Eco-Cha Tea Club: Tieguanyin Oolong Tea Tasting Notes
Shown above in our well-used bamboo tea scoop are tea leaves cured in perhaps the most traditional fashion that has survived into the 21st century Taiwan tea industry. Not only were they sourced in one of the most historical tea growing regions in Taiwan, they were cultivated and cured in an overall context that is now very rare. It is rare because it is one of the few remaining resources of heirloom Tieguanyin tea trees, and it is cultivated organically, and it is processed in the smallest home-style tea factory we've ever seen.
In many cases, traditional styles of tea making involve much more "curing" of the tea leaves that has the dual purpose of bringing out a strong, distinct character, and stabilizes the tea leaves to maintain its flavor — giving it a prolonged shelf life as well as a discernible profile. In this sense, Tieguanyin Oolong is a prime example of a traditional product of regional origin. Initially brought from mainland China, this tradition took root in Northern Taiwan in the 1800's, and it has survived to this day.
Tieguanyin Oolong tea is traditionally a heavily oxidized, heavily roasted tea, that in effect puts it in its own flavor profile. It is distinctly different from all other tea types produced in Taiwan, regardless of region or tea strain. This tea is unique due to its curing methods. One step in particular sets Tieguanyin apart from the processing methods of other Oolong types. After the "kill green" or "cease oxidation" step —where the leaves are exposed to high heat —is done, they are partially rolled and dried, and then put in the roasting oven while still in the cloth wrapped balls shown above, and slightly "steamed in their own juices". This results in a subtle, tangy fermented character that makes Tieguanyin unique. This anomaly of tea processing methods in Taiwan, combined with heavy oxidation and heavy roasting give Tieguanyin Oolong is bold, rich and distinguished character.
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Our friend who is an organic tea farmer kept this batch separate from his normal practice of combining winter and spring harvests for his high grade produce for retail sale. We discovered that he still had a small amount of this harvest left when we visited his farmhouse a few months ago and inquired if he had any unique batches of tea to share. In classic local manner, he modestly replied that he had a batch of Dong Pian Tsui Yu that was harvested last January. Dong Pian in Chinese basically means late winter harvest, and Tsui Yu is a hybrid strain that is translated as Jade Oolong. We tasted it and were captivated by its character, and were delighted to be told that there was enough tea be shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club!
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Shown above is the more recently planted section of a plot of Tsui Yu, aka Tai Cha #13, aka Jade Oolong. The crop that we are sharing with the Eco-Cha Tea Club this month was harvested in January, which makes it a relatively rare batch of tea in that it was harvested well after the winter harvest. In Taiwan, harvests that occur after December 21st are referred to as "Dong Pian", which is a name that connotes a new leaf growth that is stunted by the winter season. This late winter crop offers a distinctive character based on the slow growth of the new leaves on the tea trees.
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With the first brew poured off, the leaves offer a distinctly roasted character with nutty, fruitwood fireside notes. After the second brew the aroma of the brewed leaves turns a bit fruity, with a warming spice sweetness reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The tea has a roasted flavor upfront, followed by a sweetness like grilled fresh corn. Then it moves into a more balanced, rich, complex character and smooth texture. The second visual assessment of competition teas is the purity of color and transparency of the brewed tea. It should be clear and luminescent.
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