2011 Pinglin Bao Zhong

This post was originally written for Cha Xi Collective. Just keeping a copy here.

Brewing this in Cha Xi for the early Autumn, sitting by the window with the pink and purple of the season’s last morning glories peeking in. Memories of distant sun-soaked Pinglin are coming out of the pot right along with the tea.

Knowing that the small town of Pinglin near the North-East coast of Taiwan was home to this iconic oolong, but little else, my friends and I muddled our way to the downtown bus that would take us there. When we arrived, we were surprised to find what looked more like a small village than the tourist-friendly tea town we had hoped for. There was even supposed to be a huge tea museum!

Not dissuaded, we did what we usually did in Taiwan: walked about until we saw some tea and headed toward it. Right next to our bus stop there was a small shop (or house, it was difficult to tell the difference on the streets of Taiwan) that was filled to bursting with big bags of green leaves. After pushing our way toward the back, we were met by a very friendly family. The parents didn’t speak any English, and we had no Chinese to offer them, but we managed to communicate that we were interested in tasting some local oolong. Luckily for us, one of their sons, probably around high-school age, spoke some English and we were able to taste a wide selection of what they had to offer.

It turns out there is quite a variety of taste, even among Bao Zhong (literally meaning “wrapped item”) teas produced by a single family. The oxidation level, date of harvest, the leaf size, and the level of roast all have a noticeable effect on the final product. Since this was the first tea shop in the entire town we visited, we bought a small amount of our favorites and then, emboldened by our success, headed out to see what other treasures we could find.

After several hours of wandering the streets and trying a few other shops (or living rooms?), it became clear that our first stop had been the best all along.

There was, in fact, a tea museum. It was completely empty of other humans and the only staff we saw were in the small gift shop near the entrance, but it was indeed a storehouse of tea information and examples. The advantage of the lack of people was that we were free to wander the halls all by ourselves with no ticket required. The down side was that it was a little rough around the edges. (It was also one of the many places in Asia where one is expected to bring one’s own toilet paper. Altogether a good life lesson.)

We eventually returned to the first tea shop we had found and purchased some more recently harvested leaves, including this light roast oolong and a Green Bao Zhong for its freshness. As I’ve come to expect from good quality oolongs, this tea has aged well in its simple foil package, possibly improving in the year since its harvest.

Sweet like green grass and honeydew. Gentle roast that joins “tea” to “melon” in my taste memory; it creates a texture and chewiness on the sides of the mouth. Golden-green color.

Second infusion is more rich and less sweet. Tending toward the sweetness of a good light ale.

I figured a bit longer in the pot would help to bring back the honeydew. The third infusion takes the sweetness and makes it into a bold statement rather than a gentle brush. Mouth-filling, it brings together the tastes of the previous two.

About 45 second to one minute infusions with a decent amount of leaves. Brewed in my Yixing pot from Maokong, Taiwan, reserved for light roast oolongs.

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