Walk down a Taiwanese street, and it won’t take you long to notice the tea shops. You’ll see teenagers slurping boba or bubble tea – milky tea which has been poured over shiny tapioca “pearls.” There will be tea shops with their fragrant range of leaves: black, green, white… and then there will be the tea that the connoisseurs all ask about: the High Mountain Oolong Tea.
Like Geisha coffee in Panama, High Mountain Oolong Tea is Taiwan’s most prized tea.
But what is it? And why is it so sought-after? Read on to find out.
Lee este artículo en español Por Qué el Té Oolong de Alta Montaña Está Causando Tanto Furor
Drinking tea with a view of the mountains.
What Is Oolong Tea?
When you drink specialty coffee, your first question might be about the origin. Is it a chocolaty Brazilian, a fruity Ethiopian, or a balanced Guatemalan? But when it’s tea, you want to know how it was processed – because that’s the difference between black/red, green, yellow, white, and oolong.
Tea processing centres around something called oxidation, which is the process of exposing the leaves to oxygen. This begins as soon as the leaves are picked, and there are different ways to increase or halt it. Oxidation darkens the leaves and causes them to wilt. It also adds aromas and flavours.
White, yellow, and green teas are very lightly processed. Black/red tea, as the name suggests, is heavily processed. And oolong tea? There is a huge diversity in how much oxidation happens for an oolong tea, but generally speaking, it’s more oxidezed than white/yellow/green tea and less than black tea – making it, in my opinion, the Goldilocks of the tea world.
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Oolong tea is carefully monitored while it oxidizes. And it’s this process that creates its unique golden-brown color and distinctive aromas.
Oolong tea leaves. Credit: BubbleTeaology
Taiwan’s High Mountains: A Unique Terroir
Just like with single origin coffees and fine wines, each tea plantation is unique. The terroir produces distinctive flavors while each year’s particular weather trends will add its own character to the season’s harvest.
While you can find High Mountain Oolong Tea in other countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, it is most associated with Taiwan. And this is partly due to Taiwan’s mountains, which make for an ideal tea-growing environment.
“High Mountain” tea is grown at elevations of more than 1,000 m.a.s.l. The plantations in Taiwan are marked by high amounts of humidity and natural precipitation. The tea leaves typically remain blanketed in fog until they are carefully picked by hand.
This tea is known for its complex flavors, aromas, and aftertastes. This, in combination with limited supply, can lead to steep prices – but if you ask me, it’s always worth it.
Oolong tea fields.
A Historic Tradition for Modern-Day Drinkers
Drinking oolong tea is a long tradition in Taiwan – it’s even part of traditional Chinese medicine. And the preparation and appreciation of the beverage are almost as important as the actual tea itself.
Small, hand-crafted teapots made of unglazed clay are the preferred vessel for brewing oolong. The pots, along with teacups, trays, and other accessories, are collected by connoisseurs of the Chinese art of tea.
If you come to Taiwan and drink High Mountain Oolong Tea here, you’ll see that we pour hot water into a pot full of dry leaves and then immediately pour it back out. This is then discarded. We do this tto remove any dust or other contaminants from the tea, allowing drinkers to enjoy the pure flavor and aroma that remains.
In Taiwan, the art of tea is about more than just drinking the beverage. You should savor the taste and take your time. It is considered an art form that takes a lifetime to master.
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