High altitude tea, also known as high mountain tea, is a term describing tea grown from 1000 meters above sea level to approximately 2600 meters. As a matter of fact, growing tea on high altitude mountain areas costs much more than planting on low altitudes. It is one of the reasons why prices of high mountain teas are proportional to its tea plantation altitude. One Taiwanese kg (1 Taiwanese kg is equal to 600 grams) of first grade high altitude tea can sell between 180 USD to 300 USD or more in the Taiwan market. Although it is expensive, Taiwan’s high altitude tea is still loved by the local tea drinker in Taiwan as well as tea drinkers internationally.
High altitude tea typically is more rich, smooth and fragrant and you can brew it more times before it loses its flavor. The popular representatives of Taiwan high altitude teas include Dayuling tea, Lishan tea, Shanlinxi tea, Alishan tea and Wuling tea.
There are certain advantages for high altitude tea plantation such as great amount of sun light, sufficient amount of rain, extreme temperature difference between day and night and heavily fertilized soils perfect to grow tea. Also, the high potential of foggy afternoons hinders and makes the production of first grade high altitude tea difficult.
During regular days, it doesn’t take extra efforts for tea farmers to take care of tea plantations. However, things are a lot tougher during the harvest seasons. Tea farmers often need to hire tea pickers which are paid by case by case basis with transportation included. Higher wages are paid as the higher the altitude of tea plantations. Normally, experienced pickers can collect around 3 to 5 Taiwanese kg of raw tea leaves per hour by hands. Tea picking begin really early in the morning. It is the best time for the tea pickers since raw tea leaves weigh more due to morning dew. However, the leaves picked during this time period is not the best in quality. First grade high altitude tea often requires raw tea leaves to be picked between 10AM to 3 PM. This is because the high temperature at noontime allows the leaves to hold less water. You may be wondering why doesn’t the tea pickers pick during just this time frame? The reality is that tea pickers are limited in quantity and are paid by the number of cases they can fill. If they are allowed to work only during the best picking time zone, which is the hottest parts of the day, they will not be able to pick enough raw tea leaves to make enough money.
First grade high altitude tea is not abundant because tea planting skills, tea processing skills, weather, location of tea plantation and seasons all affect the taste of tea. In the high altitude mountain areas, the afternoon weather usually becomes foggy. This allows for the withering of raw tea leaves, which is one of tea processing steps, to be more difficult and causes the leaves to be less fragrant.
The goal of growing tea in high altitude mountain locations is to produce richer and smoother quality teas. Even with the high labor costs and limited amount of quantities which seem unavoidable, the teas produced and picked from the high altitude locations is worth the added expense for the enjoyment and relaxation of the everyday tea drinker.
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