Not too long ago I had a chance to attend a tea class held by John at Stone Leaf Tea. The topic was Taiwanese tea, since he had just returned from travels on that venerable island. When we were there we tasted a tea that was stunning in both its creation as well as its flavors. I recently prepared a tasting at home to try and capture more information.
The tea is a Tri Roasted Ali Shan Oolong harvested last spring, and quite a treasure it is. Probably my favorite style of oolong in recent years is Hong Shui, and this tea reminded me of it instantly.
The aroma permeates the senses. When I take a sip it feels like standing next to a cauldron of roasting nuts in a field of fragrant flowers. Even minutes after the cup is empty, I want to just sit and inhale the scent left behind.
Although this is undeniably a roasted oolong, I definitely wouldn’t call it a “dark roast”. There’s none of that intense charcoal flavor, nor is the roast similar to the autumn-leaf dryness of Yan Cha. There’s none of the fruitiness that accompanies a Phoenix or the honey of a Bai Hao. I can detect the High Mountain characteristics that I’d expect from a greener Ali Shan, but this has so much more character.
The taste reminds me of buttered pecans. Rich and aromatic in both the leaves and in the mouth, this tea has everything. It’s energy is very balanced, neither too bright nor too mellow. Leaves like these show a real skill in both processing and roasting.
This amazing leaf was roasted by Mr. Huang, the brother of Stone Leaf’s main Taiwan tea supplier Mr. Liao. His pretty unique “Tri-Roast” consists of a careful charcoal roasting (a rare skill these days) followed by an electric roast in bamboo baskets and lastly a small electric oven roast. Each of these steps requires a great deal of labor and talent as each roast must be tweaked and adjusted based on the results of the previous one. As Stone Leaf’s owner John wrote to me:
A big part of the skill with roasting is knowing what the tea will be like months AFTER it is finished. It changes so much in that time period…so to have 3 different methods triples the number of variables that are present to change the results.
My entire day noticeably improved after this tea session, and I can still sense the aroma in my mouth several hours later. And what a session it was! Eight infusions in, the liquor was still a buttery yellow-gold. The leaves were like a soup of collard greens, massive and heavy when they unfurled. Not too many full leaf sets were present, but plenty of full leaves that seem to glow like a cedar tree in winter.
Many thanks to Stone Leaf tea for finding and sharing this piece of craftsmanship. I hope every tea drinker can experience a cup like this at least once.