Ali Shan Tea - A Journey into Tribal Tea Growing Territory - part 1
As many of you know Taylor and I recently went on a sourcing trip to Taiwan to source teas less common here in the States. Mile for mile Taiwan offers some of the most unique tea growers, terroirs, and traditions surrounding tea. In todays travelogue we will dive into Ali Shan!
But first, a super abridged history of Taiwan:
Less known perhaps here in the west is that Taiwan has changed hands many times and has many remnants left on its tea culture there. Originally the sea levels were about 150m less than they are today and this formed a land bridge across the Taiwan straight into Fujian, China. Evidence dates back about 30,000 years showing evidence of the first migrations. In the 1500's the Kingdom of Spain established a port in northwestern Taiwan, and soon after the Dutch setup a fort to establish better trade routes with the Japanese and Chinese mainland.
The Dutch and aboriginal tribes ousted the Spanish colony in 1630 and the Dutch assumed control with the locals.
In the mid 1600's the Ming Dynasty in China was overwhelmed by opposing forces and crossed the Taiwan strait into Taiwan with their armies. They swiftly ousted the Dutch from power and soon assumed power over the island.
In 1895 following the treaty of the Japanese victory in the first Sino - Japanese war the Japanese took possession of the Island. The period of Japanese rule had three phases - it began as a time of oppression and paternalistic crackdown, the second phase was to assimilate all Taiwanese peoples as free subjects in a period known as Doka, and finally a third phase which attempted to make the Taiwanese official royal subjects of the Japanese emperor.
After World War 2 under the conditions of surrender Taiwan once again returned to China rule.
This is all necessary background for understanding the complexities of the Taiwanese Tea industry and its many facets.
Let's dive into Ali Shan! So Ali Shan is technically a national park - or a self described - 'Scenic Area,' it takes about 2 hours just to get from the base to the upper reaches of the mountain where our Anaiza Ali Shan comes from.
When we arrived in the village where the tribe we source from is based we are greeted by these greeters.
The garden we source from is the 2nd highest garden on Ali Shan - and this year was particularly strange. This is the first time in her family's history that they did not harvest until May in 2016.
Here is a few of the garden at the top:
After visiting the garden we went down a ways to see one of the Tea Master's at work doing the meticulous rolling process for the Ali Shan. The honey aroma in the air was so enchanting.
They roll the tea 7 times before the final drying.
This garden where we source from is organic and the little white papers are sticky papers where the bugs get stuck to when they normally bite the leaves. Organic is a hot topic in Taiwan right now.
There is also some people planting coffee in Ali Shan - the coffee is quite expensive and goes for $17 per lb.
We are actually releasing a tea that is grown in this garden under the shading of coffee trees. It's called the Huanna Small Leaf - more details to come.
We saw many aspects of Taiwanese tea culture from the spiritually motivated, to 5 generations of proud farmers, but this one of the most interesting. The tribal indigenous history of Taiwan as briefly highlighted earlier is one of the most compelling pieces of history from the very early days of the country.
More in depth articles will soon be coming out describing more of the growing process, terroir, and cultivars the gardens we work with are engaged in.
Until next time - Peace from Taiwan!