Taiwanese high mountain oolongs are delightfully complex in their composition, lending themselves to wonderful gongfu cha sessions, where snapshots of different moments in the tea’s exposition are revealed with the development of each steep. Fresh and uplifting, sweet and floral, complex and unpredictable, all at once—these aspects mix together to form high mountain oolong’s nameless essential quality.
That’s about all there is to say about high mountain oolong, translation: it’s delicious and has a very healthy energy to it. These lightly oxidized marvels have transformed the oolong trade more than any other recent innovation, and it’s consistent quality is hard to match. Both their qi and flavor are expansive, opening and filling the space as the characteristically tightly curled balls of tea unravel and fill the pot or gaiwan. Tasting their elixir transports you straight to the mist covered mountains where sages breathe in deep the vapors of life.
In the spectrum of things, high mountain oolong is relatively light, bright, fruity, fragrant and sweet. Compared to other light oolongs though, they are also incredibly complex. They get their potency and complexity not through roasting but from the elements, notably the dramatic diurnal shifts in temperature at high elevations. As a result, they are extremely elegant. I feel relaxed just thinking about them. And, there is plenty of nuanced variation within the field of high mountain oolong, given their general character.
Although they are elegant, sometimes even effervescent, they can also be bold. The fruit of “fruity” is often citrus, but sometimes something more tropical stands in front. Other times notes of leafy green vegetables make a showing. While fruity is the norm, floral is the frequent exception. Fragrant is expected, but a predominant minerality is a common surprise, and a spiced quality a much less common one. The mouth feeling that high mountain tea is so praised for is buttery and sometimes milky, but others are clear and crisp like swimming in a lake in the heat of late summer. I love to find one that defies all such categories, completely indescribably quenching—it’s called the sweet nectar.