What an interesting oolong that I discovered in a small package I brought back from my trip to California. I remembered good things from this tea, and today’s snowy conditions seemed like the perfect day to bring back some memories of sunlight.
The first thing that hit me upon opening the package was the scent. There’s an amazing dry-leaf aroma of pineapple that brings to mind nothing short of a creamy Pina Colada. It’s astounding how fruity the leaves smell, but without any of the acrid or overpowering notes that you’d get with an artificially scented tea (or any scented tea, for that matter). It’s pretty clear that this magic comes from the leaves themselves.
Even so, I worried that the liquor might be too strongly fruity to really taste the oolong flavor. Of course, I needn’t have worried. The scent is only part of the overall flavor, which has all the character of a deliciously light-roast San Lin Shi: a hint of pine over a bed of sweet artichokes and creamy spinach. The warm flaxen gold liquor is a perfect counterpoint to this blustery December day.
I’ve written before about Winter Sprout tea (不知春 or bù zhīchūn), but it’s still a fascinating topic, and this leaf hasn’t lost any potency for its one year of age. The tea is harvested in the coldest time of the year when most tea plants have yet to even give forth a single new leaf. And yet the humble Tea (Camellia Sinensis) is, after all, an evergreen plant. From what I understand, occasionally the right weather conditions manifest for a small harvest in the wintertime, and this magnificent oolong is the result. (Note that this is different from a typical “winter harvest oolong”, which is usually from late autumn, although those can certainly be some of the finest teas ever picked.)
My continued admiration to Peter Luong at Song Tea for his skill at sourcing this unique style. I can’t wait to have a tasting with the other Winter Sprout I brought back. For now, though, I’ll sit back and sip this gentle reminder that even in the depths of Winter there is a little bit of Spring waiting to emerge.
What a great name Wu De and associates have chosen for this month’s tea. The gift from Global Tea Hut this December is a bit of loose Spring 2007 Shou Puer they call “Old Man Camphor” (老夫樟 or Lǎofū Zhāng).
Earthy and with a wonderful aroma. Just by the smell it makes me think of some really great old Sheng (生 or raw) Puer that I’ve had in the past, but those teas were all more than 10 years old and this is a blend from only 2007. It’s rare in my experience to find such delicious old-book notes in a Shou (熟 or ripe), so I’m very pleased to have this in my cup. The closest Shou I can think of is the 1998 Xiaguan from Camellia Sinensis, but this has some characteristics that are unique. The mouth-feel of those old Shengs was leathery and dry, but Old Man Camphor is quite smooth and clean feeling on the tongue, which is not a judgement on the quality of either tea, only a comment on the differences of the experience which I find fascinating.
When drinking this tea I feel my mind transported to a far-away oak grove, surrounded by ancient trees and stacks of drying lumber. The scent of woodsmoke floats around my nose, a delicate reminder of a warm glowing fire that keeps out the chill of winter. I can almost feel the snow in the treetops. This image is appropriate for the region of Northern Vermont where I live and the brisk time of year, and so nature complements my tea. Or perhaps my tea complements nature. Either way the experience evokes a harmony in my thoughts that is sorely needed.
The Global Tea Hut magazine this year is filled with wonderful writing and tea knowledge as usual. Besides a very good discussion of the processing of Shou Puer and the ten factory leaf grades (which layers nicely on their previous Puer special edition), there are some really inspiring poems in the margins. The accompanying stories of the Tea Hut crew’s adventures through Europe are inspiring and make me want to host more tea gatherings myself!
But enough analysis. As Wu De is quoted as saying at a tea gathering in the last article, “[this] is the tea we are having in this moment.” Be here with your cup (whatever it may be!) and enjoy. I’ll be here with mine.