Written by Felicity
Ali Shan Oolong Tea - How does the flavour compare to other teas?
What have we said about our recent batch of Ali Shan:
The creamy qualities (aromas and flavours) are immediately evident when the leaves are infused. The tea is highly floral. The fruit aromas are strong, and specifically we have picked out strawberry and pear. The taste brings spring flowers and light flavours of mango and apricot. It is fantastically refreshing and sappy.
We love the broad and lasting appeal that Ali Shan has. It is difficult for a tea (as it is for other drinks, food and even music and art) to be both accessible and complex at the same time – but Ali Shan can achieve this quite beautifully. You might drink Ali Shan for comfort on a busy day, knowing that it will always be enjoyable however you make it (almost), yet you can also prepare it slowly and carefully (e.g. gong fu style) and drink during a quiet afternoon’s contemplation.
Perhaps most notable, Ali Shan is often a tea that we recommend when someone wants to explore the world of single garden tea. They might be used to drinking black and green teas readily available in the West and want to discover more. Finding that “I never knew that tea could taste like this” moment is easy with Ali Shan, and it is this that has led many of us to want to drink and explore the wonderfully rich world of single garden tea more.
How does Ali Shan Oolong Tea compare to Li Shan?
Li Shan is another Taiwanese high mountain, (gao shan) oolong. Our current batch is a spring crop from Slamaw Garden and is produced at over 2,000m altitude. It has typical lightness in body and a limpid (clear and bright) infusion - both to be expected from a spring Li Shan. Both Ali Shan and Li Shan are intensely fruity and floral. Whereas in the Ali Shan the fruit we are picking up is cooked strawberry and pear, in the Li Shan we can find deeper apricot and stone fruit flavours. Grown at higher altitude and picked much earlier, Li Shan is lighter and more refined than Ali Shan.
The milk qualities prominent in Ali Shan are attributable to the Jin Xuan cultivar, however these are not found in the Li Shan. Instead, In Slamaw Garden, Mr Tang uses the Qing Xin cultivar which, combined with the terroir gives Li Shan a rich creaminess, making it even softer and more rounded than Ali Shan.
How does it compare to Iron Buddha?
The floral style of Iron Buddha and Ali Shan are both light and green-ish in character. Iron Buddha is less forgiving in its preparation, but it is still relatively easy to make well. When made well, Iron Buddha elicits a rich buttery texture which is heavier and oilier than the milky, creamy texture of Ali Shan, and the fruit in Iron Buddha is more tart than the sweet summer fruit of Ali Shan.
Looking at the two different leaves of the Jin Xuan (Ali Shan) cultivar and the Tie Guan Yin (Iron Buddha) cultivar helps to understand the difference in structure in the mouthfeel of these two teas. The Tie Guan Yin cultivar has harder, darker leaves – the edges are more “spikey” than the thick, soft leaves of the Jin Xuan cultivar. Somehow this translates exactly as you might expect in the cup – Iron Buddha is more structured and has greater minerality than Ali Shan which is softer and more vaporous.
How does it compare to Traditional Iron Buddha?
Traditional Iron Buddha is another style of Iron Buddha (same origin and same cultivar), but it is called Traditional when it has been baked as the final stage of production. While the mouthfeel has similar structure and the minerality is still present, this roasting softens some of the tartness of Iron Buddha and draws out rich, nutty autumn fruit flavours making it a heavier and more warming drink than both Ali Shan and the floral style of Iron Buddha.
How does it compare to Wuyi Oolong?
Sometimes known as Yan Cha or Rock Tea, Wuyi Oolong teas are characterful, rich and very dark. The darkness comes not from oxidation but from baking (like in Traditional Iron Buddha). More heavily baked than Traditional Iron Buddha, the bake on our current batch of Huang Meigui Wuyi Oolong brings out light floral notes, sweet spice and autumnal flavours. This is a very different drink to Ali Shan. Ali Shan is green-ish and refreshing, grown in the lush mountains , whereas Wuyi has a deep amber infusion and dark mineral complexities - reflective of the rocky terroir that it comes from.
How does it compare to Phoenix Honey Orchid?
Staying within the oolong category and keeping fruitiness prominent, we might choose to drink Phoenix Honey Orchid. This tea is more oxidised than Ali Shan, up to 50%, making it a medium dark oolong. It is incredibly fragrant, with more complex aromas than Ali Shan. The fruit in Ali Shan is sweet, whereas in Phoenix it is sharp. The structured tannin and mouthfeel of Phoenix also provides a light bitterness of the type that might be relished in a light ale.
How does it compare to Jade Sword?
Given the green-ish nature of Ali Shan, it is useful to consider it alongside green teas. Jade Sword, a baked Chinese green tea, encompasses many typical high-quality green characteristics, including freshness, grassy and vegetal notes, with some roast and a sweet finish. As it is a green tea, the lack of oxidation concentrates the flavours, meaning it is light and refreshing, but without the thickness or fruit sweetness of Ali Shan. Whilst the Jin Xuan cultivar that Ali Shan uses gives the tea its thickness, Jade Sword is made from the Qunti Zhong cultivar which is more succulent in nature. This succulence offsets the grassy and umami flavours. Jade Sword also gives a light, more green refreshment than Ali Shan.
How does it compare to Shimen Green Mountain?
Shimen Green Mountain is an early spring green tea. Although it is also described as having thickness, an incredible refreshing quality and abundant floral aromas, it is very different to Ali Shan. It has a complex delicacy that is only found in the best spring green teas. The Ali Shan National Park is subtropical, and the winter batch is made from leaves that have had the climate and time to grow big and heavy, a leaf style that lends itself to a thick, fruity drink. Although also coming from considerable altitude (1,000m) our Shimen Green Mountain is a bud-only tea. The small buds that shoot through very early in spring are delicate but packed full of the spring-fresh flavours. The floral notes are more fleeting compared to Ali Shan, but are celebrated for their scarcity and underpinned by light citrus notes. You will enjoy both Ali Shan and Shimen if you like thick, light and refreshing teas. The delicate nature of Shimen means that it needs more care to prepare in order to gently draw out the floral notes. Made with much cooler water, it delivers a different refreshment to Ali Shan - one to be savoured and noticed.