Canton Ali Shan: origin and flavour
Fresh, floral and fruity, Canton Ali Shan marries notes of lily flower, stewed apricot and shortbread biscuit in what we think is a masterpiece of an oolong.
Produced on the steep slopes of the Ali Shan mountain in Taiwan, this tea is a fantastic example of a high mountain tea. The leaves are picked from the Chin Shin cultivar, a slow-growing bush which is best suited to the cooler growing environments. Grown at an altitude of 1500m above sea level, the warm, humid atmosphere of the region is tempered by a mountain mist that descends on the mountain every afternoon without fail. This stops the temperature from rising too high, allowing the tea leaves to grow slowly and develop a gorgeously sweet and fruity flavour. The mist also protects the leaves from harsh sunlight, which intensifies the nutrient and flavour profile of the tea.
After picking, the leaves are sun-withered, heated, rolled and finally roasted, which sweetens and strengthens the flavours. The result? A competition-grade tea (which is the best the farm has to offer). And one of Canton’s all-time favourite oolongs.
The Chiu family established Epin Farm 35 years ago and were one of the first to establish a tea garden on the mountain – unbelievably, tea growing on Ali Shan only started happening around 40 years ago. Though the garden is relatively small compared to the other Ali Shan tea farms – just a few fields at the edge of Rueili village – the Chiu family are famous for their frequent success in tea competitions.
Tea competitions for growers started in Taiwan in 1975 as a way for producers to promote their crop. The first competition was organized by the Tea Growers Co-op in the Lu Gu township – and they have now become an integral part of the tea industry in Taiwan. They’re an especially important platform for smaller, more artisanal growers.
Unlike tea industries in other countries, Taiwanese tea producers like the Chiu family use independent pickers and processing experts, who command high prices for their skill and craftsmanship. This ensures a much more democratic and even distribution of power and money in tea-making (the business-owners are beholden to the pickers!), making it one of the most ethical and fair tea industries in the world. You can read more on that here.