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Taiwanese Tea Terroirs

With several mountain ranges with peaks soaring to over 6,550 feet (2,000 m), a temperature that rarely drops below 55°F (13°C) and a mean rainfall of more than 79 inches (2,000 mm) a year; the climatic and geological conditions of Taiwan are perfectly suited to the cultivation of tea.

The Zhong Yang Shan Mai mountain range, in the middle of the island, creates a natural protective barrier against the typhoons and- other storms that come in from the ocean, so most of the tea gardens are concentrated in the west of the island. However; the best crus are grown in the northern regions and on the western slopes of the highest mountains in the center of the island: Ali Shan, Shan Lin Xi and Li Shan, an 8,070-foot (2,460 m) summit where one of the highest tea gardens in the world can be found.

THE DISTRICT OF NANTOU

The district of Nantou, in the center of the bland, is Taiwan's principal tea-growing region. This district produces roughly 12,100 tons ( 11,000 t) of tea per year; representing more than half the output of the entire country. Apart from the teas grown on certain famous mountains, such as the celebrated Mount Dong Ding and Mount Shan Lin Xi, where there are some exceptional gardens, the tea from the Nantou district is mostly of medium quality, in part because of the high volume produced. A lot of harvests from other parts of the island are also shipped here, and industrial processing methods are highly advanced. Small harvests of black tea, such as Sun Moon Lake tea, from the area around the eponymous lake, are also produced here.

MOUNT DONG DING

The celebrated Mount Dong Ding rises up close to Lugu in the region that pioneered tea growing in Taiwan. The first plantations on this mountain date from the middle of the 19th century. Now famous around the world, the mountain is entirely covered in tea plantations; 4,000 to 5,000 growers produce tea in this region at altitudes that range from 1,650 to 2,600 feet (500 to 800 m). In addition to being an important tourist destination, the region attracts many Taiwanese consumers who buy tea and Chinese tea cups. The government has also contributed a great deal to the promotion of the tea trade in this region. A festival is still held to present the new harvests for tasting and to teach the basics of the gong fu cha tea ceremony.

MOUNT SHAN LI XII

Mount Shan Lin Xi, where the highest plantations rise to 5,400 feet (1,650 m), is also in the district of Nantou. Celebrated for its beauty, especially its many bamboo forests, it has developed rapidly over the last 20 years. A lot of land has been cleared, and new plantations have appeared The best gardens are on the steep mountain slopes that have all the ideal conditions for tea cultivation. An interesting characteristic of the region is that all the gardens are named after the animals of the Chinese astrological signs (dragon, goat, etc).

THE DISTRICT OF TAIPEI

The district of Taipei, located in the north of the island, is the second-most-important growing region in the territory. Whereas most of the gardens were previously centered around the capital (Taipei) - which was the longtime point of departure for tea headed to overseas markets - they migrated south to the district of Nantou as heavy industrial and residential development took over Taipei. Today, the best harvests are produced close to the town of Pinglin and in the Mucha Mountains.

PINGLIN

Located in the massif of the Wen Shan Mountains, some 30 minutes from Taipei, Pinglin is a very popular village, and many residents of the capital go there regularly to buy their favorite tea. Because of this high demand, the prices of the tea from this region have increased considerably, and there is reason to believe they may now be somewhat inflated. Pinglin does, however; produce a style of wulong tea with twisted leaves that is rarely still found inTaiwan: Bao Zhong. Today, the preferred method of processing wulong leaves is the bead method, which makes it easier to ship and store the tea.

THE MUCHA MOUNTAINS

Around 1875, two brothers from Anxi, China, planted a few shoots of the famous cultivar Tie Guan Yin in the Mucha Mountains, south of Taipei. Thanks to the persistence of these two brcrthers, Tie Guan Yin tea is found in Taiwan today. The originality of the tea produced in Mucha is due to the cultivar grown there, but also to the intense firing it undergoes over several days, which gives it unique roasted notes.

THE DISTRICT OF HSINCHU

Located in northwestern Taiwan, the district of Hsinchu is an area of plains at an altitude of approximately 650 feet (200 m). The region is famous for its wulong black teas, which are oxidized at a rate that varies between 40 percent and 60 percent. This oxidization darkens the appearance of the leaves and creates a beautiful coppery color when they are infused Great classics come from this area, including Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) and the Wulong Fancy teas, Which are of a lower quality.

THE DISTRICT OF CHIAYI

Although tea growing started in the district of ChiaYi 20 years ago, it is renowned for its production of Gao Shan Cha. A little less than 10 percent of the country's total production is harvested here. It is in this district that the great massif of the Ali Shan Mountain begins before merging with lofty Mount Yu Shan.

ALI SHAN MOUNTAIN

Certainly one of the most famous mountains on the island, where high-quality, high-altitude teas are grown, Ali Shan has several gardens located between 2,300 and 5,600 feet (700 to 1,700 m). Long harvested for its trees - in particular its giant evergreens, of which a large number were exported to Japan during the Japanese occupation - the Ali Shan region is now a protected area. There is a natural park with luxurious vegetation. At the foot of the mountain, palm trees, banana trees and a number of fruit trees gently sway.

YU SHAN MOUNTAIN

Although Yu Shan Mountain soars to 12,966 feet (3,952 m), the plantations are at approximately 4,250 feet (1,300 m). Tea growing began there about 20 years ago and - contrary to other regions, such as Shan Lin Xi, where growing areas have expanded from year to year - the growth in the number of plantations on Yu Shan appears to be stable and limited.

THE DISTRICT OF HUALIEN

Located on the east coast in an area hit by typhoons and other ocean storms, the district of Hualien produces a meager output of tea. The region produces a number of different kinds of tea, including wulong, black, green and floral teas. While the gardens of Hualien are generally located at low altitudes, some operate at 3,300 feet (1,000 m). Over the last few years, there has been a strong trend toward organic cultivation in this region. Moreover; in a rather rare phenomenon in Taiwan, growers in this district often produce more than one tea family.

THE DISTRICT OFTAITUNG

On the east coast, south of Hualien, lies Taitung, a small growing area of relatively little importance.

THE DISTRICT OF TAICHUNG

The district of Taichung contains the central massif of the island, including the mountains of Li Shan and Da Yu Lin. High-quality, high-altitude teas are produced here. This is a new growing region, - tea has been grown here for around 15 years - that is rapidly expanding.

LI SHAN MOUNTAIN

Li Shan Mountain, or "PearMountain," includes several growing areas located between 5,250 and 8,700 feet (1,600 to 2,650 m). Fruit trees have been grown here for a long time,but the growing of tea is fairly recent. Farmers are increasingly switching to tea growing because of the high demand and the high prices for tea produced in the area. However; to avoid excessive expansion, the government controls and limits the number of new plantations.

On Li Shan, the two annual harvests are rather late compared to other harvests carried out on the island. The spring picking takes place at the end of May, and the winter picking at the end of October.

The gardens of Da Yu Lin Mountain, located nearby, are among the highest in the world, at an approximate altitude of 8,500 feet (2,600 m).

THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM

BAO ZHONG The term bao zhong means "wrapped in paper" and appears to come from China (Anxi) where, more than 150 years ago, a merchant by the name of Wang Yi Cheng used to present a certain type of twisted leaf tea wrapped in paper. This custom, taken up again by the Wen Shan in Taiwan, was later associated with the name of the tea.

GAO SHAN CHA: A HIGH-ALTITUDE TEA

The tea trees that grow at more than 3,300 feet (1,000 m) are referred to as Gao Shan Cha,which means "high-altitude tea." Taiwan and Sri Lanka are the only countries to distinguish between high-altitude and low-altitude teas, although the region of Darjeeling in India also produces them. Teas grown at higher altitudes are highly sought after, since the higher the altitude at which the plant is grown, the more complex its aromatic properties and flavors will be. The weather conditions at high altitudes are obviously different. It is colder, which slows the growth of the tea trees but increases the concentration of aromatic oils in the leaves. In addition, thick fog filters the sun's rays in the morning and at night, as well as during part of the day, thus reducing the amount of sunshine to a few hours each day, resulting in the plants producing young, extremely dark-green shoots that contain more amino acids and nitrogen compounds. Moistened by this fog, the leaves are also more tender and, contrary to leaves that grow at lower altitudes, they remain supple, which is a good quality for further processing.