Today I’m excited to share a guest post from Kevin Craig. We “met” through Twitter and after connecting on various forms of social media, I quickly discovered that his passion for tea rivals my own. The various cultivars of tea is something that I wish I knew more about so I’m thankful to have him share this information with you all.
Before getting started on the subject material, please let me thank Nicole for allowing me to submit a guest post to her blog. Nicole was very patient in waiting for this submission. Thanks again, Nicole.
Over the past month, I have had the pleasure of sampling about a dozen various black and oolong tea samples direct from Taiwan. My research of each tea inevitably led to the study of the Tea Research and Extension Station of Taiwan, commonly referred to as the TRES. This organization, a collection of tea masters and scientists, has the purpose of developing new tea bush cultivars, better tea plantation and manufacturing strategies, and educational materials for farmers, manufacturers, and consumers. This organization is affiliated with Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture. The headquarters of the TRES is located on twenty hectares of land in Pusin, Yangmei, Taoyuan County in Taiwan.
The land itself is used as an outdoor classroom, and has been given the official name of The Outdoor Classroom for Water and Soil Conservation at Tea Research and Extension Station. There are currently twenty-one official cultivars that have been created by TRES. Most of them are intended for production as oolong style teas, with a smaller number intended to become black teas, and even fewer that are able to be produced into green teas. Rather than run through the entire list of twenty-one cultivars, which may be found here, I will highlight two blacks and two oolongs that I have personal experience with.
Let’s start with two of the black cultivars developed by TRES that I have had the pleasure of tasting. The first has been given the name Ruby, or Red Jade, with the official number being TTES 18. The sample that I reviewed was purchased from a company called Easy Tea Hard Choice Ltd., based in Taiwan. If you care to purchase a twenty-five gram sample of TTES 18, please click here. According to the founder of Easy Tea Hard Choice, Red Jade is the most famous black tea in the Sun Moon Lake region of Taiwan. TRES developed this tea by crossing the local Taiwan tea tree and a Myanmar assamica. The dry leaves are long and tightly twisted. When infused, these leaves open up, exposing some large leaves that will not be found in black teas from other countries. The golden liquor has a noticeable minty feeling in the mouth. This is a very high quality black tea, but the next TRES cultivar is in a league of its own.
The TTES 21, referred to as Red Rhythm, or Hon Yun, is the best black tea that I have tasted thus far. The Red Rhythm was developed by crossing the Keemun and Kyang (Nepalese assamica) bushes. The dry leaves are incredibly long. In fact, I have yet to find dry tea leaves that come close in size, with some leaves measuring over two and a half inches (60 mm). Tightly twisted, wiry, with an amazing citrus smell, this tea was an instant favorite before I even brewed it. The color of the liquor was lively orange-red, and the taste was unbelievably fruity, citrusy, and well balanced. You may purchase a twenty-five gram sample of this tea as well at the same link as above. It is worth every penny.
Let’s move on to the better known oolongs developed by TRES. There is one type of Taiwanese oolong that is very unique from any other cultivar that I have experience with. That cultivar is the TTES 12, Jin Xuan, or Milk Oolong. This cultivar is a mix of the Ying Zhi Hong Xin and the TTES 8 bushes. Teas from this cultivar only are true milk oolongs. There are many imposters out there, all using different cultivars, and simply adding flavoring to the leaves to give it a milky or buttery taste. Real Jin Xuan oolong does not have a milky or buttery taste. The taste is dominantly floral, but the texture does have a creamy feel. The aroma also has a milky scent, caused by the lactones that the leaves produce. Here’s a quick tip to differentiate true Jin Xuan from imposters, if you open the package and it smells like buttered popcorn, it is fake. If there is a light to mild, milky scent, then it is probably authentic. My new brand of teas, Hē Chá Tea, offers a true Jin Xuan product that we have called Mount Ali Milk Oolong, since the region of origin is the Ali Mountains (Alishan) of Taiwan. Contact me if you would like a sample. Currently, we are distributing to local coffee shops, as our retail website is not yet available.
The other TRES development that I will focus on is the Bai Lu, or TTES 17. TTES 17 is a mix of the TTES 1958 and TTES 335 bushes. Sorry, I was not able to locate the common names for these bushes. The Bai Lu is incredibly aromatic. Generally produced on the lower side of the oxidation scale, Bai Lu boasts some fruity and floral flavors, a rich aroma, and a lively yellow liquor color. These lighter oxidized Taiwanese oolongs provide an uplifting effect that is hard to describe. The Bai Lu, also known as Ruan Zhi, is also known to be cultivated in Thailand and in Anxi county, China. The cultivar may be the same, but the tastes of the teas from each region differ based on the terroir. Isn’t this one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring facts about tea?
Thank you for taking your time to read my guest post on the Tea For Me Please Blog. Please take a moment to visit my personal tea review blog at http://www.teajourneyman.com. I use that same name on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Also, keep your eyes open for Hē Chá Tea! I am working with a very successful coffee roaster who is helping me distribute this product, so it may be in your area sooner than later. I will have a blog site set up soon at http://www.hechateablog.com. This will provide information until the full retail site is up and running.
Cheers for tea!