As the aroma of the freshly brewed oolong rose from the tiny tea cups, I thought I would never drink coffee again. Alishan is Taiwan's premier mountain resort, but the area's inhabitants do not rely for their livelihoods on tourism alone. Tea cultivation is also important, and far along a mountain side road I came across somewhere few other foreigners had ever visited - a remote, family-run tea farm. Less tea is grown in Taiwan today than before, but production has now stabilised at about 20,500 tonnes annually. At this latitude, the plants will only grow at altitudes of between 800 and 1,600 metres. What surprised me was that the tea we were drinking had only been picked the previous morning. Choice new leaves are cut from the squat bushes, in fine weather only, and 3.30pm is the end of the pickers' day because the newly cut leaves must lie for an hour in filtered sunlight immediately after they have been harvested. Next the tea is distributed onto circular wicker trays one metre across. These are stacked in racks where they are left for a further eight hours, each tray being shaken and the leaves redistributed four times during the period. The crop is then machine-dried in circular cylinders at 300 degrees Celsius for six minutes, then pressed many times into tightly packed cotton bags. This continuous process means that the men and women involved - all family members on the farm where I stayed - cannot sleep until the early hours of the following morning. But early the next day, the pickers were back in the fields again. It was then that I noticed another, taller plant growing among the tea - about one bush for every 20 of the square-trimmed tea shrubs. But no one could tell me what it was. The pickers are paid NT$60 ($14) per kilogramme of leaves, and average 20kg a day each. They wear broad conical hats tied on with a cloth, against the sun, and rubber boots against snakes. On the index finger of each gloved hand is fixed a small, razor-like blade to cut the leaves. In the dusty cool of the company office we sat down to drink the product of yesterday's labour. The man in charge sat behind a broad table, manipulating the utensils like a priest at his altar. The beverage was then dispensed with all the enthusiasm usually associated with drinkers of much stronger potions. Later in the day, the rite was repeated. This time, however, what we enjoyed were several cups of the fruit of the strange other crop plant I had noticed. Its cultivation was a novel venture in the area, I was told. And so I had my first taste, as the sun set behind the mauve mountains, of what my hosts called a promising new commercial proposition for the area. It was with some surprise that I learned what it was: Alishan coffee.