Ali Shan is a famous tea-producing region in Taiwan. It is known for its high-mountain oolongs, but its fame is in part due to its status as a tourist destination.
Ali Shan is typically visited by busloads of tourists who are there for the views of the stunning mountain range and the gorgeous forests. The tea, while fine on its own merits, is heavily bolstered by Ali Shan’s fame on the tour circuit.
Sadly, there’s a large amount of environmental damage due to the heavy tourism, the heavy chemical loads of non-organic tea (which comprises the vast majority of Ali Shan tea) and the geographical circumstances of Ali Shan (which involve mountains trapping air pollution in the region).
I visited Ali Shan last weekend and it was wonderful. Seeing the sun rise over the mountains? Incredible. Drinking tea in a national forest? There’s not much more I could ask for.
But there was something conspicuously missing from my trip. Usually, I visit tea farms when I’m in a tea region, and I didn’t do that in Ali Shan. The reason? I’m not all that interested in visiting conventional tea farms anymore. I’ve seen them up close many times and I get what they’re about. I understand the motivations to use chemicals (produce more tea, make life easier, earn more money… yes, sounds great!). But damaging the tea plants, the tea workers, the tea drinkers and the environment in this way no longer holds my interest.
So, instead of visiting a few Ali Shan farms during my trip, I opted to buy a couple kilograms of organic Ali Shan oolong (traditional oxidation, traditional roast) from one of my favorite tea shops in Yingge. I’m planning to seal the tea in a large jar and store it for 20 years. It’s my hope that supporting organic tea farming here in Taiwan will make a difference. It’s my hope that enough people will support the limited organic production in Ali Shan so that, someday soon, it won’t be so limited. It’s my hope that in 20 years, when I open my tea jar, I can laugh at the idea that so little of Ali Shan tea was organic when I started storing these few jin* of tea. Until then, I’ll continue appreciating Ali Shan for its beauty and for its small, but significant, percentage of organic tea production.
* In Taiwan, a jin is a unit of measurement commonly used for tea and fruit. It’s 600 grams.