Guide to Taiwan Teas
The flavors of oolong teas change dramatically from season to season. Oolong teas harvested during the spring and winter seasons are considered to be superior to teas harvested during the summer and fall. This is mainly due to the weather conditions at the time of harvest. The cooler temperatures and seasonal fog result in a more succulent leaf. Spring flavors are robust with a distinctive flowery note. Winter flavors tend to be crisper and lighter.
Oolong Tea Processing
The processing of the tea after harvesting accounts for much of the diversity and uniqueness of Taiwanese oolongs. Although processing techniques will vary by region and by farmer, the basic process is fairly standardized. After the leaves are picked, they are dried in the sun for several hours, weather permitting. Then, the leaves are brought indoors where they are gently shaken in bamboo baskets or a rolling drum. This shaking serves to slightly "bruise" the leaves and start the oxidation process. It is during this stage that the aroma begins to develop.
After a partial oxidation, the leaves may be either rolled into the shape of a pearl or twisted sideways into long strips. After the initial shaping, the tea is fired at high temperature to stop any further oxidation. For pearl-shaped oolong teas, such as Dong Ding, the rolling and drying phases may be repeated a number of times. For the twisted-leaf shaped oolongs, such as Bao Zhong, the rolling process is more delicate to preserve the natural shape of the leaves. Once the tea is dried, it is known as "mao cha" or raw tea. This type of tea is often sold as green-style oolong, which is the most popular style of oolong tea in Taiwan.
The raw tea may be further roasted (or baked) to enhance both aroma and flavor characteristics. The roasting level can be light, medium or dark. The lightly roasted teas generally retain more of a floral character while the medium and dark roasted teas develop a sweeter, fruitier and toastier character.
Taiwan's Tea Profiles
Wen Shan Bao Zhong
The name "Bao Zhong" comes from a Chinese term meaning "wrapped". It dates back to the time when tea farmers packed their tea four taels to the bag and then wrapped four bags together to form a rectangular shape. Produced in the mountain town of Pinglin in Taipei County, the distinguishing characteristics of Bao Zhong tea are its light, refreshing flavor and floral aroma. It is the least oxidized of the Taiwanese oolong teas.
Dong Ding Oolong
Grown on Dong Ding Mountain in central Nantou County, Dong Ding tea is considered to be the origin of Taiwanese oolong. Tea plants and processing techniques were brought to this area from China over 100 years ago. The oolong teas made here are oxidized from 25-30% and brew a more robust, stronger tea with a characteristic lilac aroma.
High Mountain Oolong
High mountain teas, also known as "Gao Shan" tea, are oolongs that are produced at an elevation of more than 1,000 meters. Due to the limited amount of tea grown, these teas are the most costly and prized by Taiwan’s tea connoisseurs. Most high mountain teas are lightly oxidized and minimally roasted (if at all) to retain their fresh, crisp flavors. Due to the cooler temperatures, clean air and abundant mist, high mountain teas display a creamy, almost milky, texture and a rich and sweet taste.
High mountain teas are produced mainly in Nantou and Chiayi counties in central Taiwan. Several well-known high mountain teas include Ali Shan, Wu She, Li Shan and Yu Shan.
Bai Hao/Oriental Beauty
Hsinchu County in northern Taiwan is home to the flavorful Bai Hao tea (also known as Oriental Beauty). The best quality Bai Hao is harvested in the summer. Bai Hao tea is processed to a greater degree of oxidation (around 50-60%) than other Taiwanese oolong teas. The result is a tea with a very smooth and sweet flavor, virtually no astringency, and a unique aroma of ripe peaches and honey.