New direction for Taiwan Oolong


Owes its flavors to oxidation levels between green & black tea.

New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby Herb_Master » Feb 7th, '11, 12:33

Hojo has observed that many Taiwan Oolong drinkers start with cheap low altitude -and go higher and higher up the price and altitude chain then give up and stop drinking altogether. He approached some teamakers who were observing the same issue, and some of them may try and differentiate their teas in alternative ways. I commented on the similarities that could be drawn with French wine appelations - where the whole appellation would have a broad 'style', and he hoped that Taiwan would go the same way developing a style for the 'terroir' rather than pushing the altitude factor alone.

Low altitude DongDing is a cheap tea in both price and quality - but only because they are still trying to mimic the high altitude teas as best they can, and will never succeed.

The full fermentation/oxidisation Dong Ding that I tried at Hojo's sure seems like a winner to me.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby the_economist » Feb 7th, '11, 13:23

interesting...what's the opinion of the vendors regarding why people stop drinking the highest altitude taiwan teas?
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tingjunkie » Feb 7th, '11, 13:33

Yes indeed, you can't make a Loire Valley grape into a Bordeaux wine, so why process low elevation Dong Ding in the same way as Ali Shan. Makes perfect sense.

The part I don't understand is why these vendors think people stop drinking Taiwanese oolong once they've climbed the price/quality ladder? Maybe they feel high quality gao shan doesn't have the same depth of character as a high quality Anxi TGY in the same price range? I know I've been a bit underwhelmed with most gao shan I've tried this past year, but then again I've had some amazing ones in the past too.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby shah82 » Feb 7th, '11, 15:30

Gaoshan tea is an expensive fashion statement, first of all. To me, it seems that in east asia, tea is a "thing" they're supposed to do in order to be refined. If people in general appreciated refined things, McDonalds wouldn't survive. Instant coffee wouldn't survive either. Good things are widely appreciated when they are cheap. I would also wonder about which crowd we're talking about. Just Taiwanese? Westerners? I mean, on the interwebs, there was a short burst of fascination with dancongs, which since petered out to a low current of interest. I'm also wondering whether if it's the lightness itself is an issue. Would you pay money for the lightest of cotton candies or the heaviest of fruit cakes, given roughly similar quality of make? I wouldn't know, much more interested in roasted oolongs than green tea oolongs.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby teaisme » Feb 7th, '11, 16:52

tingjunkie wrote:why these vendors think people stop drinking Taiwanese oolong once they've climbed the price/quality ladder? Maybe they feel high quality gao shan doesn't have the same depth of character as a high quality Anxi TGY in the same price range? I know I've been a bit underwhelmed with most gao shan I've tried this past year, but then again I've had some amazing ones in the past too.


or maybe most vendors just can't source the genuine high quality oolongs as easily anymore since demand became so high, maybe people got desperate to meet demand and more lackluster products started to emerge to fill in the gaps
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby Tead Off » Feb 7th, '11, 23:46

tingjunkie wrote:The part I don't understand is why these vendors think people stop drinking Taiwanese oolong once they've climbed the price/quality ladder? Maybe they feel high quality gao shan doesn't have the same depth of character as a high quality Anxi TGY in the same price range? I know I've been a bit underwhelmed with most gao shan I've tried this past year, but then again I've had some amazing ones in the past too.


I think something is amiss in the translation of this statement. It doesn't make sense to me at all. Taiwan teas can never be Anxi teas and I think most of us drink both because of the different characters that they have. At least I do. The kind of fruit and aroma that gaoshan teas have make them unique. Whey they are good, they are really good. Great TGY is wonderful and unique, too. But, most people would never confuse the two through taste or smell. So, it's hard for me to accept the statement that people stop drinking them once they climb the price/quality ladder. Maybe they are not serious drinkers to begin with, just dabblers.

I don't think this year was a very good year for tea in general. I have also not been overwhelmed by the gaoshans this year compared to years past.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby iannon » Feb 7th, '11, 23:52

I think I agree on this year vs last year..I found this years not to have as much depth or the same longevity as the same ones I ad from the same vendor the previous year
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tingjunkie » Feb 8th, '11, 01:28

Tead Off wrote:But, most people would never confuse the two through taste or smell. So, it's hard for me to accept the statement that people stop drinking them once they climb the price/quality ladder. Maybe they are not serious drinkers to begin with, just dabblers.


Just pointing out that I wasn't the one who made the statement about people stopping their consumption of gao shan. :wink: I have no data on that one way or the other.

I agree with you that gao shan and light roast Anxi TGY are different teas, each of which having their own unique characteristics and strengths. But then again, they are both rolled and lightly roasted mountain oolongs, so there are some similarities to be found as well. Getting back to the wine analogy, some regions just have an exaggerated reputation (Bordeaux or Napa for example), which results in many wines from those regions being a poor "bang for the buck." Perhaps we are seeing the same trend in the world of oolong, and the price/quality ratio for gao shan is not so terrific? I'm not even saying this is my stance, but just playing devil's advocate. I have had some mindblowing Da Yu Lings and Ali Shans that represented terrific value, but those are seemingly hard to find lately in my opinion. :cry:
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tenuki » Feb 8th, '11, 02:48

groundless speculation is always the most fun, isn't it?
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby Herb_Master » Feb 8th, '11, 07:18

The wine analogy I proposed to Hojo was not suggesting the high end wines that hold a cachet from their name and a subsequent cost increase.


More to do with selecting a Cahors or a Chinon, a Fleurie or a Corbieres, a Madiran or a Buzet. You would not think of comparing them because they are such different styles. You would not move from one to another and not go back if you preferred one. They all fit different moods and make great partners to different food items. yet all these appelations have a myriad of small producers that choose different blends of grapes, and wine production and storage methods within the appellation rules to produce sometimes subtle variations and sometimes distinct characters all within the appellation style. Searching out different producers and vintages is as much fun as buyingt and tasting tea.

In the 60's most of the wines from Australia and South Africa plus a good deal of USA wine was labelled as a European- e.g. Australian Bordeaux, South African Sherry, Washington Burgundy. They made small headway. When protection legislation banned the use of these protected names, the new World wine producers were afraid the market would not touch them - on the contrary they started to make use of the varietal names and instead of mimicing french wines they discovered they had avery good product if they allowed their superior technology to produce wines expressing the land and climate wherer they were grown. From then on New World wines took off like never before.

With Taiwan what Hojo wants is similar, instead of trying to imitate the highest mountain teas - all mountains of whatever altitude should try to produce a unique character for their mountain - not a competitor to the high mountain teas but one to be preferred when time and mood request it.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tingjunkie » Feb 8th, '11, 22:18

Herb_Master wrote:With Taiwan what Hojo wants is similar, instead of trying to imitate the highest mountain teas - all mountains of whatever altitude should try to produce a unique character for their mountain - not a competitor to the high mountain teas but one to be preferred when time and mood request it.


Maybe I just don't know enough about Taiwanese tea production, but I was not aware that this system is not already in place. :shock:

In my experience, when dealing with reputable high end vendors, I have always seen a great deal of openness and honesty about a tea's origin and pedigree (mountain, region, village, elevation, name of the farmer, etc.). In other words, reputable vendors are not going to source an oolong from Nantou and tell you it's from Ali Shan, so I think the consumer does have the ability to learn each tea's terroir through tasting and experience if they so desire.

I think any tea farmers who are respected and highly regarded as masters of their art will always listen to the terroir and form a relationship with the leaf to bring out its best qualities. It's only in lower quality, or mass produced teas that I would worry about people attempting to force a tea leaf into something it isn't, or misrepresenting the tea's true origin.

So, if Hojo wants to see more emphasis placed on each region's unique terroir, isn't it simply a matter of seeking out the most skilled and dedicated tea farmers of a particular area, and then promoting that location when he sells the tea? Hasn't it been under his control all along? If I am misreading the original point, please do correct me.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby Herb_Master » Feb 8th, '11, 22:41

I think Hojo was stressing the problem being partly to the tea drinker who is educated to believe that the higher the altitude the better the tea, so if starting with a low altitude tea and liking it, then a higher altitude tea and liking it more, and then the highest altitude and liking them best will never go back to the first 2 teas and eventually many drop out of tea drinking altogether.

He sees the problem as being magnified by retailers who promote some of their teas as being as good as the highest altitude teas in order to increase markup, reinforcing the notion that the high altitude is the only thing that matters and by farmer/teamakers who try and produce teas in the shadow style of the high altitude teas. He believes each mountain/region should aim for their own identity rather than mimic the others.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tingjunkie » Feb 8th, '11, 22:48

Ok, I can see the logic in those points. Personally, I like having a market stuffed with poorly educated tea drinkers! That leaves for the possibility of finding good and undervalued deals for me. :D
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby Tead Off » Feb 8th, '11, 23:04

Herb_Master wrote:I think Hojo was stressing the problem being partly to the tea drinker who is educated to believe that the higher the altitude the better the tea, so if starting with a low altitude tea and liking it, then a higher altitude tea and liking it more, and then the highest altitude and liking them best will never go back to the first 2 teas and eventually many drop out of tea drinking altogether.

He sees the problem as being magnified by retailers who promote some of their teas as being as good as the highest altitude teas in order to increase markup, reinforcing the notion that the high altitude is the only thing that matters and by farmer/teamakers who try and produce teas in the shadow style of the high altitude teas. He believes each mountain/region should aim for their own identity rather than mimic the others.


It does seem that the consumer is educated to believe that the higher altitude teas are the best. Is it just marketing or is there some truth to it? One of the unique qualities of Taiwan gaoshan is the altitude, climactic conditions of certain areas, and, soil conditions. They taste differently compared to other gaoshan, for example, Anxi, or high mountain teas grown in Darjeeling (some labeled oolong, some even rolled). These do seem the best teas to me.

But, the other Taiwan oolongs like Dong Ding, Bao Zhong, Bai Hao, and, even Jin Xuan, already have their own identities and are produced emphasizing their particular characteristics which are not of the high mountain kind. It seems to me there is a great variety of Taiwan oolong the drinker can choose from and if you live in Taiwan, you can even have access to the competition teas and keep up with many of the top tea masters and small farmers who are producing exceptional, small batches of tea.
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Re: New direction for Taiwan Oolong

Postby tingjunkie » Feb 8th, '11, 23:19

I agree, elevation is a very valid and important part of gao shan quality, but too many people think it is the end all be all.
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