March 30, 2011

$25 Tea Lessons

Yesterday I purchased Li Shan (Lishan) Oolong (Taiwan) from a reputable tea merchant.  It was a whimsical purchase; I entered the tea shop to view the interior design.  I was offered a cup of tea (Sencha) and asked what type of tea I was looking to purchase.  I told the staff that I like Japanese greens (currently drinking a Gyokuro from Sullivan Street) and that Ro-tea likes dark, heavily oxidized oolongs.

I was offered to smell two Japanese greens and two oolongs.  I was pleased with the Scent of Mountain and purchased 2 ounces.  When I smelled the oolongs, neither smelled heavily roasted but I did not feel comfortable questioning the expertise of the staff.  I asked for a description of each and still neither sounded like the oolongs preferred by Ro-tea.  Finally I asked which was the darker, more roasted of the two, and the staff pointed to the Lishan Oolong.  I purchased 2 ounces, the minimum amount.

My jaw dropped -- figuratively -- at the register.  The oolong cost approximately $25 for 2 ounces or $140 per pound!

Image: Li Shan, third 1-minute steep, dry leaves, wet leaves

We steeped the oolong this morning.  It was an excellent; smooth and complex with layers of flowers, honey, cream, and conifers.  The nose was floral, maybe lilac or hyacinth.  However, it is a green oolong, not a highly roasted oolong.

I should have known that Lishan would not produce bold, dark, toasted flavors.  Lishan is a high mountain oolong. Lishan translates to pear mountain and is grown , specifically from Jade Mountain in the Taichung County of Taiwan. Lishan is lightly oxidized to maintain its floral characteristics.  I should have asked for a Tie Guan Yin or even a Dong Ding for its nutty flavor.

Lessons: trust my nose, ask questions, bring a list, keep learning about tea.


  1. That is a pretty normal price for Lishan. Also, Lishan is pear mountain, not jade mountain –which is Yushan.

  2. Edward, thank you, thank you. I don't mind the cost -- it's the most I have spent on tea -- but only the fact that I purchased the "wrong" tea. The post has been corrected to reflect the correct translation of Lishan.

  3. If I may add one point, that will be "sample the tea before buying". One of the greatest things about local tea store is you can experience the tea before buying. Usually even if it's not written, you can always ask for a sample or offer to buy a sample.


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