Alishan Competition Fine Grade Qing Xin Oolong (阿里山青心烏龍) is a top grade oolong from the famous Alishan tea growing area of Taiwan. Made from the Qing Xin (青心), or Green Heart cultivar, it has a smooth profile that is both floral and creamy. As stipulated in competition rules, this oolong undergoes very light baking that brings out complexities of the tea without overshadowing the floral aspect of the Qing Xin cultivar. This particular tea is from the spring 2018 crops and was entered into competition held in May 2018.
We were lucky this year to acquire a small amount of this Alishan Competition ‘Fine Grade’ Qing Xin Oolong with the help of a tea master in Taiwan. Every year in Taiwan, local competitions are held to determine the best teas of that season. This particular tea took part in the Alishan Farmers’ Association competition in 2018 and achieved a Fine Grade. Specifically, it means that from 733 Alishan Qing Xin Oolong teas that took part this year, about 60% have been awarded a grade. The grading is split, with 20 teas winning First Grade, 31 teas winning Second Grade, 45 teas winning Third Grade. The rest of the 60% of graded teas are judged to be Fine Grade.
Taiwan tea competitions work somewhat differently to many others. When a farmer submits a tea for competition, 22 jin of tea is submitted for judging, one jin being equal to just over 600 grams. From that 1 jin is used specifically for judging and 1 jin is used for sampling. Upon presenting the awards, the remaining 20 jin, or 12 kilograms of tea, of all awarded teas are sealed with competition seals signifying the competition and the grade achieved. This labelling makes sure that there is no possible counterfeiting or reselling of inferior tea as ‘competition’ tea. The 12 kilograms of each graded tea is then auctioned off. The best grades of tea do resell for astronomical prices. In many cases the best graded teas are bought by very wealthy individuals or large corporates seeking free publicity from paying exorbitant sums of money for the top teas of the year.
This Competition Grade Qing Xin Oolong from Alishan has tightly rolled leaves that produce a yellow green liquor that is clear and very bright. The liquor has a light floral aroma with creamy and slightly baked notes that are representative of the light baking (roasting) that this tea undergoes. The smooth balanced profile is creamy, buttery and floral. The clean floral notes have a baked edge to them, making them most similar to sweet scent of alpine meadow flowers. The complexity of this tea definitely exhibits layers of flavours, with sweet floral notes at the start, followed by middle notes that are creamier and more baked and finishing on freshly tart notes and a lingering floral aftertaste. Interestingly we think that most of the floral notes tend to reside at the top of the palate and in the vapours of the tea while the flavours on the tongue providing a creamier base note.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste and should be brewed multiple times, increasing steeping time with each brew if desired.