This is the second tea I decided to test in my grand (old) tea tasting experiment of this summer.
Another from Taiwan in 2011, drinking this tea is always a step back to rural Pinglin. We had taken a bus to the town hoping to find a plethora of tea shops, but we were surprised at how quiet it all was.
Just next to our bus stop, we found one of the ubiquitous shops that occupies the bottom floor of a two-story house with a large garage door. When the garage doors are closed (and sometimes when they’re open!), you can never tell if it’s someone’s living room or a shop. In this case, it was a family tea business.
A husband and wife bustled around amid a hundred large plastic bags of tea that filled all available space, while the grandmother sorted some tea in the corner and kids ran about in back. The eldest of the children spoke some english, so when our intention was made clear, he was the one to serve us some tea on a beautiful tea table hidden behind some piles of dried Bao Zhong leaves. Not only was the table beautiful, but the family had quite a collection of teapots and gaiwans as well. The tannin-stained matte textures on the yixing showed quite clearly that they had seen many years of good use.
We had many good pots of tea at that shop, and purchased plenty to take back with us. My favorite was a roasted Bao Zhong which is the subject of this post.
What’s interesting about this tasting was that I had apparently saved the tea in several places. I have the original foil bag, still about one quarter full, and I had two different small tins which I use when traveling. The tins are good quality and both seal quite well and yet when I infused the tea from those, it was bland, and only a distant memory of that roasted oolong from which it came. I had planned to mark off the rest, but when I came across the bag, the tea inside had such a delightful aroma that I just had to try again.
I’m glad that I did! The aroma was the same that you smell walking around Pinglin or Maokong, sweet roasted tea. I can hardly explain what it’s like to be surrounded by it. It infuses you. If you’ve ever had the opportunity inhale the aroma of a pot of quickly heated roasted oolong, you’ll know what I mean. If not, the closest parallel that I can imagine is something like roasted chestnuts. Rich and comforting. In the mouth, the taste is flowery and actually seems to intensify as it cools. Bao Zhong is a lightly oxidized oolong and so it tends to do best at cooler temperatures.
The overall experience is light but correctly so for a tea of this style. I think one of the difficulties that I’ve had with Bao Zhong is using sufficient leaves in the gaiwan, since they are twisted in a way that makes it appear as though you’ve got more in there than there really is. It may be that when tasting the other packages of this tea, I simply didn’t use enough leaf and the resulting tea couldn’t generate enough body to seem worth considering. I also wonder if the typical foil pouch has some qualities that perhaps make it a better storage medium than even an airtight metal tin. Maybe this tea really needs to breathe. This definitely gives me something to experiment with in the future.
Altogether, this one’s a keeper. Really, it’s amazing that a lighter oolong such as this lasted longer than some of the rolled ones I’ve been trying. But that’s all just part of the mystery of tea, I suppose.
Note: I’ve written about this tea before.