Eco-Cha Tea Club: Qing Xin Oolong Black Tea Tasting Notes
What's in the name?
This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club is a Small Leaf Black Tea made from the summer crop of heirloom Qing Xin Oolong tea leaves. The Qing Xin strain is commonly referred to as simply "Oolong" in the local tea industry here in Taiwan. We, on the other hand, use the term "Oolong" to refer to the processing method of being partially oxidized. So we decided to include the cultivar name for the sake of clarity.
Small Leaf Black Tea is tea made from strains of tea that are cultivated mostly for Oolong Tea making, or partially oxidized teas. These include Qing Xin, Jin Xuan, Tsui Yu, Four Seasons Spring, and more. Small Leaf Type is a general category to be distinguished from Large Leaf Type, which includes Assam, Red Jade #18, Fo Shou, and the Wild Tea strain that is naturally occurring in Taiwan.
In addition to the name of the tea strain, this batch of tea was made by an artisan of Dong Ding Oolong Tea with his family plot of heirloom tea trees. He incorporated Oolong Tea methods in the very first step of solar withering, and the very last step of tightly rolling the tea leaves. So the raw material of the summer crop of heirloom Qing Xin Oolong tea leaves, processed by an Oolong Tea maker by trade offers us this superior quality Black Tea.
What's in the flavor?
This batch of tea offers a complex fruity character in the brewed tea. The aroma is sweet, like stewed pears in syrup and prunes. The flavor is rich and yet delicate in its relatively light-bodied consistency. It has a concentrated quality, but is not at all murky or muddled. This aspect makes it reminiscent of a well oxidized Oolong Tea.
You can see that there is still some green remaining in the coloration of the brewed leaves, even though the leaves have been heavily rolled in the oxidation process. This is the norm in Small Leaf Black Tea making in Taiwan, and, along with the type of raw material, is what sets the flavor profile apart from Large Leaf Black Teas. There is a balanced sweet and dry finish with an especially long lingering aftertaste. The overall character is reminiscent of fruit compote, with just enough tartness to give it a clean mouthfeel.
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The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.