High mountain oolongs or gao shan are Taiwan’s most distinctive teas. These teas yield rich, juicy, full-flavored and high-fragrance teas. Gao shan teas are hand-plucked and grow in high-elevation tea gardens (4,000 to 8,000 feet ) located in the mountains of central Taiwan.
There are two seasons for gao shan tea: spring and winter (winter plucking begins in October). Tea from each season brings its own delicious characteristics to the cup; spring begins the new harvest year and winter tea brings it to an end. Spring teas possess the vigor of renewed growth at the time of bud-break and winter teas reflect the rich maturity and high-fragrance of the final crop of the season.
The yield for gao shan is small, due to the high elevation, thin air at high altitudes, and the small size of the tea gardens (under 5 acres). Also, each pluck is comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 leaves attached. This style of plucking effectively eliminates the ability to pluck a greater yield or to use different leaf plucks to make other teas. This combination of factors, coupled with the difficulties of farming on nearly vertical, steeply-sloped land, and the challenges of a short growing season is not conducive for large outputs of tea.
But happily these conditions are conducive for crafting small-batch teas from tea bushes that are well-adapted to their environment. While gao shan does not have a long growing season, it does have, more importantly, a long dormant period. Dormancy, or winter hibernation, provides essential rest for the tea bushes. Rest is necessary for the plants to adequately absorb minerals and nutrient from the soil, and to gather plentiful energy before the growing season begins anew in the spring.
Careful cultivation, and an enviable terroir ( the effects of soil composition, weather and micro-climates on flavor and aroma ) yields teas brimming with concentrated, abundant, sweet flavors and intoxicating, floral aromas.
The Signature of a Good Gao Shan
These teas are comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 connecting leaves attached. These clusters can be strikingly large, and the presence of stem and their connectivity is one of the signatures of a good gao shan (do not remove the stem!). Our teas are clean and whole, and do not contain broken bits. The amino content of this leaf is high, giving each tea a rich, chewy mouth-feel and a persistent, pure, clean vegetal taste.
Winter gao shan is believed by many to be the finest, purest, most concentrated expression of this style of oolong.
Comparing the Flavor Characteristics
Comparing different gao shans from these famous tea mountains is an astonishing way to understand the effects of terroir.While gao shans have much in common one to another, each region and each tea mountain produces a unique tea.
We are thrilled to offer our tea enthusiast customers the opportunity to taste a well-chosen selection of gao shans from Taiwan’s famous tea mountains:
- Ali Shan
- Li Shan
- Li Shan, Da Yu Ling ( a region of Li Shan)
- Shan Lin Xi .
- and a delicious new Tung Ting, too, for good measure.
Please also note, a comparative tasting of these teas will give you a very true picture of their flavor characteristics and personalities as the tea is all from the same plucking season. Also, we have asked for un-roasted, or modern style teas, which allows the fresh, natural vibrancy of the flavor and aroma to be savored. This also keeps the comparison within the same parameters.
It is not often that such a choice selection of gao shan is found in the US – even in Taiwan a selection of gao shans can be difficult to source. Despite the small production and the high cost, many tea farmers have waiting lists comprised of tea lovers hoping for a small quantity from the next seasonal batch. Sometimes people wait several years before someone drops out and they are able to purchase some tea.
We suggest purchasing a 10-gram pack of each tea ( or a larger quantity if you wish! ) and share the tea drinking experience with your most enthusiastic tea loving friends.
Each 10 gram sample will yield multiple pots of tea, in quantities varying depending on the size of the teapot and the amount of leaf and water used. But essentially, each 10 gram packet, re-steeped accordingly, will yield about 90 ounces of tea. See the detail page for each gao shan for steeping instructions.
Visit www.teatrekker.com to view our selection of gao shan and to order from our limited supply.