In Taiwan, Li Shan Cha can be considered as the King of High Mountain Tea. People often describe this tea as "There is nothing next to Li Shan Cha". The quality of Li Shan Cha is outstanding as people in Taiwan appreciate this tea. However the increasing demand for this tea in Taiwan also create a lot of fake Li Shan Cha which is not grown at Li Shan, but at other mountain, or sometimes at the lower levels of Li Shan which do not produce high quality Li Shan. The genuine Li Shan Cha should be from the tea garden located higher than 2000m and carefully produced tea gives a very strong citrus flavor which is powerful enough to impress even a beginner.
Tea that is grown at high mountains are called high mountain tea in Taiwan. Presently, high mountain tea is becoming very popular and more and more mountain areas are being developed into tea gardens for a more vigorous and a larger volume of tea cultivation. It is common to find tea cultivation at the height of 2000m but our Li Shan Cha is produced at even as high as 2400m. Generally the weather, ecology and environment of Taiwan High Mountain area resembles the mountain area at Darjeeling.
Li Shan Cha is produced at the Li Shan which is located in the center of Taiwan. Li Shan is a mountain that is 1500－2400ｍ. Considering the altitude of the Li Shan Tea garden, it is not the highest. It is known that altitude alone does not contribute to the quality of tea but most importantly, the soil condition and the particularly suitable environment which can only be found at Li Shan is the key factor in producing the delicious and identical flavor of Li Shan Cha.
Our Li Shan Cha is produced at the tea garden that is higher than 2000m
Up on High Mountains, tea garden gets appropriate sun shine only in the morning. In the afternoon thereon, the tea garden is completely covered by a thick fog which is the highly ideal condition to cultivate high mountain teas. Less sun shine produces less bitter substance and therefore the tea leaves are amazingly sweet. In addition, the temperature between day time and night time is significant on account of the alpine weather which is also excellent for high mountain teas. In the morning, tea gets very strong sun shine that produces nutrition and other substances. At night, the temperature drops tremendously and tea leaves stop metabolism and preserve those substances produced in morning. On the contrary, if the temperature doesn't decrease at night, tea will continue its metabolism rate and keep spending the substances which is very crucial in determining the taste and quality of the tea; subsequently tea has less taste.
However these are not only the reasons in creating specific character of Li Shan Cha. The unique citrus fruity flavor could be contributed by other factors as well. In fact, the identical flavor of Li Shan Cha is never seen in other high mountain tea regardless of the altitude.
It is said that tea will produce a very sweet fruity fragrance when if it undergoes a stressful environment. We found the same phenomenon in Darjeeling teas. As for Li Shan Cha, we assume that the soil condition, insects or a unique environment of Li Shan area contribute to its original flavor.
Cultivar and Plucking
The cultivars for HOJO's Li Shan Cha is Qing-Xin Oolong (青心烏龍種). This is the genuine cultivars traditionally used for Dong Ding Oolong that gives very refreshing taste.
Tea grown at organic gardens appear to be less active and has less productivity as tea gets less nutrition and pesticide as compared to the ordinary tea garden. As the identical characteristics, tea leaf turns into a yellow color and sweetness in flavor and taste is outstanding.
Tea Plucking Scene at Li Shan
Plucking is carried out manually. 3 to 4 leaves including a bud is carefully plucked by hand. Plucking is carried out 2 times in spring and winter. Usually the amount of rain prior to the plucking seaso will affects the quality. We select either tea depending on the condition of each year.
After plucking, tea leaves are spread over the ground under the natural sunshine. It is called Sunshine Withering. Usually clouded weather is ideal to grow this tea in order to avoid excess damage on tea leaves. If the sunny weather continues, a black cloth is used to cover the tea leaves to block out the harsh rays of sunshine. With sunshine withering, moisture inside the tea leaf gets evaporated and fermentation is moderately triggered. The tea leaf will gradually start releasing a refreshing aroma.
The method of fermentation for oolong tea is completely different from that of black tea. After the sunshine withering is completed, tea leaves are conveyed into the factory and spread over a sheet. If tea leaves are rich in moisture, they are spread into a thin layer in order to increase the evaporation process. The tea leaves are then tossed onto a bamboo tray. This agitation and tossing, causes friction which in turn causes the tea leaves to start fermentation. The tray is then placed on a rack and these processes are repeated over and over again. This is what is called fermentation. Tea leaves gets oxidation mediated by the oxidation enzyme when the tea leaves get bruised.
Once entering the fermentation room, you might get surprised with its fragrance. You feel as if you are in a flower garden. Subsequently tea leaves are rotated in a bamboo drum. The tea leaves are lifted and dropped several times. Gradually the edge of tea leaves get damaged and further fermentation takes place. Tea leaves are again spread over the bamboo tray and the same process is repeated over and over again.
Once tea leaves get sufficient fermentation, it starts generating a flowery fragrance. Tea that is processed by a fine tea master is easily distinguishable. The original shape is maintained without any damage done to the tea leaves and only the edge of tea leaves are found to be red in color. This indicates that the tea leaves were successfully semi-fermented and the quality is far different from the tea leaves which have a reddish appearance at the center part of the leaf. Once the tea master finds that fermentation is sufficiently achieved, the tea is then sent for heat treatment in order to arrest further fermentation process. If this is not carried out swiftly, the tea leaves will keep on fermenting and it will finally turn into black tea.
The number of rotation and timing of fermentation is judged based on the moisture content, flavor and color. This decision requires top-notch experienced tea technicians which affects the quality of tea tremendously. All technicians follow the instruction of a tea master. In order to get good quality tea, we need to pick out an excellent tea master.
At this stage, tea is fermented and giving an identical character of Dong Ding Oolong. However tea leave has not been damaged or bruised except for its edge. Without physical damage on tea leaf, it is difficult to "brew". On the other hand, conducting the rolling process as black tea that tea leaf is twisted tautly under the strong pressure, tea leaf will be over damaged and get astringent and harsh in taste. In addition, excessive damage of leaf will expose constituent to the oxygen and cause unwanted oxidation that will also affect to the taste and flavor. Therefore the very unique rolling process called "Bag rolling" is used for oolong tea. Literary tea leaf is wrapped in cloth and rolled. Therefore, tea leaves are twisted just right with the right amount of pressure applied.
While the tea leaves are still warm and soft, it is quickly wrapped in cloth bag. About 10-20kg of tea leaf is wrapped and it is made into the size of about a basket ball. Then the end of cloth is mechanically twisted by machine in order to squeeze it into a very solid ball. Finally it becomes as solid as a stone ball and as a result the tea leaves are compressed very tightly.
Then, the cloth ball is clamped between disks at the top and bottom. The top disk does not move while the bottom disk rotate and tea gets further pressure through the motion. After the rolling process is conducted for a while, the bag is opened and the tea leaves are taken out and reheated again in a rotating drum. This is necessary as once the tea leaves cool down, it becomes crispy and easily crushed. This series of processes are repeated several times until it is well rolled.
The tea leaves are gradually tighten and become round in shape. High grade tea is usually very solid and it appears to be dark and shiny as the juice of the tea leaf is squeezed and hardens on the surface of the leaf.
The same sequence is repeated over and over again. The parameter is varied depending on the condition of leaf such as moisture content. It is important to feel the condition of tea leaf and apply the suitable method of process which is judge expertly by the tea master.
After this rolling process is completed, the tea leaves are dried and this will reduce the moisture content down to 5%.