People often ask: is the higher altitude, the better the tea?
To answer this question, we have to understand the influence of altitude to tea, and what are the factors for a good tea.
Why does people like alpine tea? Some senior tea lovers might say: cause it tastes sweeter, and with fuller body. That is because the big temperature difference between day and night in high altitude makes the tea trees grow slower, thicker in body, and thus accumulate more organic matters and pectin. Besides, the mist in the mountain reduces the amount of direct sun light, therefore increase the amino acid in the tealeaves. The sweetness we taste comes from the amino acid, while the fuller body of the brew comes from the pectin in tea leaves. If we take these as sole quality of a nice tea, we failed the efforts of great tea makers made.
Tea tree breed and geometrical advantages of growing are just part of the influential factors. The time and way of harvesting tea leaves, the length/strength of withering, and the complex process of tossing, fixation, rolling drying, fermentation… etc. are all influential factors for a nice tea. There’s too much to control in every step of tea making.
Take Oolong for example, the most amazing characters are the richness and diversity of aroma, flavor and after taste. While all these flower scent, ripe fruit fragrance, and the sweetness are from the fermentation process. Sufficient fermentation transfers tea polyphenol that brings the bitterness and astringency to carbohydrate and aroma. However, the key to fermentation is sunlight, which can only be waited for, not asked for in the mountain. This is why the so-called high altitude tea often lacks of fermentation; the aroma can be strong in the first brew, but releases quickly, leaves the rest brews tasteless. Also, too much tea polyphenol can cause the astringency and hurts stomach.
Therefore, the altitude is definitely not the only criteria for a good tea. High altitude can be both advantage and disadvantage at the same time, by no means can we ignore the importance of other tea making process.