These days labeling a tea as “Alpine” seems to be the latest marketing gimmick. Or is it more than that? My curiosity was piqued, so I started digging in to the details of it.

Alpine Teas (From Yahoo! Images)

Alpine Teas (From Yahoo! Images)

The “Alps” Are Everywhere…Really?

This story about a new Japanese dessert sparked quite a reaction to the phrase “Southern Japanese Alps” the author had used in it from one of the commenters: “The Japanese Alps? The writer is obviously oblivious to geography. Japan is in Asia. The Alps are in Europe. Thousands and thousands of miles away.” That was my exact reaction when a tea company posted about Alpine Teas (the Alps in Europe span across eight countries – I got to ascend a couple of the many peaks). Then, tea guy Ian Chun, who specializes in helping non-Japanese fall in love with Japanese teas, pointed out this Wikipedia entry. The phrase was coined by British-born archaeologist William Gowland but only as referring to the Hida Mountains, not the entire range of mountains bisecting Honshu (the main island of Japan). Yet, the phrase now includes them all. Various online searches for “Alps” zeroes in on the 700-750 mile long range in Europe (a great view of it here). However, I did come across this list of mountain ranges in Asia, but it doesn’t support the claim that there are Taiwanese, Korean, and Thai Alps, as some have posted online. Neither does this list on Wikipedia, that cautions the reader about its incompleteness. That doesn’t seem to stop folks from calling their teas “alpine.”

A Plethora of Alpine Teas

Generally, teas are labeled as “alpine” if produced in highlands, that is, at elevations of over 1,000 meters. Some vendors just call these “high-mountain” teas. Others refer to them as “[mountain name] [tea type]” such as “Alishan Oolong” or “Wen Shan Bao Zhong” and use “alpine” in the description. Then there’s the Alpine Tea Co. which grows and produces a green tea lighter in flavor than but similar to Japanese Sencha. They are located in the Alpine Valleys region of the Victoria territory of Australia. Generally, this list shows that Australia has several peaks high enough to qualify as “alpine” (whether tea is grown on them or not is another matter – some of the peaks are in tea production areas, primarily northern New South Wales and Queensland, and of course the Alpine Valleys region of Victoria previously mentioned).

The herbal version: The Red Seal tea company in New Zealand also seems to think the name “Alpine Tea” is great for marketing and uses it on an herbal infusion used for regularity – ingredients are Buchu (Barosma betulina), Senna leaf (Cassia angustifolia), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Couchgrass (Agropyron repens), Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), Ginger root (Zingiber officinale), Marshmallow leaf (Althaea officinalis), and Yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium). Another vendor calls this “Alpine Berry Tea.” Neither comes from anywhere near the Alps as far as I can see.

As for What “Alpine” Is…

The key to calling all these teas and herbals by the name “alpine” seems to rest with the definition of that term. So, I looked it up. As a lover of words, my haven of refuge is a dictionary. Online is great and so is my dual-volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary. In this case I opted for the online version. My years in desktop publishing, technical writing, and designing user-friendly websites has taught me one very important lesson: copy and paste. It saves time and typos. So here is the copy-and-paste version of the definition (from Dictionary.com):

  1. of, pertaining to, on, or part of any lofty mountain.
  2. very high; elevated.
  3. (initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, on, or part of the Alps.
  4. Botany . growing on mountains above the limit of tree growth: alpine plants.
  5. (often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to downhill skiing or a competitive downhill skiing event. Compare Nordic (def 3).

Bottom Line

It seems that “alpine tea” is another of those confusing terms being bandied about like “herbal tea” and calling rooibos by the name “red tea.” And it seems just as unlikely that anyone will ever get the muddle cleared up. So here’s to tea term confusion – may it ever prompt you to dig a bit deeper and discover the reality.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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