing process, which was introduced in the Fujian province of China among the tieguanyun oolong manufacturers. The first phase is to place the withered leaves in a big canvas bag and close them with a machine that tightens the bag.
The sphere-shaped canvas bags are usually slid between two rotating and spring-loaded disks. The strong turning force of the machine causes collision among the leaves in the bags.
The oxidation process can be reduced by removing the bags from the disks after some minutes. Then, they are uncinched, opened up, and the leaves are placed on a big rotating drum. When the drum rotates, it dries out the leaves immediately.
The final result consists of a small ball of tea just like a pea which completely dried and oxidised to about 25%. The tea balls have tasty citrus and a special taste different from other tea products due to its creamy and refreshing flavors.
Just like the Wuyi Shan oolongs of China, the Ali Shan, as well as other gao shan oolongs of Taiwan, belongs to the product. This is due to the present of natural mineral content in the soil, misty cool mountain air, geographical and natural factors which helps to rich the teas.
Ali Shan oolong is harvested twice every year in small quantities. The steep terrain makes it difficult to harvest, and processing takes a long time. Due to this, Ali Shan, Li Shan and Gold Lily teas are all costly. Presently, there is no alternative.