26 October 2011

Oxidation Levels and Flavor Profiles

The process for making oolong involves more steps than other types of tea.  The most important steps for determining the fundamental taste and base of an oolong during its processing are in the oxidation.

Oolong oxidation will produce 4 major categories of flavor/aroma.  From light to heavy oxidation, those categories are:

1)  菜香 (Cai Xiang) - Vegetal, such as Baozhong.
2)  花香 (Hua Xiang) - Floral, such as Alishan high mountain tea.  This category is often further subdivided by the types of floral, such as 蘭貴 (Lan Gui - orchid) or 桂花 (Gui Hua - osmanthus).
3)  果香 (Guo Xiang) - Fruity, such as Dong Ding or Muzha Tieguanyin.  A traditional medium-high oxidized, medium-high roast Muzha TGY may even have notes of ripe fruit, 熟果香 (shu guo xiang).
4)  蜜香 (Mi Xiang) - Honey, such as Oriental Beauty.  A highly-oxidized oolong’s flavor is also said to sometimes resemble 焦糖 (Jiao Tang) or caramel.  I think that tea that has been over-roasted and allowed to rest a while will also infuse tea that is caramel in color and has sweet notes.

Several different leaf varietals are used in the production of Taiwan oolongs, the most prevalent of which is the Qingxin varietal (青心).  Nearly all high mountain oolong is produced with Qingxin leaf.  Dong Ding oolong is also produced with Qingxin, and often with Ruanzhi (軟支, soft stem). 

I greatly prefer medium-oxidation teas to light or high-oxidation ones.  General taste profiles are helpful to me (in addition to other info/experience) when identifying different types of high mountain oolong.  Lishan tends to have a higher-oxidation level than Alishan, for example, and also tends to taste more fruity than floral.  Shanlinxi usually has an oxidation level between Lishan and Alishan and has a uniquely fruity and floral profile. 

05 October 2011

Food and Tea…Together

I love Vancouver BC’s Chinese food and its availability of all things Chinese (herbs, snacks, music…).  Vancouver’s Chinese radio station is great as well, especially on Sunday afternoons when they have cool talks on a variety of life and lifestyle topics.

1986 dd It’s Fall, time for darker, full-bodied teas like this traditional Dong Ding

A few months ago, the station did a segment on ideas for food and tea pairings, given by a long-time tea drinker who is also a self-trained chef.  I tuned in late and missed a lot of the segment, but he talked a lot about the contrast of flavors.  You don’t want to, he said, pair similar foods with similar teas, just as you wouldn’t eat a sweet dessert after drinking orange juice, which would mute the desserts bounty of flavors.

The guest speaker compared tea pairings to wine pairings, which he has also studied in.  Because of tea’s relatively delicate tastes, he recommends foods that are lighter in flavor.

Some of his recommendations:

-With a sweet dessert, he recommends a smoky and/or bold tea, like a Wuyi Yancha or a Tieguanyin.  Pu’er also works, but doesn’t always highlight the range of a dessert’s flavors.

-For foods that have some tartness, like cheese, he said something like a traditional Phoenix Dancong with strong oxidation and a fruity note would be good.  Per his reasoning, Taiwan’s Oriental Beauty may also be a good choice.

-For a light and dry dessert (e.g. pastries, sponge cake…) he believes that a fresh and “thinner” tea, like a green Longjing or a white Longevity Brow (Shou Mei) would work nicely.

-For an after-dinner digestif, Pu’er is a wonderful choice.  He said something thick and heavy, like an old pu’er or a cooked cake, would work best.

In addition to pairing tea as a beverage with different dishes, there are many blog articles and even a few Chinese cookbooks that have touched upon using tea in cooking.  The trick is to make the tea a star in the dish, not just a supporting character.

Experiment and enjoy the new experiences of paired consumption.