Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Round Up: March 19th - March 26th

Trek to Brooklyn 2017
I was a bit bummed to miss the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival for the first time in many years. Thankfully I was able to live vicariously through +Jo J's blog post.

Meet my tea pet
Regular readers will know about my obsession with tea pets. +Anna Mariani introduced us to her squirrel tea pet and the adorable story that goes along with it.

Notes from the Tea Underground
I've said it before and I'll say it again, +Geoffrey Norman gets to go to the coolest tea events! Portland definitely has one of the most unique tea communities.

What I Like About Japanese Green Tea
+Ricardo Caicedo answers a question that I've often wondered, what made a guy from Colombia become so interested in Japanese green tea?

Cupping an Assam and an Uva
I've been avidly following the adventures of +Georgia SS as she takes an ITEI tea course. Comparing black teas from different regions can be so interesting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is Oolong Tea?


Origins


The birthplace of oolong is the Fujian Province of China. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when production first began but it is likely to have been after the Ming Dynasty as this area was known for its compressed teas prior to that time. Oolong is the anglicized version of the Chinese Wulong, meaning black dragon. There are many legends about the origin of that name but it seems to mostly be tied to the dark, twisted appearance of the oolongs produced in the Wuyi Mountain area. Tea plants from Fujian were first brought to Taiwan in the early 1800's.


Varieties


Oolong is one of the largest and most diverse categories of tea. The oxidation levels can range from as low as 8% to as high as 80%.  For that reason, it is a tea of many faces. There are a massive number of varieties so a list of all of them could go on forever. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to list a select few that oolong beginners should definitely check out.

Chinese

  • Tie Guan Yin
  • Da Hong Pao
  • Mi Lan Xiang

Taiwanese

  • Dong Ding
  • Oriental Beauty
  • Ali Shan

There are also some really tasty oolongs coming from Vietnam, Thailand, and other regions being produced.


Processing


Oolong tea uses larger, more mature leaves than those used for white, yellow, or green tea. It's a bit of a misconception that larger leaves are poorer quality and oolong is proof that this isn't always the case. Tender buds just wouldn't be able to survive the rolling process. For this reason, oolongs are harvested a bit later in the year.

After plucking the leaves are withered in the sun to remove excess moisture. This also makes them more malleable. They are then bruised by carefully tossing them on a bamboo or wicker tray. The leaves are then allowed to oxidize, slowly turning from green to red in color. Heat is then applied at the appropriate stage in order to halt oxidation. This is what stops the tea from fully oxidizing into a black tea. 

Depending on the type of tea, the leaves may then shaped and/or rolled. Anxi and Taiwanese oolongs usually have a distinctive ball shape while Wuyi and Guangdong oolongs have a long, skinny appearance. The leaves will then be heated, often by charcoal roasting, to remove residual moisture and make them more shelf stable. Some types of oolong also have a roasting step that takes place after processing. This is frequently done by tea merchants rather than the producer themselves.


Taste


Due to the wide range of oxidation levels, the taste of oolong can be just as diverse. Lighter oxidized teas will usually have a more grassy quality. Anxi and Taiwanese oolongs are very aromatic and floral but there are lots of nuances within that. Wuyi oolongs are dark and toasty with a strong minerality. Phoenix oolongs mimic everything from fruits to nuts and even specific flower varieties.

How to Brew It


When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 180 to 212° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 3 and 8 minutes depending on the tea. Oolong can be difficult to measure as the leaf shapes often don't fit in a typical teaspoon. Weighing your leaves will help make sure that you are using the right amount. Most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water.

Gongfu is definitely my preferred way to make oolong tea. Yixing clay or thicker walled teapots can be a great tool because they retain heat, making sure that you extract all of the aromas from your tea. Gaiwans are also a great method because you can use the lid to control the heat. Water temperatures will range from around 195° to 212° Fahrenheit with steep times between 15 seconds and 30 seconds.

What is your favorite oolong tea? Let me know about it in the comments!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Golden Leaf Tea Sun Moon Lake

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: long, dark, spindly
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: reddish amber

For some reason, certain kinds of tea tug at my heartstrings more than others. Ruby #18 is one of them. Just the idea of a black tea from Taiwan really blew my mind when I first discovered it. Growing up in a Lipton Orange Pekoe family, a "self-drinking" black tea was completely new territory. The history behind this variety is also pretty fascinating. I will definitely have to revisit my old "Meet the Tea" series so that I can tell its story in another future blog post.

The taste was malty, as you might expect from a tea made from var. Assamica, but it was also mellow with a lot of natural sweetness. Notes of cinnamon spice and dark cacao danced around a vanilla note that almost gave the tea a creamy quality. By gradually increasing the infusion time I was able to get an impressive number of infusions from 6g of leaves. I found myself still drinking after most of the flavor had faded because it still had a really nice sweetness.

Feel free to experiment with your brew times and leaf ratios. Ruby #18 can take the heat like few other black teas can. Bitterness is rarely an issue, even when they are pushed fairly hard. If you've never had the opportunity to try "red jade" then I highly recommend that you treat yo' self by picking some up. You won't be disappointed. Their Honey Red Jade is also definitely worth trying.

Sun Moon Lake sample provided for review by Golden Leaf Tea.