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Oolong Teas: a complex world between green & black


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#31 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 16 August 2009 - 01:26 PM

Greg and WmC - I have heard rumors that after several years of the light tgy being dominant, that there is renewed interest and some increased demand for the traditionally roasted tgy.

I started out preferring the roasted tgys, but have come to enjoy the lighter ones on their own terms a great deal.

And aged tgys are also worth exploring. Harder to find, but really worth exploring.

#32 Gregory Glancy

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Posted 16 August 2009 - 04:13 PM

Greg and WmC - I have heard rumors that after several years of the light tgy being dominant, that there is renewed interest and some increased demand for the traditionally roasted tgy.

I started out preferring the roasted tgys, but have come to enjoy the lighter ones on their own terms a great deal.

And aged tgys are also worth exploring. Harder to find, but really worth exploring.

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I've contacted my friends in Anxi to get an answer about the local demand/supply of traditionally roasted TGY. Will report back when I hear from them.

I think Richard is correct, these two styles need to be viewed as separate but related products and enjoyed for what they are on their own terms.

I also agree that aged Tie Guan Yin can be amazing, but I think Richard and I will agree from personal experience that they can be a little finicky. :biggrin:
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#33 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 12:27 PM

Enjoying my first brewing of "Diamond grade Tie Guan Yin" from norbutea.com and loving it. It is an interesting tea that is between my usual dark roasted & earthy Anxi Ti Kuan Yin and the Taiwan Alishan Oolong we were just tasting. It is less floral and a little more roasted than the latter, not nearly as dark and earthy as my usual tea, but still has a delightful sweet undertone. Loving it.

I will continue to explore these green Ti Guan Yins with more interest and confidence, while hoping that my traditional dark roast Ti Kuan Yin won't ever vanish.

#34 mbhank

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 08:25 AM

What Oolong teas have you explored and enjoyed? Any tea vendors that have great Oolongs or good-deal everyday Oolongs you can rcommend to us?

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Check out this relatively new tea shop in Palos Verdes, CA. When you get to the site read the LA Times article that recently appeared. www.TeaHabitat.com

She specializes in "Feng-Huang Dan Cong - Phoenix Single Bush Oolong Teas." I bought a 1998 Honey Orchid Oolong which went easily through six infusions.

Regards,
Hank
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#35 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 11:36 AM

That sounds amazing.

I am in process of signing up for a tea brewing and tasting session next month at this shop.

Thanks so much for the pointer.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 26 August 2009 - 11:36 AM.


#36 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 07:09 PM

after a little more browsing on the site, I think this might be the right sort of thing to dedicate the tiny 60mL yixing pot towards--at an average of $30/ounce, or $480/lb, I wouldn't be drinking this stuff in bulk....

#37 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 07:59 PM

Those appear to be serious Dan Congs. I have not gotten any from her, but perhaps they are similar to the ones at jingteashop.com.

I use a 50 ml gaiwan for such precious leaves. A small Yixing is a good idea, but also check out her pots that are about $39. She is sold out of the smaller ones, but I assume will be getting more in. 100 ml or smaller.

It will be interesting to see how your 60 ml Yixing does. It is certainly a low quality clay at that price, so check to see if you can smell any dirt, clay, mud, chemical or other off odors in it. It may be okay, but if it smells of anything but hot rocks when you pour hot water in it, let us know. There are ways to try to clear that.

#38 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 08:43 PM

The 60mL yixing doesn't have any off odors; I used it for a little TiKuanYin today (a greener one, not the darker roasts), starting with a hot water rinse, and it was fine. I must admit I bought it half because it was cute, but also thinking that it would be good for gong fu style with some fancier teas: a small quantity of leaves could fill it right up, and not generate too much tea to drink at one setting, even with many infusions.

Of course, after I go to her store, who knows what I may come home with!

#39 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 12:47 AM

Enjoying my first brewing of "Diamond grade Tie Guan Yin" from norbutea.com and loving it.  It is an interesting tea that is between my usual dark roasted & earthy Anxi Ti Kuan Yin and the Taiwan Alishan Oolong we were just tasting.  It is less floral and a little more roasted than the latter, not nearly as dark and earthy as my usual tea, but still has a delightful sweet undertone.  Loving it.

I will continue to explore these green Ti Guan Yins with more interest and confidence, while hoping that my traditional dark roast Ti Kuan Yin won't ever vanish.

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I had the Spring 2009 Diamond Grade (AAA) Tie Guan Yin from norbutea.com today.

6.5 g leaf in a 110 ml Yixing at 195 for all infusions.

Rinse: 20; 1: 20; 2: 20; 3: 30; 4: 45; 5: 75; 6: 105; 7: 135; 8: 195

This leaf is not nearly washed out at this point and has at least 3 - 5 more infusions left in it.

The floral aroma is not as strong in the dry leaf, the wet leaf or the tea liquor as it was when I first opened the bag a few weeks ago, but it's still quite present and pleasant and well balanced with the floral, almost creamy taste. The lingering mildly bitter-sweet after taste is still here, too.

I like this tea fine at this point, but if the overwhelming floral aroma is important to anyone drinking this TGY, I suggest drinking it sooner after opening the vacuum sealed bag.

#40 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 30 August 2009 - 06:46 PM

Still working on tea vocabulary....today I am drinking two pints of tea prepared this morning and in thermoses all day, not the perfect conditions for a fine head-to-head, but enough to give a good start.

One was 'Fanciest formosa oolong' from Harney & Sons, and the other 'Champagne Ti Kuan Yin S-365' from Chado.

Off this 'bulk' brewing I can say that the Champagne Ti Kuan Yin is similar in character to the diamond grade tie guan yin from norbutea.com and their alishan high mountain oolong--warm, floral, aromatic, fruity, really no hint of bitter, a gracious tea start to finish.

The formosa oolong is a different and interesting critter, and I am only sad to say that the sample was so small--5 grams--that I don't have any more left for a more formal brewing and tasting. But it was a lovely tea something between the fruitiest golden yunnan black teas and these lighter greener new style ti kuan yins and taiwanese oolongs. The leaves were darker and slender, but despite the darker color, it did not have the smoky or roasted notes I expect from the darker traditional roast of my red-tin ti kuan yin. It did taste like 'tea'--a hint of something lipton-like but I mean that in the best sense, not bitter, not strongly astringent, and not really vegetal like green teas or green vegetables either.

Because of my problems with bitter flavors, I suspect I will continue to spend most of my time with the oolongs and puerhs, with side trips to the most delicate black teas, and now that I have discovered the incredible floral essences of the greener oolongs, will drink less of the jasmines that, being mostly based on green teas, are a bit more problematic to brew.

#41 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 05:27 PM

Did a more formal tasting of some high-quality green oolongs this weekend, comparing 3 Ti Kuan Yins with the Alishan Oolong we tasted here recently. All were brewed in gaiwans with 2.5g tea to 2 oz water at about 195 degrees, with preheated gaiwans and leaves rinsed once before brewing. I started out with infusions at about 1 minute, and gradually increased to 2, 3 and even 4 for the one that I kept on with the longest, but didn't keep detailed enough notes to know at which infusion the times changed. I also worked with an interesting aged version from norbutea.com, which was entirely unlike the others.

Harney & Sons Spring Floral Ti Quan Yin
after rinse, leave smell like a green tea--vegetal, a bit astringent
1-flavor like the scent--not very rich, very green, barely oolong-ish
2-less flavor 2nd time around....set leaves aside and continued with some others
came back to this 30 min or more later, reinfused, and oh wow, sweetness and floral restored and better than at first, so different, now really showing itself as a lovely floral oolong tea.

Chado Champagne Ti Kuan Yin
not a strongly scented leaf after rinse
delicious mild liquor, softly floral
still good at 2nd but not nearly as good at this point as those from norbuteas
came back to this also 30 min or more later, reinfused, and was amazed at how much it had opened up and become an interesting tea
several more infusions were also very nice


Norbu Diamond Tie Guan Yin, spring 2009 harvest
leaves--most floral of all, strongly scented, sweet, I'm in love
sweet, rich body,
same for several more infusions, gradually less floral, still delicious
(just ordered more)
still sweet 6 infusions
how can it be so sweet after 8 infusions? unbelievable
kept on to a 4 or 5 minute 11th infusion, at which point it was pretty much done.

Norbu Alishan High Mountain Oolong spring 2009 harvest
leaves--sweet, hay, floral
closer to the Diamond Tie Guan Yin in flavor than in scent--the scent is less overwhelming
a bit fruity in later infusions
amazing stuff, ditto vs the diamond tie guan yin--losing scent a bit, but still huge flavor
somewhere around 6th insfusion in--still fruitier than the tie guan yin
stopped infusing at 8th or so

And the aged stuff:

Norbutea 1990s aged tie guan yin 1g/1 oz water, in smallest yixing pot:

1st infusion is sweet, fruity, winey, something else I can't define.
similar 2nd infusion; tastes a bit like brandy, maybe? As I don't drink much alcohol, can't define it better than that, but it's a bit of a fermented taste, and not really a selling point for me.
4 or 5 infusions in--still hint of brandy, but now starting to show fruity, floral more; and a little earthiness opening up.
Interesting stuff.

#42 nakji

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 08:42 PM

Well, I've just tried my first Tie Guan Yin; while visiting a local shop (I'm in China) I asked for an oolong because I like drinks with roasted/toasty flavours. Imagine my surprise when, after purchasing a small bag, I brewed it up to discover a delicate, floral tea that outstrips my favourite jasmine tea in light flavours. I love it, but I still crave a roasty tea, for when I want a more intense taste. I can see from the extremely detailed information in this topic that region or name alone may not be enough to distinguish a tea's flavour; what should I be looking for in the tea itself that will help me find a more roasted tea? I assume a darker leaf? A toasty smell? Or is this enough? And is there a producer that does produce a more roasted TGY?

Additionally, if a more roasted TGY is difficult to find, what other sorts of oolongs should I be looking for to find this flavour?

#43 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 08:57 PM

what should I be looking for in the tea itself that will help me find a more roasted tea? I assume a darker leaf? A toasty smell? Or is this enough? And is there a producer that does produce a more roasted TGY?

Additionally, if a more roasted TGY is difficult to find, what other sorts of oolongs should I be looking for to find this flavour?



This is a bit tricky--I would have said that the color of leaves is an excellent guide to the flavor of the finished tea, but I first started playing with these different oolongs in the form of Pouchong, a lightly oxidized oolong from Taiwan that looks, and one of the versions I have is rather dark, but that is full of rich green leaf when brewed up, and has little odor.

But it is still entirely possible to find the darker toasted oolongs. Right now I am drinking some Big Red Robe Wuyi from Chado; I got a lovely Wuyi Oolong from Rishi Teas at the grocery store; and my favorite Ti Kuan Yin is still available in chinese markets, but sometimes is a bit tricky to find. It's the red tin in this image:

Posted Image

I think the smell of the tea leaves should be reliable--if they smell toasty, it will be the old style; if bright and floral, the new style; but if they don't have a lot of odor, trickier to tell.

#44 Gregory Glancy

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 09:36 PM

Nakji-

Physically, most of the fully roasted teas will look darkish in color and sometimes have a toasted aroma depending on how recently they were roasted. A lot of the more roasted teas in China will be stored for a few months to "let out some of the fire" from the roasting, so the aroma of the teas in the shops isn't usually as strong as a newly roasted Houji Cha in Japan.

Looks can be deceiving though, so my best advice would be to find a tea market and ask for a Wu Yi Oolong. Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Tie Luo Han, Shui Jin Gui, and a few other tea cultivars from Wu Yi are all traditionally done in a roasted style, although they are starting to trend towards lighter roasting. When you are asking for these teas (or a roasted Tie Guan Yin), ask for a traditional style, not a light roast and be sure to taste them in the shop. If they won't let you taste, just leave the shop and find another one. Any dedicated tea shop worth anything should let you try their tea. I highly recommend Rou Gui and Shui Jin Gui, but the only problem with Wu Yi oolongs is that they can be very expensive for the real deal. There is Da Hong Pao grown outside of the Wu Yi national scenic area (sometimes called Xiao Hong Pao or Little Red Robe) that can be excellent tasting and quite affordable. I'd start there and work your way up to the other cultivars.

My two cents.

I wish I was there too!

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#45 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 09:41 PM

Erin,

My understanding is that many if not most teashops in China will let you try a tea before buying. Cool! Because buying sight unseen is not what works out well most of the time. If you'll let me know what part of China you are in it may help in several ways.

For the toastier Oolongs, I think you would like not only the more oxidized TGYs, but also the Wu Yi Rock or Cliff Oolongs from Fujian Province such as Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) or Bai Ji Guan. That said, many Oolongs have versions that are more and less roasted. The roastier versions are usually considered traditional. You may also want to try some Feng Huang Dancongs from Guang Dong province. To complicate things and make them more interesting, there are many versions of all these teas and also aged versions of teas from Anxi, Guang Dong and Fujian.

So drink samples at your local shops and then buy a little of what you like - 25 g - 50 g each. There are a couple thousand Chinese teas and you can sample many that never or rarely get to the West. You lucky person.

Hope this helps a little. Maybe someone [pssst, Greg] who has traveled in China could expand upon this.

#46 Gregory Glancy

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 09:56 PM

Hope this helps a little. Maybe someone [pssst, Greg] who has traveled in China could expand upon this.


Richard, I must have pressed post just a few seconds before you! Ha!
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#47 nakji

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 10:01 PM

Wu Yi Oolong. Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Tie Luo Han, Shui Jin Gui, and a few other tea cultivars from Wu Yi are all traditionally done in a roasted style, although they are starting to trend towards lighter roasting.


Excellent. Is it possible to ask you to supply me the tones for those names, since I'll have to ask for them orally? I'm not sure my local tea shop speaks enough English to ask specific questions, but I'll give it a go. And for the record, freshly roasting houjicha is one of my top-ten favourite smells in Japan!


If you'll let me know what part of China you are in it may help in several ways.


I'm living in Suzhou, with fairly regular access to Shanghai. I'm going to assume the availability of fine tea is quite good where I am, since I'm in a fairly rich province. More of a problem in Suzhou will be my ability to communicate what I'm looking for. My husband, who speaks more Chinese than I do, was in charge of the buying yesterday and almost bought me a whole jin of the TGY! When I gasped, he said he didn't think 500g of tea was that much. :biggrin: It's nice to know I can ask for a taste - that really is the best way to know for sure.

#48 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 10:05 PM

I can't supply the tones. I'm still learning English tones. But maybe Greg can.

#49 Gregory Glancy

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 10:28 PM

Try these:

1. Da Hong Pao: dà hóng pào
2. Rou Gui: ròu guì
3. Tie Luo Han: tiě luó hàn
4. Shui Jin Gui: shuǐ jīn guī
5. Bai Ji Guan: bái jī guān
6. Xiao Hong Pao: xiǎo hóng pào

Exploring tea shops is one of the most fun things I can think of doing...ask around and see where the nearest tea market is. You'll do much better there in terms of price and quality than in a shop that sells pre-packaged goods.

Have fun!!! I'm having a serious urge to get on a plane right now...

Greg
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#50 nakji

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 12:46 AM

Thanks! Those tones will help my communication efforts. Most of the tea shops on my road sell bulk tea available by weight - the one I visited had five or six bulk oolongs, plus a variety of other greens and floral teas. I'm looking forward to experimenting.

#51 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 08:33 AM

Today trying the Eight Immortals 07 Ba Xiang Dan Cong Oolong that I bought yesterday from Tea Habitat after our tasting.

I started with one gram of tea for one of the tiny 60mL yixing pots. It has a very light odor in the tin--but the fruity started to come out as soon as it warmed up in preheated pot, before even adding the water. I started with water about 190, and reheated when it got below 160 or 170 between infusions.

This is a lovely tea: floral, fruity, winey: reminds me strongly of a tart lychee. And holding up wonderfully for multiple infusions (it was pretty good through 8 or 9, and started to run out of steam after that). And the fruitiness lingers as a wonderful aftertaste.

#52 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 01:06 PM

2009 Fall Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong
norbutea.com

-Fall Harvest 2009
-Gowing Area: Alishan Scenic Area, Chiayi County, Taiwan
-Varietal: Qing Xin (Green Heart) Oolong
-Oxidation: 20%
-Roasting: Light

Today I opened a small 7 g sample of this tea that eG Society member Greg Glancy gave me to try. Greg noted in his description on norbutea.com that brewed gong fu style he was getting three good infusions, compared to many more for the Spring '09 harvest. My experience today is different. Brewed in a tiny 55 ml gaiwan with 3.1 g leaf for infusions of 20, 15, 20, 30 and 45, I found it still good on the fifth. I'll try in a while to see how far it will go beyond that. Each infusion is different, as you would expect, the first being my favorite. I agree with Greg that the floral flavor is a bit hard to describe, and I detect an almost nutty aspect to the flavor on the first infusion that receded on subsequent infusions. The floral aroma stayed strong into the fourth infusion and the various infusions showed shifting flavors of honey-sweetness, floral-orchidy something, and mild astringency that did not catch my attention until the fifth infusion.

Why the difference in my experience and Greg's? My best guess is that I may have used a slightly higher leaf:water ratio since we brewed in the same temperature range.

#53 JMGore

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 03:23 PM

Since someone mentioned it...

Keep your eye out for fake Milk Oolong! I got some last winter from a local teaseller, and have since found it at the two Teashops on either side of Pike Place Market in Seattle (one a block north, one a block south... same company). When I found it at the shop near Pike Place the first time, the owner (who was knowledgeable and friendly) came clean and said that it was flavored. The second time (at the other shop), the person working there checked the packaging which claimed that it was not flavored.

Unfortunately, for Oolong to pick up the creamy flavor that these companies are trying to imitate, the tea must be grown in very rare weather conditions at high altitude, and the tea that results is incredibly expensive. I tasted some about 2 years ago, a competition tea that is rarely found outside of Taiwan (or inside Taiwan for that matter). It was too expensive for me... nearly $300 for a 200g container. Probably the best tea that I've ever tasted, though.

On the other hand, most of the "Milk" oolongs that are sold seem to be flavored. Since the flavoring is applied to the dry tea, it's not hard to test. If you hold a spoonful of the leaves in your hand for a minute or two, the smell will linger on your hand for the rest of the day, even after thorough washing (in my case, anyway). Further, you can rinse the tea in cold water... this will not brew the tea at all, so even though there's no tea flavor, there will be flavor and fragrance from the "Milk" flavoring.

If you like the stuff, I guess there's no reason that you shouldn't drink it... especially since it's not very expensive. Personally, I find that the flavoring really overpowers the tea and it stained one of my yixing teapots for weeks (with fragrance).

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#54 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 03:32 PM

Only mention I've seen of that is here. Does sound like it's worth the time to counterfeit, at that price.

#55 JMGore

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 03:53 PM

The fake stuff actually is pretty cheap... more along the $30-60 per lb. range. Still more than its worth, IMHO.

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#56 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 04:41 PM

Working on the head-to-head comparison of the 2009 Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong Teas from norbutea.com. 2 grams each of the spring, summer, and fall teas, in gaiwans, about 2 ounces of water per infusion, with water that started at 185 degrees and then cooled because I was too lazy to keep reheating the kettle.

I think I am up to the 5th infusion or so, and all are just lovely teas. The spring and fall are very similar in flavor--very sweet, mellow, hay/straw/caramel notes, with the spring tea perhaps holding up little better with more infusions than the fall, and the summer tea is least sweet but more of the warm caramel notes--it just tastes more like fall and harvest than the fall tea does.

They're wonderful teas, standing up to strong cheese (montogmery's cheddar) and tart apples quite well.

#57 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 01:53 PM

Thanks for the comparison brewing, WmC. I have some good cheddar and a crisp apple in the fridge, so I'll have to try that pairing.

#58 LuckyGirl

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 09:06 AM

Greg from Norbu Tea included three sample packets of his 2009 Alishan Oolongs, Summer, Fall and Winter.

Yesterday I started with the winter.

The first session was 4.5g of tea to about 10oz. water around 190F.

My first two observations were that it is perfumey and a little less robust than what I seem to be inclined to enjoy. The floral perfuminess is not really my thing but it is neat to experience in this tea. This tea gave me a spicy end note that really took me by surprise. At first I was wondering if the spice was remnants on my palate of the pumpkin bread I had had about a half hour earlier but as I continued to drink the first cup I realized that it was indeed from the tea.

The second cup lost that spicy end note but I was stuck by a peachiness to it. Is that something anyone else has picked up on or am I mis-naming this element that I tasted? The tea also gave very lightly roasted, light caramel notes.

As this tea was a little light for my liking I didn't go on to a third steeping rather I started another session with what was left of the sample.

This time I used 5.5g to 8oz water, 190F.

This little tweak in the ration definitely improved things. This is still a thinner tea than what I've been gravitating towards but I think this time I got a better idea of what the body should be like. All of the same tasting notes apply. I did go onto a third steeping and I used water just off the boil as I wash rushing to get out of the house. The higher temp did set off an astringency or tanniness.

ETA- I didn't get the little caffeine bump that I want in a tea for the morning (when I started on this tasting session). Anyone else have thoughts on its caffeine content/effects?

Edited by LuckyGirl, 17 November 2009 - 09:10 AM.


#59 LuckyGirl

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 10:26 AM

Today I tried my sample packet of Norbu’s 2009 Alishan Fall Oolong.

5g to 8oz, 190F


The first cup seemed to have more green notes than the the winter Alishan. Not to say it is as green as a green tea but more so than the winter and maybe slightly less toasty. It strikes me as slightly less carmelly as well, but still sweet. The perfuminess of this and the winter Alishan remind me of the Oriental Beauty I tried from Ten ren.

The second cup is giving me what I can only think to describe as orchid notes. In the little I have read about various teas (even some that I have tried) I have seen reference to notes of orchid in the taste but I don’t know that I really understood that taste until this tea. This second steeping is giving me an incredibly sweet taste of some thing like cola. I keep orchids and I have one that smells distinctly like cola when it blooms and another whose blooms are described as having a chocolaty smell (to me it smells more like cola than chocolate). This tea is like drinking the aroma of those two orchids. That is really wild to me!

It is really cool how long the sweetness of this tea lingers in my mouth.

Is it possible that the fall tea gives off slightly more caffeine than the winter or is it just a difference in how I am perceiving/reacting to it today vs. yesterday?

ETA I don't get the light peachiness from this tea that I got from the second and third cups of the winter Alishan.

Edited by LuckyGirl, 17 November 2009 - 10:35 AM.


#60 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 28 November 2009 - 08:00 PM

Bought a small sample of TenRen's first quality Pouchong today, and while it does have a bit more body and sweetness than the 3rd grade, it is still a lighter tea than the alishan oolong and spring tie guan yin's I've been drinking. That part is a bit disappointing; but on the other hand, it means I can keep on buying the much cheaper 3rd grade and still have a nice, reliable cup of tea.