(The Name Kind of Reminds Me of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves)
“Open Sesame! but instead of bags of gold, I want bags of Ali Shan tea!” This is a GREAT example of one of Taiwan’s most famous teas. This tea is for the seasoned tea connoisseur or someone new to the world of tea.
Ali Shan tea…
Typically refers to oolong tea grown in the Ali Mountain in central Taiwan. Ali Shan (the most famed high mountain region in Taiwan) is a range of 18 mountains located in Chiayi County in central Taiwan. The region is famous for its dense cloud cover and beautiful peaks. Ali Shan is one of Taiwan’s best-known tea growing regions and is famous for its Gao Shan Cha “high mountain tea.” This tea is grown in lofty heights of between 1,000 and 2,000 meters. The area tends to be wet and cold year-round, which provides the perfect conditions for tea production. The day and night temperature variations result in the leaves growing more slowly and accumulating additional flavor.
But, let’s get technical…
For just a moment and talk about the terroir (sense of place) of the area. The cooler temperatures and the reduced sunshine in the mountains, tends to retard the leaves’ growth, and this concentrates their flavors. The habitual cloud cover also increases certain amino acids that give Ali Shan its heavier and creamy body, which results in a thick mouthfeel of heavy cream. (But enough said about amino acids and such).
High mountain oolong is picked between April and May as well as between August and September. This allows the leaves to grow large and strong enough to be rolled during the tea processing. Besides, the oil in these leaves, also gives it a texture that contributes to the buttery taste lingering at the back of your throat. In making Ali Shan oolong, only the newly sprouted leaves are plucked. They are then withered in the sun – weather permitting – or indoors on special bamboo trays for a few hours to reduce moisture and where the leaves begin to develop their jasmine, rose and geranium aromas. Once a suitable suppleness is achieved in the leaves, traditional rolling techniques (which include wrapping the leaves in cloth and binding it tightly into ball shape) are applied in conjunction with light roasting in a rotating tunnel roaster. Successive re-rolling and re-roasting’s are done to achieve the optimum shape and flavor. One final roast is done at the end of this process.