Taiwan island is bound to the east by the Pacific Ocean in East Asia off the coast of China. The island is approximately 245 miles long and 90 miles wide. It’s a beauty island and was explored by the Portuguese with the name the island Formosa. Oolong tea is a very famous tea for its finest quality and grade in Taiwan, Southeast China, Vietnam and Indonesia for over 150 years. But Taiwan is the most oolong production area. The oolong tea grows from 1000 meters above sea level to approximately 2600 meters. This makes oolong tea more expensive than others planted on low altitudes.
It is also known as Formosa oolong. The finest quality and grade of oolongs are mostly high mountain oolong which means the tea that grows from 1000 meters above sea level to approximately 2600 meters. As a matter of fact, growing tea on high mountain areas costs much more than planting on low altitudes. It is one of the reasons why prices of high mountain teas are proportional to its plantation altitude. One Taiwanese kg (1 Taiwanese kg is equal to 600 grams) of first grade high mountain oolong can sell between 60 USD to 300 USD or more in the Taiwan market. Although it is expensive, Taiwan high altitude tea is still loved by the local drinker in Taiwan as well as drinkers internationally.
High mountain oolong typically is more rich, smooth and fragrant and you can brew it more times before it loses its flavor. The popular representatives of Taiwan high mountain teas include Dayuling Oolong, Li Shan, Shanlinxi Oolong, Alishan Oolong and Wuling Oolong.
There are certain advantages for high mountain plantations such as great amount of sun light, sufficient amount of rain, extreme temperature difference between day and night and heavily fertilized soils perfect to grow tea. Also, the high potential of foggy afternoons hinders and makes the production of first grade high altitude tea difficult.
During regular days, it does not take extra efforts for farmers to take care of plantations. However, things are a lot tougher during the harvest seasons. Farmers often need to hire pickers which are paid by case by case basis with transportation included. Higher wages are paid as the higher the altitude of plantations. Normally, experienced pickers can collect around 3 to 5 Taiwanese kg of raw tea leaves per hour by hands. Tea picking begin really early in the morning. It is the best time for the pickers since raw leaves weigh more due to morning dew.
However, the leaves picked during this time period is not the best in quality. First grade high altitude tea often requires raw leaves to be picked between 10AM to 3 PM. This is because the high temperature at noontime allows the leaves to hold less water. You may be wondering why doesn’t the pickers pick during just this time frame? The reality is that pickers are limited in quantity and are paid by the number of cases they can fill. If they are allowed to work only during the best picking time zone, which is the hottest parts of the day, they will not be able to pick enough raw leaves to make enough money.
First grade high altitude tea is not abundant because planting skills, processing skills, weather, location of plantation and seasons all affect the taste of tea. In the high mountain areas, the afternoon weather usually becomes foggy. This allows for the withering of raw leaves, which is one of tea processing steps, to be more difficult and causes the leaves to be less fragrant.
The goal of growing tea in high altitude mountain locations is to produce richer and smoother quality teas. Even with the high labor costs and limited amount of quantities which seem unavoidable, the teas produced and picked from the high altitude locations is worth the added expense for the enjoyment and relaxation of the everyday drinker.
Ray Lee is the founder and webmaster of http://www.ishopo.com For more detailed information on Taiwan teas, please visit http://www.ishopo.com