常有朋友問起,茶的海拔愈高品質愈好,是不是真的?要解答這個問題,大家得先了解,高海拔對於茶葉的影響,以及成就一支好茶有哪些要素?

首先,為什麼大家喜歡高海拔?許多老茶友會回答:「因為比較甘甜,口感厚實。」,沒錯,因為高海拔地區日夜溫差大,夜晚的低溫減緩呼吸作用,使茶樹生長較慢、較厚實,累積了較多有機質和果膠;而高山雲霧和緩了部分日照,有利於茶葉中胺基酸的形成。胺基酸是茶湯中「甘」味的來源,而果膠豐富,則造成濃稠的口感。但說到這,大家如果以為這就叫「好茶」,就太愧對一位位辛苦製茶的師傅們了!

一支茶,從樹種、生長環境、茶菁的選擇、採摘方式、時間,委凋發酵的時間、強度、攪拌浪青的力道、殺青、乾燥、發酵、團揉,每個環節都是大學問,有太多太多一言難盡的因素影響成品的好壞。

台灣烏龍茶最迷人的便是豐富的香氣、口感與喉韻的轉化。而這些花香、果香、入口的甘甜,都來自於足夠的發酵將苦澀的茶多酚轉換為帶甜味的醣類物質與香氣物質。然而大家還記得嗎?高海拔地區雲霧多、日照短,天氣多變,如果辛苦採回了茶菁卻突然下雨,或太陽早早下山,一支好茶便功虧一簣,這也是為什麼,市場一窩蜂追求的高海拔茶,經常發酵度不足,僅存在高沸點香氣物質,在第一泡釋放殆盡後,毫無底韻可言,更別說多酚含量過高,「菁味」重又傷胃。

因此,海拔高度絕不是判斷茶好壞的單一標準,甚至它是優勢也可能是劣勢。高海拔茶像是含著金湯匙出生的孩子,有絕佳的先天條件,然而,臺灣烏龍的魅力,像是一位中年的成功企業家,造就他的除了出身背景,更是人生歷練。

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.