Tag Archives: oolong

2012 M. Xu Bai Hao

What a delight. The taste of honey and street roasted chestnuts. A full body and dark orange color that are as comforting in Spring as they were in Winter.

This tea is Bai Hao or Dong Fang Mei Ren Cha (東方美人 – Oriental Beauty). I picked up this bag from Camellia Sinensis a few months ago at their recommendation. It’s definitely a classic Bai Hao taste and very welcome this evening. I was very pleased when I gave a sample of the fifth infusion to some customers at the tearoom and they immediately said that it tasted of honey. That’s exactly the flavor that I think best describes Bai Hao in general and so if someone who’s never had it before thinks of honey when it touches their palette, it must be good!

The Bai Hao sourced by Dobra this season is much darker and even though I think it’s delicious, I’m much more reminded of a sweet Chinese black tea, perhaps an Anhui Qi Hong.

I’ve read that the 2012 Bai Hao harvest was not very promising in general, due to weather conditions earlier in the year. I have high hopes for the 2013 season, but for now this is the tastiest Bai Hao I’ve had since the last of the 2011 passed us by.

I easily got 9 infusions of honeyed goodness, making for a sweet night indeed.

Hawaiian Oolong

A gift from the kind owners of Dobra Tea, this Hawaiian oolong is really a fascinating mystery. I haven’t felt adventurous enough until today to give it a try. Until a few months ago I didn’t even know that there was tea grown in Hawaii, and now I’ve sampled several.

The dry leaves are large, dark green, and quite waxy in appearance. A few blushes of red are also apparent.

The buttery, clove and cardamom-like aroma of the warm leaves reminded me instantly of christmas cookies. The liquor is a dramatic pumpkin orange, more glowing than any oolong I think I’ve seen. A little woody, the flavor of cardamom definitely lies in the flavor as well and a noticeably rich sweetness that remains on the tongue.

I managed a good 4 infusions, and I think a few more are present, but my obligations take me away from the gaiwan for now.

2012 Bai Hao Winter

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective. I’ve just copied it here for record keeping.

I’ve tasted several examples of Bai Hao (or 東方美人茶, Dong Fang Mei Ren Cha) this year and been disappointed in each, so this was a real treat. I understand that much of the harvest in Hsichu county were poor, which accounts, I suppose, for all the broken leaves I’ve seen. This one, however, is very tasty.

I’ve tried this a few times and a few different ways. This time I rinsed the leaves and infused the tea gong-fu style in my roasted yixing pot. The rinsed leaves had the aroma of toasted oats and brown sugar. A good sign for a Bai Hao. Last year’s harvest had a deep roasted sweetness unmatched by any other oolong.

Immediately noticeable in the pot, the leaves glow with a red-gold color, and I can definitely see full leaf sets with the stem intact. Another Bai Hao I recently tasted had many broken leaves, but I’ve had Bai Hao before almost entirely composed of two-leaves-and-a-bud leaflets.

For my first infusion I tried a longer time, forgetting for the moment how many leaves I had put in the pot. This was a mistake, I think. While the result was not bitter, it was sharp on the tongue. Still, I could feel a good cha qi arising with the taste.

The liquor is amber-gold with the definite aroma of toasted grains. The taste of the second infusion, done for only 30 seconds, has a pleasant woody sweet character, although there remains an acidity on the sides of the tongue that lingers. Further infusions enhanced the woodiness into a bit of walnut and the sweetness of a young plum. At the same time, the sharpness faded, leaving entirely by the third infusion. The acidity became simply a dryness, although that remained in the mouth long after tasting. The mouth-feel was full and warm, very comforting and energizing.

When I removed the spent leaves, I saw that I was right about the full leaf sets; there were almost no broken leaves. There were only a few sets of two-leaves-and-a-bud, though. Mostly they were much more gnarled sets of three or four leaves in various stages of growth and a fair amount of stem.

Altogether a pleasant tea experience, even if it is difficult to live up to some Bai Hao harvests of prior years. Tea is a living and changing thing, though, so this is as it should be.

2011 Da Hong Pao – Wuyi Star Tea

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective, but I’m recording it here as well for reference.

Dark twisted dry leaves that look like the leaves on the trees outside on this chilly fall day. The aroma is pure warmth, like sweet wood smoke.

The liquor is a beautiful autumn leaf blazing red that glows in the lamp light.

The first infusion was without a rinse, so I allowed it about 45 seconds (a fair number of leaves were in the pot). I detect a subtle sweetness on the tip of the tongue, but a whole lot of smoke and earth. There’s a walnut shell or raw cacao effect: dry and textured. It really tastes like the smell of a walk in the woods on Thanksgiving day.

For the second infusion I returned to a more standard 20-30 seconds. The effect is similar if a bit more drying. But the next one packed quite a sweet punch like a really good toasted almond. The body gets lighter, but that crispness on the tip of the tongue does not fade.

This tea was the only one I purchased at the Ningbo tea expo. I’ve written about our adventures in Ningbo previously. We had tasted many different teas from many different booths as we were guided around by our tea friends. There was pretty much everything represented there, including a whole section (in a separate building) for Taiwanese tea.

The booth that sold this tea was one of the last I passed. Much of the visual draw for me was the fantastic (but expensive) teaware that various potters had displayed. This booth had no pottery at all, but they clearly had spent some money on packaging and advertising their products. Little colored tubes set up on a table really spoke to my love for the exotic. Each tube contained a different tea, and as I remember there was quite a nice selection.

Even though my initial reaction was along the lines of, “how nice looking, but I doubt they really know their tea”, I was intrigued. The same must of been true of my friends, as before I knew it they had all purchased one tube or another. Now, even excited as I was to be at a tea expo in China, influenced by the purchases of my friends, and attracted to the appearance of this booth, I have a fairly strict rule of not buying tea that I haven’t had a chance to taste. It was the proverbial straw that broke my will when I learned that in buying one of these tea samples, the customer was given a free gaiwan and set of cups. I suppose I am more of a sucker for teaware than anything else.

By the time I decided to get something, we were already on our way out, so I hurriedly excused myself from the group, ran back to the booth, and grabbed a tea I thought would be a rare taste on our trip (since we were enable to visit Fujian or Guandong), reliable Da Hong Pao.

As it turns out, the free gaiwan was not very strongly built, nor well packed. By the time I made it to Shanghai, the fine porcelain was cracked and punished into a pile of silt. I did manage to save some of the cups, but the real treat of this experience was the tea itself. It turns out that Wuyi Star appears to match their quality with their style. Quite a number of infusions (upwards of 7) were my reward along with a rich, nicely textured flavor that blessedly was free of over-roasting (as is often the case with similar Wuyi Yan Cha).

I hope to attend more tea expos in the future.

2011 Rou Gui from Shanghai

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective, but I’m recording it here as well for posterity.

This tea came from Ming Qiu Cha Yuan, a shop in a Shanghai tea market. Pumpkin orange in the cup, there’s a lot of Autumn in this tea. A fairly strong roast to the leaves gives much of the Wuyi oolong character to this tea, although there’s a subtle sweetness and fruitiness that lies just under the surface. In fact, the more I think of pumpkins, the more similarities I can see. Mouth-filling and full with a starchy texture and a creamy sweetness behind the earthiness of a harvest field, this 肉桂茶 makes quite an impression on this rainy October afternoon.

The name of the tea means “cinnamon bark”, perhaps referring to the wonderful aromatic roast of this tea. When I arrived in China, however, I was only vaguely aware of this particular Wuyi oolong. The first character, Ròu, when used by itself can mean “meat”, and when I first encountered a shop selling this tea I was more than a little repulsed by the idea of a “meat tea”. Reassured by my friend that Ròuguì has no connection to dead animals, I was pleasantly surprised to find this mysterious tea which seems to lean back and forth between the depth of Da Hong Pao (大红袍) and the sweetness of Feng Huang Dan Cong (凤凰单丛).

The shop in which we found this tea was in one of the large tea markets of Shanghai. If you have visited a multiple story indoor mall, the setup is much the same except that all the shops have some sort of connection to tea or teaware. We visited similar markets in Kunming, but the Shanghai variety seem to be more urban in style, with fewer outdoor regions and a more modern appearance with, for example, escalators.

As this was the first tea market we visited on the east coast of China, we weren’t sure what to expect. Consequently, I sat and drank tea with the women who ran this shop several times over the course of a few hours, leaving frequently to explore the rest of the market. The selection of teaware on offer was remarkable, and upstairs from this particular shop I even discovered what appeared to be a tiny music school for my favorite instrument, the Guqin. Either that or it was a teaware and art store run by Guqin devotees.

The kind woman who served us tea was very patient with my comings and goings and allowed us to examine and taste several of the teas she had available, stored in large metal tins on the wall. One of the teas we picked, I think perhaps a Da Hong Pao, was a bit too expensive, so I settled on this unique selection, having never owned a Ròuguì before. Two seasons later I am very glad for my purchase!

I infused this tea in my wonderful new small Petr Novak teapot, gong-fu style. Attempting to follow the advice of Stéphane, I did not rinse the leaves first and instead increased the time of the first infusion to about one and a half minutes. The result was quite a roasted cup, which was probably more than I was attempting to invoke. For the second, shorter infusion and thereafter, the sweetness really shone through (starting with about 30 seconds and going up from there).

Xie Xie, Ming Qiu Cha Yuan.

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.

Gao Shan Lao Cong Shui Xian

This article was originally written for Cha Xi Collective. Just keeping a copy here.
Oolong Tea found at Si Hai Cha Zhuang in Ningbo

Roasted and crispy, as expected from a Wuyi Shui Xian. A woody aroma and a golden orange color. The first few infusions have very little real flavors on my tongue – more of a sense or feeling of charcoal. I then tried very hot water with a much longer infusion time (about 2 minutes) and was rewarded a very distinct aroma of steamed milk and a somewhat tannic coriander taste on the sides of the tongue.

I don’t have much experience with or knowledge of Gao Shan Lao Cong tea, but I can taste the signs of the title.

Gao Shan oolongs are usually highly praised for their well-defined aromas; this tea has more aroma than taste, although it is not flowery at all. They also tend towards a lighter body which this tea, despite its roast, does as well.

Lao (old) trees tend to be used for producing tea that packs a punch. This tea has just that effect; you can’t miss the charcoal dryness when it hits your tongue.

Not my favorite Wuyi oolong, but an interesting comparison to other Shui Xians I’ve had in the past.

We purchased this tea from tea friends we had met in Ningbo (宁波) at their shop. After discovering the amazing tearoom at the Tea Museum, we got to know a very kind gentleman there named Shihongwei. At first, this young tea master began brewing us a delicious pot of Da Hong Pao with what is likely the attitude of most tea experts in China toward foreigners, but when we told him we were employees of a teahouse in America, he was very impressed and became much more animated. It’s funny how the world of tea is so small.

Shihongwei asked us if we had been to the tea expo or if we were planning to attend. A tea expo? We didn’t even know that there was a tea house in Ningbo, let alone a whole exposition dedicated to this plant. It turned out that the expo was nearly at an end and that the next day was its close. We told our new friend that we would love to go but could he tell us how to get there? His excited response was to arrive at the teahouse the next morning at 10am and he would bring us there himself.

The expo was a wonderful experience. It was actually a little overwhelming and I could easily have spent a whole day there just wandering around, tasting tea, and examining teaware. Perhaps unfortunately, as we were guests of our friend, we felt obligated to stay with him and see what he thought most interesting. While there, we met Tang (汤) and Wang Jing (王璟 – we called her “hat girl”), young friends of Shihongwei, who invited us to the tea shop where they worked as soon as we were leaving.

Tang and Wang Jing worked at a small shop on the east side of the city and seemed to specialize in roasted oolongs. We thought this quite fortunate since our trip plans did not include Fujian or Guandong province where these fine teas are usually produced.

We drank many cups of tea with these folks as the afternoon wore on and learned about each others’ cultures. These conversations (aided heavily by various translation software) are probably my favorite part of these trips. Sharing life tales and cultural tidbits over cups of tea is an amazing experience. It’s also a hungry experience and we were doubly-fortunate to be treated to lunch by our hosts as well.

They had a room upstairs with the most polished and glowing carved wooden table I’ve ever seen. It was massive, and soon covered with takeout boxes full of rice and vegetables along with a few cans of Coca-cola. It felt like eating Chinese take-out with friends in high school on someone’s parent’s expensive dining-room table. You’re always a little worried about spilling something.

Needless to say we wanted to take home some tea from this shop, so we picked out one of the boxes of Wuyi oolongs from their shelves and divided it among ourselves. At the time I thought we were buying Da Hong Pao, but upon closer inspection of the packages, the tea turned out to be Lao Cong Shui Xian. I was pretty content with this mistake since this is a style of tea I have never tried.

If ever I am in Ningbo again I will definitely seek out Wang Jing and Tang and Shihongwei and hopefully give them a gift worthy of all the kindness they showed to me.