Tasting Ali Shan: May 2007

Friday I sat down with Shiuwen and David at Floating Leaves Tea to taste teas from Ali Shan (阿里山) that Shiuwen had just brought back from Taiwan. We tasted it in the method of Taiwan tea buyers–leaves loose in a bowl, with a spoon to dip, smell, and dish out a sample into your own cup. This method allows a taster to see the development of a brew over time, instead of just at a particular moment when the tea timer goes off.

Let me start by saying they were all wonderful lightly-oxidized, rolled oolongs. Like most teas of this type, the flavor was somewhat green and vegetal with a hint of floral. But even though all four came from Ali Shan, they each had their own character.

  • Ali Shan Ding Hu (about $11/ounce). This is from a new growing area on the mountain around 1700 meters in altiutde. My first impression was that it had a sugary taste to it–not necessarily the sweetness of fruit, but like the high clear flavor of granulated white sugar. Good flavor, smooth, great aroma. (When I smelled the dry leaves the first time I recoiled a little–in a good way–because it was surprisingly heady.)
  • Ali Shan Lao Jizi “A” (about $24/oz.). This was the king of the hill, so to speak. It stood up to the water very well, and David pointed out to me a hint of citrus flavor in with the more vegetal taste of tea. At first, I found it to be like the citrus of lemon juice, but as the tea continued to steep, it became more like citrus zest. It had what I’ve been told is called “labduz” in Persian: a mild and pleasant astringency.
  • Ali Shan Lao Jizi (about $17/oz). This tea is a more every-day production from Lao Jizi’s farm. It was a little more oxidized and a little more strongly roasted, both of which combined to make it fruitier than the others. It reminded me ever so slightly of the crust of blackberry pie (last year’s Dong Ding from Floating Leaves strongly reminded me of fruit pie crust). Shiuwen said it reminded her of last year’s Da Yu Lin. While this might not have been the highest quality possible, it was my favorite based on flavor.
  • Fragrant Ali Shan (about $10/oz). The Fragrant Ali Shan was true to its name, producing a lovely fragrance. In comparison, however, the flavor was a little more woody/roasty than I had expected. Perhaps it was because of the longer-than-usual stems included with the leaf. While we tasted these, a customer came into the shop, bought this tea to drink, and said they loved it.
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