You are now a seasoned veteran of Taiwanese teas. It has been hard work and you’ve spent alot of time and money, but it’s been worth it. You’ve tasted and mastered the whole lineup… Dong Ding, Baozhong, Oriental Beauty, uber-fresh straight from Taiwan high-mountain teas…Alishan, Lishan, Shan Li Xi, Da Yu Ling. What’s next!? Like a hero fighting through swarms of villains in an awesomely bad 70s kung-fu film you are ready for the royal court, a family of the biggest, baddest, and most premium Taiwanese gaoshan.
The Royal Court of High-Mountain Taiwanese Teas
All of these tea types are pre-defined as high-mountain teas, with the exception of Dong Pian, but have an even further classification to separate to distinguish themselves from your standard high-mountain tea. Conceptually, purchasing a tea here can be thought of as buying a car with a good brand image or a reliable apple product over a cheaper windows product. You will not be getting the most bang for your buck. But you will be buying a recognized and acclaimed type of tea that has a very strong likelihood of being very, very good. Your money doesn’t just pay for the tea, it pays for the tea and the name. Now that we’ve established that, who are these nasty villains that stand between us and ultimate tea glory?
Zhu Lu (Alishan)
Chances are you haven’t heard of Zhu Lu (it literally meaning dew drop). In the western world, Zhu Lu (also, Ju Lu) doesn’t hold much of a distinguished status, perhaps due to Alishan’s lower altitude. However, don’t be fooled. This is a very popular and esteemed tea in Taiwan. Given its name by ex-Taiwanese vice president, Zhu Lu tea is harvested, marketed and sold by a company in the Shi Zuo region of Alishan. The area used to grow Zhu Lu tea composes 600 acres, quite small compared with the enormous tea-growing Alishan region (est. 5600 acres). Tea is grown at approximately 1,300 meters above sea level, making it the lowest-elevation tea of our royal family of tea. Peter Luong, founder/owner of Song Tea and formerly of Red Blossom Tea sources a Zhu Lu tea and was kind enough to offer some unique insight on Zhu Lu tea:
“Zhu Lu is considered in Taiwan to be the source of premium Alishan. And for the most part, the teas I cupped from there are better than Alishan’s that do not carry that appellation. That said, I have cupped non-Zhu Lu Alishans that have been quite phenomenal, and more than a few Zhu Lu teas that have been disappointing. I say a higher hit ratio for Zhu Lu Alishans.”
- Vendors: Song Tea, ebay.
Long Feng Xia (Shan Li Xi)
Long Feng Xia tea is a type of Shan Li Xi tea grown in the Long Feng canyon right in the center of peaks on the Shan Li Xi mountain. Foggy and forested, this is the highest-elevation tea producing area in Shan Li Xi and can be thought of as the ultimate representation of Shan Li Xi tea. Long Feng Xia is nearly always minimally processed as a green oolong. The Long Feng Xia name recognition and its naturally slow high-elevation growth rate make it a risky endeavor for the tea farmer to roast Long Feng Xia. This is true for the great majority of teas on this list. Stephane of Teamasters has estimated that as much as 95% of the oolongs in this area are processed as green oolongs (source). For fans of the pine-forest stream tea, Long Feng Xia is a must try.
- Vendors: Origin Tea, Tea from Taiwan, Taiwan Tea Crafts, Hou de Asian.
- Average Price (see below): $11.73/oz
Price of Long Feng Xia
|Hou de Asian
|Tea from Taiwan
|Taiwan Tea Crafts
Dong Pian (high-mountain)
Our lone exception to high-mountain teas, Dong Pian marks a brief interlude between peaks of Taiwan’s tallest mountains. Dong Pian stands for winter sprout or winter leaf. This tea is extremely weather dependent and can only be harvested if the weather is sunny enough after the first winter harvest to grow a second winter harvest. Winter harvest is normally completed in mid-late November and the special Dong Pian harvest occurs in mid-January (if at all). This is made possible due to the unique growing conditions in sub-tropical climate of Taiwan. Similar to high-mountain tea Dong Pian is barely oxidized, not commonly roasted, and usually exhibits a rich honey-like flavor. While there can be a variety of Dong Pian teas, the true treasures are high-mountain Dong Pian tea.
- Vendors: Dong Pian’s availability really varies and that carries over to who is carrying it. Red Blossom has previously offered a Shan Li Xi Dong Pian and Origin Tea has even offered a Dong Pian Long Feng Xia. Teamasters and Floating Leaves have both offered lower-elevation versions.
Fu Shou Shan (Lishan)
Fu Shou Shan tea is grown at one of the peaks of Lishan at approximately 2,600 meters. This makes it, along with Da Yu Ling 105k tea, one of the highest-elevation teas in all of Taiwan. Fu Shou Shan also has a very interesting history. In 1950 the Chiang Kai Shek and the Taiwanese government created the Fu Shou Shan farm (~900 hectares), near the top of Lishan mountain. Also referred to as Veteran’s Farm, this area was used as a resort for Chiang Kai Shek and the large farm area has primarily been used to grow fruit and vegetables. Tea was not initially grown in the garden, but in the 1970s approximately 13.5 acres was designated for tea production in Fu Shou Shan.
Due to its high-elevation, Fu Shou Shan tea grows very slowly and is harvested very late in the season. There are three different cultivars grown in the official Fu Shou Shan garden all highly sought after, Chin-hsin, Tieguanyin, and a Wuyi. It is important to make a distinction between Fu Shou Shan tea and tea grown near Fu Shou Shan. Tea harvested at the Veteran’s Farm is known for having a distinctive taste even compared with neighboring plantations! It is a common marketing ploy to use the Fu Shou Shan name recognition for farmers near the government plantation to sell their tea. Tea produced at the actual government farm is sealed and sold in paired and numbered tins of 75 grams each, seen below. It’s important to note that these teas can also be very good, just know that you are not buying real Fu Shou Shan!
- Vendors: T-Oolong, Origin Tea. T-Oolong has carried both the Wuyi and Chin-hsin in the past (it sells out quickly!). Red Blossom and Taiwan Tea Crafts carry/have carried tea grown from nearby plantations.
- Average Price (see below): $15.02/oz
Price of Fu Shou Shan
|Red Blossom (nearby)
|Taiwan Tea Crafts (nearby)
Da Yu Ling (105k, Lin’s Farm)
Like Fu Shou Shan, Da Yu Ling is grown at one of Lishan’s peaks making it always a very high-elevation tea. Unlike what is marketed as Lishan tea, which ranges between 1,400 to 2,500 meters, Da Yu Ling is nearly always at least 2,200 meters of elevation. Because of its extremely high-elevation both the Spring and Winter harvests tend to be quite late even compared with other high-mountain teas. You’ve probably seen 95k, 98k, 102k or perhaps 105k associated with Da Yu Ling. What are these silly numbers next to the name. They actually stand for the highway markers as you drive through the mountain. Here’s what Tony over at Origin Tea helping to clarify the issue:
“The Da Yu Ling tea area has one highway running through it, the Central Cross-Island Highway or Provincial Highway No.8, and the 95K refers to the 95 kilometer marker on the Da Yu Ling section of this highway. These distance markers are used as a common way in Taiwan to specify exactly where a Da Yu Ling oolong comes from.”
The highway markers cap at 105k, the location of Lin Chong-min’s farm known as Song Lu gardens. At an altitude of 2,650 meters, this is often recognized as the highest tea-growing region in Taiwan, although this is sometimes a contentious point. Like the Fu Shou Shan teas, this is a commonly forged tea and there is an anti-forgery label attached to the tea canister. In recent years, Da Yu Ling tea plantations have been rumored to being shut down by the government, so get this tea while you still can!
- Vendors: T-Oolong, Hou de Asian. Origin Tea offers/has offered a 104k version. Beware of cheap ebay vendors!
- Average Price (see below): $23.38/oz
Price of Da Yu Ling 105k
|Hou de Asian
|Origin Tea (104k)
Luxury Cars of Teas
Purchase carefully! These are the royalty of Taiwanese teas. You are buying an expensive luxury item. These teas are treasures and can all be quite amazing, but if you want good bang for your buck please look elsewhere. They are also commonly forged, so you should trust the source that you purchase from (i.e. look out for symbols of authenticity for Fu Shou Shan and Da Yu Ling 105k tea and beware of cheap ebay sellers). Good luck!