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The Secret of High Mountain Tea's Superiority

The ancients' perception of mountain tea

About 800 years ago, in the "Records of the Eastern Studio东斋纪事" by Fan Zhen范镇 during the Song Dynasty宋, he expressed, "The tea produced in the area around Mount Meng in the elegant province of Shu(蜀, now Sichuan四川) is the finest. The tea there grows the latest, usually emerging between spring and summer. Often, the area is shrouded in mist and clouds, as if divine entities were protecting it."

Records of the Eastern Studio-Orientaleaf
Records of the Eastern Studio by Fan Zhen  during the Song Dynasty

Since the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279), the Chinese have recognized the superiority of tea from high mountains. This knowledge, dating back centuries, has become a famous saying among tea enthusiasts in China: "Good tea comes from high mountains and clouds(高山云雾出好茶)."

The tea garden in the misty and cloudy Shaohua Mountain of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi-Orientaleaf
The tea room in the misty and cloudy Shaohua Mountain of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi

What are the mountain teas?

In Taiwan, oolong tea is primarily evaluated based on the altitude of the growing region, a practice rooted in this historical understanding of tea quality.

Also, there are:

  • Emeishan tea has tender leaves and a fresh, refreshing aftertaste.

  • Huangshan Maofeng, with a slightly curly appearance, shaped like a sparrow's tongue, yellowish in green, with silver hairs exposed, and with golden fish leaves, with a mellow and sweet taste and an orchid-like aroma.

  • Lushan Yunwu tea has thick and robust tea strips, is green and has many hairs, is a bright tea soup color, has a long-lasting and intense aroma, and has a mellow and sweet taste.

  • Lapsang Souchong in Wuyishan has a unique pine smoke aroma and longan soup flavor.

  • The ancient tree tea in Jingmai Mountain in Yunnan has a prominent aroma and a robust wild atmosphere. Its long-lasting fragrance at the bottom of the cup is evident, and its sweetness is evident and durable.

  • Also, there is  Hanzhong Xianhao, produced in the Qinling Mountains,  Ziyang Selenium-enriched Tea,  Fu Brick Tea, and  black tea that uses the same original leaves as green tea, all of which are incredibly high quality and relatively reasonable prices.

  •  Fuding white tea, like the white tea in Taimu Mountain, is of excellent quality. It has a fresh, clean, downy aroma, a yellowish-green, clear tea soup color, and a light, sweet aftertaste.

What Are the Differences Between Mountain Tea and Regular Tea?

First and foremost, high-mountain tea leaves are thicker and more robust. This is because they grow in high-altitude environments with more excellent sunlight and temperature variations, conditions that lead to slower but healthier growth. This environment also imparts an exceptionally delicate, long-lasting, and rich aroma to high mountain tea, sometimes with unique floral and fruity notes. In comparison, the aroma of plain tea or so-called terrace tea tends to be more subdued, making high mountain tea a truly intriguing choice for tea enthusiasts.

Mountain tea garden in Yunnan-Orientaleaf
Mountain tea garden in Yunnan

High mountain tea is a true delight for the taste buds, offering a rich, refreshing taste with distinct layers and a lingering aftertaste. In contrast, plain tea often falls short with its thinner flavor and lack of complexity or depth. The superiority of high mountain tea is further evident in its durability when brewed, maintaining a good flavor even after multiple infusions. This starkly contrasts plain tea, which tends to lose its flavor more quickly. These differences in flavor and durability make high mountain tea a superior and highly valued choice for enthusiasts, promising a truly satisfying tea experience.

The ancient high-mountain tea trees in Jingmai.-Orientaleaf
The ancient high-mountain tea trees in Jingmai

Moreover, the pristine, less human-impacted environments in which high mountain tea is grown ensure the tea leaves are of superior quality and cleanliness. However, the production of high mountain tea, primarily at very high altitudes, often needs to be improved due to lower yields and higher demand, resulting in a more premium price.

The connotative substances in high-mountain tea leaves are more abundant-Orientaleaf
The connotative substances in high-mountain tea leaves are more abundant

Why is mountain tea better?

The differences in tea production between plain and mountainous regions are primarily related to climate, altitude, soil, and water quality.

Temperature: As altitude increases, temperatures generally decrease. The relatively lower temperatures contribute to tea plants' slow growth, extending tea leaves' growth cycle. This allows the tea plants to absorb nutrients from the soil more effectively, resulting in a more prosperous chemical composition. The lower temperature also aids in accumulating amino acids and aromatic substances in tea leaves.

Sunlight Exposure: In higher altitude areas, the tea plants are bathed in prolonged sunlight and intense solar radiation, a natural process that enhances the color and freshness of tea leaves. This connection to nature is what makes high-altitude tea so unique and intriguing.

Atmospheric Pressure: The relatively lower atmospheric pressure in high-altitude regions assists in generating and preserving volatile substances in tea leaves. These substances include the aromatic components of tea leaves, contributing to the enhanced fragrance typically found in tea from high-altitude areas.

Soil Quality: High-altitude regions boast fertile soil with a rich mineral and nutrient content. This unique soil quality is a boon for tea plants, enhancing their growth and nutrient absorption. The result is a tea with a rich taste and a flavor profile that is distinctly its own.

Temperature Variation: Large temperature variations between day and night in high-altitude regions contribute to the accumulation of amino acids in tea leaves, enhancing the freshness and flavor of the tea.

Climate Conditions: Ideal climate conditions for tea plant growth typically include warm and humid conditions with distinct seasons. Mountainous areas provide favorable conditions for tea plant growth due to their higher altitude, moderate temperatures, and significant day-night temperature differences. In contrast, the lower altitude and higher temperatures in plain regions may be less conducive to developing certain high-mountain teas.

Altitude: Most premium tea is grown at relatively high altitudes because of the favorable temperature and fresh air in these areas, which contribute to the growth and development of tea plants. Plains may need to be more suitable for cultivating certain high-mountain teas due to their lower altitude and relatively higher temperatures.

Soil Texture: Tea plants have specific soil requirements, usually favoring loose, well-aerated, and organically rich acidic soils. Mountainous soils typically better suit the growth of tea plants, while soils in plain regions may be more diverse and only sometimes meet the requirements for tea plant cultivation.

Water Quality: Water quality also influences tea quality. Streams in mountainous areas tend to be more explicit, providing a purer water source, while human activities and pollution may affect water sources in plain regions.

Some exceptions

Combining factors makes mountainous regions more suitable for tea plant growth, while plain areas are less favorable.

However, there are exceptions in some places conducive to tea cultivation.

These exceptions are often due to specific geographical and climatic conditions, such as a nearby mountain range providing shade and moisture or a unique microclimate miming high-altitude conditions.

The following are some notable plains in China where tea is successfully cultivated:

  1. Nanjing Plain, Jiangsu Province: The Nanjing Plain is one of China's major tea-producing regions, renowned for premium teas like Biluochun. The region's humid climate and suitable soil conditions contribute to the production of green tea.

  2. Yangzhou Plain, Jiangsu Province: The Yangzhou Plain is another important tea-producing area known for Jasmine tea and Taiping Houkui.

  3. Hangzhou Plain, Zhejiang Province: The Hangzhou Plain is a central production area for Longjing tea (Dragon Well green tea), considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese green tea. West Lake Longjing tea is a famous variety from this region.

These plain regions succeed in growing tea due to their generally humid climate, suitable soil, and unique conditions that impart distinct flavors and qualities to the tea leaves. Green tea is the predominant type in these areas, and the processing techniques exhibit unique characteristics.

Our Selected Teas From Qinling Mountain

Author: Cary Woo-Orientaleaf

Author: Cary Woo

Cary Woo has been working in the tea industry for over 10 years and has run a tea house for over 6 years, serving thousands of tea enthusiasts each year. He has a deep passion for various types of Chinese tea and is also the operator of Orientaleaf. He advocates for Orientaleaf's business philosophy: "We only sell tea that we have personally enjoyed and believe to be of high quality." He hopes to make the beauty of Chinese tea accessible to tea enthusiasts worldwide through simple means.

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