There is something about the heady fragrance of this tea combined with its smooth, balanced flavor and substance of character that has us brewing it again and again to figure out what exactly it is that intrigues us. In a word, we keep coming back to this: Heirloom. We can only conclude that this fragrant yet balanced complexity comes from a tea strain that pre-dates modern tea production.
After brewing these leaves in a Gongfu teapot a few times to get the full spectrum of what they offer, we resorted to a method that is commonly used locally in an initial assessment of a given batch of tea for a more visual take. When sourcing, tea merchants in Taiwan will most often put their personally preferred amount of leaves directly in a tea judging bowl and watch them brew. After getting a visual take, along with smelling the ceramic spoon dipped into the leaves as they are brewing, the tea is ladled out into a cup with the spoon.
At this point, the leaves have been observed as they reconstitute with water from their rolled and dried form, and the initial fragrance is taken in from the subtle wafts of aroma emitting from the spoon dipped into the steeping leaves. The leaves can be gently pushed to one side in order to see the color and consistency of the tea as it brews. And after a few minutes of brewing, the tea is spooned into a cup to view, smell, and taste.
So much floral essence is emitted from these leaves as they brew. And the flowery perfume is present in the nose upon sipping. But the smoothness on the palate combined with a unique fresh green herbal flavor makes it reminiscent of a quality unroasted Oolong from mainland China. In other words, its got something that modern strains typically don't — and it has to do with its substantial character that provides body and legs to this freshly fragrant, unroasted Oolong.
In speaking with our friend who initiated this project of planting a small plot of Wuyi Oolong, we eventually got onto the topic of where this strain excels in quality. Beyond its distinct fragrance and balanced substance of flavor, he almost mumbled a point that we instantly understood as significant. He said that this tea can endure roasting exceptionally well. This is further evidence that Wuyi Oolong has a character that makes it significant as an heirloom tea. It's got substance, like an organically grown heirloom apple, tomato, or melon. This project, our learning about it over the last couple years, and the recent discussions we've had about this harvest with our friend — along with our recent batch of Tieguanyin, another heirloom strain — bring us great hopes in the renaissance of traditional tea making.
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.