Ali Shan is perhaps the best known region for high grown oolongs and most people who have been to Taiwan will have visited this famous tea growing area and brought back a pack of tea with a picture of the single track train that goes up the mountain on the pack. In fact the tea plants used to make this tea grow at an altitude of 1600 meters near to a popular beauty stop Xi Ding which visitors to Ali Shan are sure to have passed. While the visit, the short train trip and the inevitable tea purchase at the end of the day might be a nice memory, there is so much more to Ali Shan tea than meets the eye!
Teas from Ali Shan – the mountain region in the eastern part of Chiayi – are grown at high altitudes, but not quite as high as Li Shan or Da Yu Ling. Ali Shan is generally hotter than the high mountain growing areas further north but luckily even within this specific area, there are various micro-climates. This means that whereas on one part of mountain the plants might have suffered from the effects of too little rain this year, on the other side of the mountain there was enough moisture provided by shade and cloud to produce a good crop.
Made from the cultivar Qing Xin, the scent of the dry leaf of this lightly oxidised tea is typical Ali Shan: Heady and floral, it conjures up images (and if you are lucky, memories) of pine trees and high mountain forests. The infusion is beautifully floral and has all the fruity notes you would hope for in a good Ali Shan oolong.
While this tea can of course be prepared “western style” in a teapot using ca. 6 g tea for 500 ml of water and making 1 – 4 infusions of 2 – 3 minutes each, we strongly recommend trying it gong fu style so that you can fully appreciate how the tightly rolled leaves unfold to reveal their beautiful scent and complex flavour notes. If you do this, use the same amount of tea (ca. 6 g) for 120 ml of water, make a first infusion of 15 – 20 seconds, then add 5 seconds for each subsequent infusion. This should allow you to make approximately 5 – 6 infusions during which you will experience how the aroma and flavours develop with each steeping.