by kate on November 23rd, 2012
Canton Tea Club Week 8
Ali Shan and Li Shan: Elevate your Tea Experience
Good quality Taiwanese high mountain oolongs are among the grands crus of fine tea and Ali Shan and Li Shan produce the best examples. There is something particularly ethereal and satisfying about the range of flavours they produce: butter, nuts, citrus, and sweet floral notes emerge with each infusion. The key to their qualities is in the dramatic landscape of the mountains; the climate is damp and cold with fluctuating temperatures, the soil dark and rich. It was formerly used for fruit orchards.
Ali Shan (Ali Mountain) in central Taiwan is famous for its Japanese-built narrow-gauge railway that winds through the mountains and tea. The cool, damp mountain air and rich dark soil offer perfect conditions for growing top class oolong. Further to the south, Li Shan (Pear Mountain) is higher – up to 2,600m, perhaps the highest tea growing area in the world. The tea from here is generally regarded as superior although some prefer the Ali Shan’s sweeter character.
Both tea areas are relatively new – only producing Oolongs since the 1980’s – but the farmers use much older techniques to create these teas. They’re so well made that you can almost taste the fabulous terroir. Misty mornings, the heat of the sun, high mountains; it’s all here – in a cup.
I’m a little late to the party on reflecting upon these two teas. Reason being, I’m a rather indecisive dodger. I love Li Shan. I love Ali Shan. They look the same and practically smell the same. The only major difference being that Ali Shan looks decidedly greener and smells less buttery.
A true comparison between the two – gongfu-style would’ve taken me the better part of the day. I didn’t have a day to devote to this, so I went with a tried-‘n-true A-MURR-ican lazy shortcut. I brewed them Western-style, 2tsps. In 16oz. of short-of-a-boil water, steeped for three minutes.
The liquors on each turned out the same. Aroma? Also dead similar – floral to a fault with a creamy underpinning. (Jeez, this was going to be hard.) Victor: Ali Shan, but only by a hair. It was the requisite sweetness that won me out. I have a sweet-tooth and Ali Shan appeased it. But – like I said – only by a hair. Then I decided to do something COMPLETELY different.
I mixed the two brews together. Holy-F-bomb! THAT was the best brew of the bunch. There is no competition. They both combine to form the…uh…Captain Planet of Oolongs. Okay, that doesn’t work. Voltron of Oolongs? Oh…you get the point.
Tast-tea! I am a sucker for lightly oxidized oolongs. I found the tasting notes spot on, but did increase the brewing times. Maybe it is just me, but I thought they need an initial brew of around 50 seconds, followed by a shorter brew of 20 seconds, third brew back at 50, then increasing by 5-10 seconds.
I found both teas to be quite delightful, with a slight preference for the Li Shan. Perhaps it was just me, but I could taste some butternut squash in there. As I have started to miss my home state of Florida, I was very pleased with the astringent-citrus notes, reminded me of sweet-grapefruit rind. I look forward to trying more Taiwanese oolongs featured by the club in the future.
As a newbie to fine teas, I found it fascinating to compare and contrast two oolongs from a small area. Noting subtle differences helped to make sense of the descriptions used - both teas had lovely flavours . I like this club idea already!