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Tea Review: Rishi Tea: Shan Lin Xi Gao Shan Cha

December 06, 2009

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Shan Lin Xi Gao Shan Cha

A while ago I reviewed a Formosa Shanlinxi high mountain oolong from auraTeas. Not terribly long after that I received a sample of Rishi Tea’s Shan Lin Xi Gao Shan Cha Oolong, and I was quite interested in finding out how different the teas would be from each other. They are both from the Shan Lin Xi region of Nantou, Taiwan, and I would expect they would have been processed using nearly identical methods, perhaps even by tea farmers who know each other. So I thought they would be almost indistinguishable.

Shan Lin Xi Gao Shan ChaBut I was mistaken. Unlike the oolong from auraTeas, which exhibited such a strong note of lemon grass, the oolong from Rishi had, as described in the company’s description, notes of evergreen. I was also aware of a flavor similar to thyme, which I can not remember ever associating with a tea before.

Part of Rishi’s description reads:

Shan-Lin-Xi is an independent and secluded area in Nantou. There is almost only one way in and out of the tea gardens. The tea from this garden has a flavor that is totally different from other areas in Taiwan. Because of the closed geography, the environmental humidity is very high and the weather changes so often. It’s so difficult to make good tea there during the rainy spring season so good Shan-Lin-Xi tea is sold at very high prices.

This tea is known as “Gao Shan Cha” or high mountain tea. It has a character that is best suited to gong fu brewing using a guywan. The tealeaves are tender and have a rich content of amino acids and aromatic essential oils. It is best to use water below boiling, about 190 degrees f to preserve the aroma.

It was an interesting opportunity to taste two teas that were this similar. Both teas are of high quality and are quite enjoyable to drink, but I am surprised at how different they are from each other. I think part of this may be attributed to the fact that Rishi’s Shan Lin Xi is more highly oxidized than auraTeas’ is, but it could also be due to the Qing Xin varietal that produces the leaves for Rishi’s oolong. Both, of course, are very green, lightly oxidized, high-mountain oolongs, much more similar in character to each other than to aged or darker Taiwanese oolong teas. From Rishi’s description:

This special batch is more fermented than usual giving it an alluring mouth feel. Its flavor and aroma is clear and pure with accents of fresh evergreen and wild flowers. It can be brewed many times and has a long lasting flavor and aroma that lingers on the palate and lsts for many infusions.

Note: Rishi Tea’s preparation instructions recommend a porcelain gaiwan, which I have also used for this tea. It was indeed a better brewing vessel than the glass gaiwan shown.

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