Taiwan is an island located in East Asia off the coast of China. It is bound to the east by the Pacific Ocean. The island is approximately 245 miles long and 90 miles wide. When the portuguese explorers first saw the island, they were impressed by its beauty. Therefore, they named the island formosa. Oolong tea is mostly produced in Taiwan, Southeast China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Among them, Taiwan is the most improtant oolong tea production area. Taiwan Oolong tea has been popular worldwide for over 150 years. It is alos known as Formosa oolong tea. The finest quality and grade of oolong tea are mostly high mountain oolong tea 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 tea plantation altitude. One Taiwanese kg (1 Taiwanese kg is equal to 600 grams) of first grade high mountain oolong tea 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 tea drinker in Taiwan as well as tea drinkers internationally.
High mountain oolong tea 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 tea, Li Shan tea, Shanlinxi Oolong tea, Alishan Oolong tea and Wuling Oolong tea.
There are certain advantages for high mountain tea 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 tea farmers to take care of tea plantations. However, things are a lot tougher during the harvest seasons. Tea farmers often need to hire tea pickers which are paid by case by case basis with transportation included. Higher wages are paid as the higher the altitude of tea 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 tea pickers since raw tea 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 tea 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 doesnt the tea pickers pick during just this time frame? The reality is that tea 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 tea leaves to make enough money.
First grade high altitude tea is not abundant because tea planting skills, tea processing skills, weather, location of tea 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 tea 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 tea drinker.
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