29 May 2011

Spring 2011 High Mountain Oolongs

I was worried that they wouldn’t be very good.  The variation in quality for Taiwan’s spring oolongs isn’t as big as for winter teas, but still, no one wants a relatively poor product.  Winter, though, typically has wetter and colder weather that can affect both the leaves and harvesting times.

The early reports for Taiwan’s spring weather showed more rain than usual.  Pickers cannot/should not harvest high mountain tea after heavy rains.  They normally wait some number of days after the heavy rains before picking.  The extra time on the bush can definitely affect how “good” the tea ends up being.  There was a tea season about 3 years ago when nearly every high mountain tea had a bitter base, something the farmers explained as being a by-product of an especially rainy and cold season that delayed picking (I still have several samples from that season, leaves were thicker and larger than normal).

I’ve been anxiously waiting for Floating Leaves tea to re-open after their spring tea tour and buying trip.  Shiuwen and Floating Leaves consistently have high-quality Taiwan oolongs and I respect that she will not buy a certain tea if it’s not to her standard (hence she did not have Dayuling for a number of seasons).  Although I’m not a huge fan of greener oolongs, it’s very hard for me to resist a good Lishan that she often carries.  I was relieved when she returned this past week with some solid high mountains.  The Dayuling in particular is good, the Lishan is pretty smooth (it needs a few weeks to settle down and blossom) and the Dinghu Alishan was surprisingly good (this Alishan does not have the typical flavor profile of Alishans, but it’s my favorite growing region for this tea because of its clean & clear characteristics).  Good stuff, relieved I am.

I am most anxiously awaiting the special-request teas that will arrive in 2 weeks.  A 15-year old Dong Ding for $10/oz and a limited-production charcoal-roasted Dong Ding.  I also got a sample of a 3-year old moderate roast/oxidation Muzha Tieguanyin that is very good – can’t wait for that to arrive, too.  More reports and tasting notes to come.

Drinking good tea and continuing to enrich my life.

15 May 2011

“Spell it the Right Way!”

My Chinese handwriting is ugly, so bad that elementary school kids laugh at me.  It’s so bad that I don’t handwrite anything in Chinese anymore (typing is faster anyway) and because of that, I recently forgot how to write my Chinese name at a banquet I went to.  Sad….

When I visit Asia and buy a load of tea, I have to keep track of them with labels (many high mountain teas, for example, are packed in the same type of generic bag for oolongs).  The first time I went to Dong Ding and met one of my teachers, I brought back a significant amount of tea to practice my roasting with.  On each bag, I wrote “Dong Ding X1” so that I knew it was my practice tea.

My teacher doesn’t care what I write on the bag as long as I pay for it!  However, the guy down the street was more particular about my methods.

About a 15 minute drive from my teacher’s house, we met a fellow tea producer and old friend of his.  As I pulled one of the bags of tea from my backpack to share with him, Mr. 8 (I think he had about eight teeth, definitely less than 10) saw my writing on the bottom of the label, grabbed the bag from me and said “This is wrong, you wrote it wrong, spell it the right way!”


Mr. 8 reached into his cabinet and pulled out a box with English words on it.  He pointed to the label, “Tung Ting.”  This was, he said, the correct way to write it.  He wasn’t mean or rude, he actually seemed pretty amused and looked as if he was excited to have the opportunity to share his knowledge.

Tung Ting is from the Wade-Giles system of romanizing Chinese and predates the wider-spread usage of contemporary Putonghua Pinyin.  If you visit Taiwan, you’ll find that there is a mix of several different types of romanization.  The usage of Putonghua Pinyin has increased, but there are many that don’t use it, not just because they don’t know how to, but for various political reasons.  Folks such as Mr. 8 are resistant to mainland Chinese influences and thus, they cling to systems that were in use before the Communists took over the mainland.  Fair enough, if I were to buy tea from him, I’d respect his preference.

Ahlisan wulong and Pingling Pouchong are just as good regardless of how it’s spelled.  Drink good tea and enrich your life.

04 May 2011

Pu’er isn’t the only type of “ripe” tea – Aged Teas V

Pu’er tea comes mainly as green/raw, cooked/ripe, or a blend of those, but pu’er isn’t the only type of tea that can be considered cooked or ripe.  So can oolongs. 

Oolong teas that have received a healthy-dose of roasting can be called “shou” tea as well.  These teas often have a good level of oxidation to boot (a sufficiently-oxidized tea makes for a more complete and stable roasted tea).  While “shou” can be interpreted as ripe (such as with a banana), shou also connotes something that is ready to eat (such as steamed fish, prepared meats, etc) or “cooked.”  The cooked class of oolongs can include such teas as roasted Wuyi Yancha or traditional Tieguanyin. 

I like all kinds of good-tasting tea.  Lighter oolongs, such as Taiwan high mountain oolongs, contemporary mainland Tieguanyin and Baozhong can taste very good when fresh.  They can have a plethora of flavor notes and scents that show up beautifully in both gaiwan or pot.  The problem for me and many tea drinkers who down pot after pot of tea is that green and green-oolong teas hurt our stomachs.  Ten+ pots of a roasted tea wouldn’t faze us whereas 3 or 4 pots of greener tea wouldn’t feel so nice. 

Aged oolongs tend to have been oxidized and roasted.  If you go on Taobao and search for aged oolongs, the vast majority of the teas (that are at least 10 years old) will have been roasted (be prepared, you will get an enormous number of hits).  These cooked teas are easier on the stomach.  I’ve mentioned before that some people call aged teas “laoren cha” or old folks’ tea.  The fact that aged oolongs tend to be cooked also makes them more appropriate for tea drinkers that have sensitive stomachs.   

Why not just drink cooked pu’er?  It’s cheaper, tastes good, is easier to find, and each pot goes quite a long way.  All true and valid points, but an aged oolong can be enchanting in a multitude of different and additional ways.  It’s really just a matter of personal taste, since a good ginger or chamomile tea might beat both pu’er and oolong for soothing a stomach.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.