High-mountain Teas vs. Low-mountain Teas
Most tea producing regions of China have distinctions between the same types of teas. Some of these distinctions include: Organic vs. non-organic, hand-rolled vs. machine-rolled, buds vs. large leaves, etc. For many of these distinctions it is easy to tell what is more highly valued, and hence higher priced. But none of the rules for tea qualities apply universally to all Chinese teas. And as any true tea master will tell you, it all depends on individual preference. All of these distinctions do impact the prices of teas, even within the same category, though many of these details are the far-off domain of tea connoisseurs.
With that said, the elevations at which teas grow do have a big impact on the taste and price of many varieties. For teas produced specifically for the Chinese market, high-mountain vs. low-mountain is a key factor. As a rule, higher elevations produce finer, more refined teas. The exact same plants, harvested at the same time, growing on the same mountain, and processed in the exact same way will have a different taste depending on the elevations at which they were grown.
Pure Chinese teas grown at higher elevations will command a higher price on the market because their flavors are said to be more subtle and refined. This is because the weather and oxygen levels at the higher elevations are different. Tea is well known as a finicky and temperamental plant. Even the smallest changes can influence the way the final product tastes, as evidenced by the myriad of scents and flavors produced throughout China and, more recently, around the world. Even the British gave up trying to mimic the production methods of their staple, yet imported drink and developed their own way in India. The plants growing at higher elevations get more rain, more mist and dew, more sunlight, more temperature variations, and less oxygen. These factors have the effect of “softening” the flavor and adding subtle notes and tones to almost all varieties of tea, and every region of China has its own semi-secret style of manipulating these subtleties to produce beautiful and unique teas.
Lower-mountain teas also outnumber high-mountain teas because their is obviously more space for growing along the base of the mountains than toward the peaks. So, the higher the growing altitude, the higher the demand, yet the lower the availability.
Low-mountain teas are a good choice for a more casual tea drinker or those who prefer more of a kick to the taste of their teas. Though they can be more difficult for the novice tea drinker to brew, especially if they’re looking for a milder flavor.
High-mountain teas are for the more advanced tea drinker, or those who prefer a softer taste to their teas. You can also be more relaxed about the way you infuse a high-mountain tea and still end up with a pleasant flavor. They are also good for those with a sensitive pallet, i.e. those who have the ability to pick up on subtle notes and changes in taste over time. They are also good for improving one’s pallet, by comparing the low-mountain and high-mountain versions of the same teas to learn what the differences in tastes truly are.