High growing elevation limits tea growth allowing for a longer development of flavor. During the 1970’s farmers in Taiwan discovered that growing tea at elevations over 1000 meters above sea level could produce oolong tea with astonishing complexity and an unparalleled weighty mouthfeel. Slowing the plant’s growth reduced the yield from 4 or 5 harvests per year down to 1 or 2, but it dramatically increased quality and thus gao shan cha or high mountain tea was born.
Farmers experimented growing existing cultivars at higher elevation, but soon found that a new cultivar named qing xin thrived. It was able to produce a greater percentage of amino acids allowing the tea to be both sweet and viscous. It is now the standard cultivar for producing quality oolong tea in Taiwan.
Each year we evaluate the multiple harvests of Taiwanese high mountain teas from many different growing regions. Each region produces its own distinct flavors. What create the differences are not entirely the varying elevations or the tea cultivar, which is almost always the same, but subtle changes in the weather, and processing the tea correctly to accentuate them.
Typically, I prefer the winter harvested high mountain oolongs. They tend to be more assertive than the earlier harvests. This year one of the spring teas really stood out to me though. It has excellent strength that combines well with the aromatic spring qualities.
The greatest attributes of our Shan Lin Xi are its sweetness and low astringency. The flavor reminds me of mango, honey, and geranium, which especially comes through in the lingering finish. The body is plush and soft with virtually no drying of the palate.
In a small gaiwan rinse 6-7 grams of leaves with 210º F water for a few seconds. Steep the first infusion for 45 seconds, the second 45 seconds, the third 60 seconds, and the forth for 75 seconds. This is an excellent tea for cold brewing. A long infusion of 24-36 hours is recommended to get the most complexity from the leaves.