What is Alishan tea? Here Are Common Types, Benefits, And Origin

When I first discovered the world of teas, I was immediately drawn to the captivating allure of Alishan Tea. Also affectionately known as Ali Shan, this exquisite tea hails from the Alishan mountain range in Taiwan, a place renowned for its idyllic tea-growing conditions. 

Alishan Oolong

The high-altitude, misty weather, and fertile soils all work together, giving Alishan Tea distinct characteristics and allure. And trust me, once you’ve tasted it, you’ll understand why it’s revered by tea connoisseurs worldwide.

What is Alishan tea?

Alishan Tea is a type of Oolong, a special variant known as Alishan Oolong, which is grown in the picturesque region of Alishan in Chiayi County, Taiwan. This region isn’t just home to some of Taiwan’s most breathtaking natural beauty and one of the country’s critical hubs for tea production.

Alishan tea
Alishan tea

Perched at elevations ranging from 800 to 1400 meters, the tea gardens of Alishan are the epitome of high-mountain tea cultivation. With the gardens’ high-altitude conditions, the tea leaves take their time to grow, absorbing all the rich flavours from their environment, which lends a unique flavor profile to Alishan Tea.

The region’s pride lies in its representative tea products, including the delicate Qingxin Oolong Tea and the fragrant Jinxuan Oolong Tea. These tea variants are not just beverages but a testament to Taiwan’s rich tea culture and Alishan’s commitment to quality.

Now that we’ve unpacked what Alishan tea is let’s journey together to its high mountain birthplace.

About Alishan High Mountain

Arguably the crowned jewel of Taiwan’s high mountain Oolongs (or, as the locals say, ‘gao shan cha’), you’ll find Alishan Tea in almost every corner of the Taiwanese tea market. It’s the first choice for most vendors when showcasing the smooth, creamy delights these high-elevation gardens yield.

The tea borrows its name from the mountain range it calls home, the renowned Alishan, which doubles as a tourist hotspot and a protected nature reserve. The local souvenir shops are brimming with Alishan Tea, a testament to its popularity. 

But here’s a little insider tip: the demand for this celebrated tea often surpasses supply. Therefore, your best bet to secure genuine Alishan is through a reliable vendor in the city or a trusted online source.

But don’t rush: take your time to explore the world of Alishan Tea Taiwan. Most specialised vendors, especially those overseas, offer a remarkable range of Alishan teas. Each variant has unique charms, so why stop at just one Alishan?

Having explored the beautiful terrain of Alishan, it’s time to dive into how this unique environment shapes Alishan tea flavour.

Terroir –  the growing conditions and how this affects the tea

Like its high mountain oolong counterparts, Alishan owes its distinctive characteristics to the challenging high-elevation growing conditions. 

The steep landscapes, the alternating dance of blinding sunlight and thick, cool fog, and the night’s chill test the tea plants’ resilience. These conditions cause the plants to grow slower, leading to a sweeter yield. Compared to lower-elevation teas, these high-altitude varieties produce fewer bitter polyphenols, resulting in a lower bitterness in the cup.

The native scenery of Alishan is a mesmerising canvas of coniferous pine forests, cradled in the richness of spodosol soils. Con connoisseurs and tea enthusiasts often highlight Alishan’s distinctive fertile red soil, a testament to the area’s rich biodiversity.

Alishan’s terrain spans a range of peaks and valleys, each harbouring its unique microclimate. From the relatively warmer foothills that produce bolder teas to the fog-laden slopes nestled deep in the mountain range, mount alishan presents a broad spectrum of tea profiles.

Typically, the higher the elevation and the further away from bustling tourist spots, the more desirable the tea. One can easily discern a difference between Alishan teas grown in large, terraced fields near the main highway and those cultivated closer to the forest line, immersed in tranquillity.

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Understanding how terroir influences our tea naturally leads us to wonder about the rich history of Alishan Oolong Tea.

History of Alishan Oolong Tea

While Alishan Oolong has garnered worldwide acclaim, it’s fascinating to know that its history of tea cultivation is short. Though the Han immigrants planted tea in Taiwan sporadically over centuries, it was in the 1970s that tea cultivation became more widespread.

Alisha Oolong

This period coincided with Taiwan’s transformation into an industrial and commercial social structure. The rising costs of labour and land acquisition meant Taiwanese tea could no longer be exported on a large scale as before. Nevertheless, this structural shift boosted the national GDP.

Around the 1960s, former President Jiang Zhongzheng’s visit to Lishan and his admiration for Gaoshan Oolong inspired a concerted effort from the government, academia, and producers to identify suitable sites for high-quality oolong tea cultivation.

Wu Zhenduo’s research found that most world-class a li shan tea producing regions lie approximately 50 kilometres from the Tropic of Cancer, and Alishan fits perfectly into this bracket.

Alishan Oolong tea

Hence, around the 1970s, promotional activities and pilot plantations kicked off in the tea gardens of Meishan Township, gradually expanding to encompass the entire Alishan District.

Thanks to the excellent natural conditions in Alishan and consumer affection, a myriad of Alishan tea brand names have emerged. Merchants and farmers stake unique claims to Alishan oolong, Alishan Zhulu, Shizhuo tea, and Zhuqi tea.

However, the influx of tourists and rising tea competition have opened doors for unscrupulous practices. Around the 1990s, consumers started questioning varying Alishan tea prices, inconsistent quality, and authenticity.

From its historical roots, let’s explore the variety of Alishan teas and their unique characteristics.

What are the main types of Alishan Tea

Alishan High Mountain Oolong

Alishan High Mountain Oolong, as locally known, 阿里山高山茶, is perhaps the quintessential Alishan tea. This lightly oxidised, pearl-rolled oolong features a delicate touch of roast. This roasting process, while subtle, acts as a perfect finish, lending a unique depth to the tea’s overall flavour.

Zhu Lu Tea

Zhu Lu, the 阿里山珠露茶, is one of the two renowned sub-regions in Alishan. This area, located near Shizhao Village in Zhu Qi Township, is celebrated for producing teas with a robust aroma. With its expansive 120 hectares, it plays a significant role in the local tea production.

Zhang Shu Hu

The other famed sub-region is Zhang Shu Hu, or 樟树湖高山茶, nestled near the serene Zhang Shu Lake. Like Zhu Lu, this area contributes significantly to the distinctive tapestry of Alishan teas.

Deep Roast Alishan

Alishan also boasts the unique Deep Roast Alishan, known as 重焙火阿里山高山茶. This tea variety is relatively uncommon, given the intricate process involved in creating a balance between high mountain tea’s light, airy character and a strong roast. But when executed correctly, the resultant Deep Roast Alishan exudes a magnificent sweetness and well-developed flavour profile.

Speaking of the different types, have you ever wondered what Alishan tea tastes like?

What does Alishan tea taste like?

Ali Shan tea

One sip of Ali mountain tea will reveal a symphony of flavors – it is layered, subtly floral, and leaves a slightly sweet aftertaste lingering on your palate. 

You’ll notice a herbaceous and floral aroma that many have compared to fragrant flowers like orchids, roses, or even jasmine. The flavor profile is equally intricate, often with fruity undertones reminiscent of peaches.

You’ll find two dominant cultivars of tea leaves used for Alishan oolong tea: Golden Lily (also known as Jinxuan or 金萱) and Qingxin (青心). The first has a smooth texture resembling milk, while the second is praised for its stronger taste, combining sweetness, fruity hints, and powerful floral undertones.

While the best Alishan tea is lightly roasted, adding a toasty depth to the flavor, many are left unroasted to retain a greener, vegetal taste.

Recently, I got my hands on two variants of Alishan High Mountain Tea from Eco-Cha, a Taiwan-based supplier I swear by. They specialize in artisanal teas sourced responsibly from small, family-run farms prioritizing eco-friendly cultivation methods.

Their Alishan High Mountain Jinxuan Tea (top photo) and Alishan High Mountain Qingxin Tea (bottom photo) have a unique charm.

I have developed a great fondness for Eco-Cha, largely because of Andy, the owner, who takes the time to build relationships with the tea farmers they work with. The photos below are from my tea collection.

Besides its unique taste, let’s discover the health benefits that Alishan tea brings to your daily life.

Alishan Tea Key Benefits For You

Reduce Heart Health

Alishan Tea, particularly its oolong variant, is semi-oxidized, resulting in a polyphenol molecule known to activate the lipase enzyme.

Lipase plays a crucial role in metabolising and dissolving body fat, which can aid in lowering cholesterol levels. This unique characteristic positions Alishan Tea as a potent ally in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Energizing Your Daily Routine

There’s more to Alishan Tea than meets the eye. It is found that those who regularly enjoy a cup of this Oolong tea have higher production rates of anti-bacterial proteins, indicating a stronger immune response when combating infections. 

Thus, Alishan Tea boosts energy and fortifies your immune system, helping you feel more invigorated and resilient.

The Anti-Cancer Factor

Further fortified by antioxidant flavonoids, Alishan Tea is a protective shield, preventing cellular damage and lowering cancer risk.

Teeth and Skin Protection

Did you know that Oolong tea leaves contain fluoride, like those in Alishan Tea? This essential mineral is renowned for its cavity-fighting properties, promoting healthier teeth. 

Beyond oral health, Alishan Tea takes care of your skin too. It’s known to suppress allergic reactions affecting the skin by combating free radicals, aiding in maintaining a healthy, glowing complexion.

Useful for Weight Loss 

This refreshing tea stokes your metabolism, elevating it for up to two hours post-consumption. 

But it doesn’t stop there! Oolong contains polyphenols that effectively block enzymes responsible for fat accumulation, providing an added layer to your weight management strategy.

Building Stronger Bones

Regular drinkers are often found to have a higher bone mineral density. This means they are more likely to retain vital minerals from their diet, promoting overall skeletal strength and health.

Does Alishan tea have caffeine?

Yes! Alishan tea, known for its moderate caffeine content, contains roughly 40 mg per cup. The degree of oxidation in tea plays a significant role in determining its caffeine level: green tea, being the least oxidised, contains minimal caffeine, while black tea, which is fully oxidised, packs a hefty dose. 

Taiwan Alishan tea

Sitting between these extremes, oolong tea, including Alishan, boasts a moderate caffeine. 

Consequently, a cup of Alishan provides an ideal energy boost for those with a low caffeine tolerance without triggering jitters. However, it’s crucial to consult your doctor before incorporating it into your diet, especially if you have underlying heart conditions.

Now, allow me to share my guide on how to brew the perfect cup of Taiwan Alishan Tea.

How to make Taiwan Alishan Tea – My Guide

A Li Shan tea

Last week, I spent some quality time brewing a delicious cup of Ali Shan tea. Here’s my brief guide:

  1. Gather your essentials: 5 grams of Alishan tea leaves, a ceramic teapot, a thermometer, a timer, a tea strainer, and spring or filtered water.
  2. Preheat the teapot: Rinse the teapot with hot water to preheat it. This step helps to bring out the full flavour of the tea leaves.
  3. Measure the tea leaves: Place the 5 grams of Ali Shan tea leaves into the preheated teapot.
  4. Heat the water: Bring the water to a temperature of 85-90°C (185-194°F). Use the thermometer to ensure the right temperature.
  5. Rinse the leaves: Pour enough hot water over the tea leaves to cover them, let them sit for about 5 seconds, and then discard this water. This quick rinse prepares the leaves for brewing.
  6. Brew the tea: Pour the rest of the hot water over the tea leaves in the teapot. Set the timer for 45 seconds to 1 minute for the first infusion.
  7. Strain and serve: Pour the tea through the tea strainer into a cup, leaving the last few drops in the teapot. This helps to enrich the flavour of the next infusion.

Following these steps, I had a fantastic cup of Alishan tea with its iconic floral aroma and sweet taste. I hope this helps you in your brewing journey!

Thanks from spiriteadrinks.com

Before we wrap up, let’s tackle some of the most common questions about Alishan tea in my FAQs below.


Is Alishan tea green tea?

No, Alishan tea is not green tea but Oolong tea. Originating from the Alishan region in Taiwan, this semi-oxidized tea blends the rich flavors of black tea with the freshness of green tea, creating a uniquely layered taste profile.

Which part of Taiwan is Alishan?

Alishan is situated in Chiayi County in the southwestern part of Taiwan. Known for its breathtaking landscapes, this high mountain area is home to the renowned Alishan tea plantations, producing one of Taiwan’s most exquisite Oolong teas.

How is Alishan tea produced?

Alishan tea undergoes a meticulous process that includes withering, shaking, fermentation, and drying. This meticulous cultivation and production process, combined with Alishan’s unique climate, contributes to the tea’s distinct flavour.

Can I drink Alishan tea every day?

Yes, you can drink Alishan tea daily. Its rich polyphenol content offers numerous health benefits, making it a good addition to a balanced diet. However, moderation is key, as excessive consumption can lead to caffeine-related side effects.