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Oolong Teas: a complex world between green & black

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(Envy of your explorations in Taiwan!)

Aged Fo Shou Oolong – 2001 Fujian Oolong Tea from Norbu

3 grams of plummy, chocolate-scented dark twisted and compacted leaves in a small unglazed porcelain pot; flash rinse; about 120 mL water 205 degrees, first infusion 20 seconds

strongly earthy, but also fruity and tart—not in the sweet dark almost prune notes I usually think of as plummy, but more like a tart, barely ripe plum, yet very mellow—needed to steep longer, despite sitting a few minutes after the flash rinse—seems like it wasn’t yet releasing as much flavor as it was absorbing water for this infusion

(this tartness seems to distinguish it from an aged puerh)

But there seems to be a char or bitterness from fresh roasting….so I’m putting it in one of the yixings to air out a bit.

[i suddenly have a reason to buy a couple of nice loosely sealed ceramic tea caddies, just for times like this, when I want the tea to air out just a bit, but not really to sit open on the counter.]

And a week or so later, I’m drinking it again, and less of the bitterness is there—it DID need to air out a bit, and Greg had told me the sample he sent had been just re-roasted the day before. It is still fruity and tart and dark but the bitter is muted, and I’m enjoying it more. This is not a mellow, sip-while-working-on-something-else tea: a little slip with the infusion time and I’m back to bitter char.

It’s very interesting stuff, and I’ll enjoy working with the rest of this sample, but it’s not going to make it into my regular rotation, because there are too many teas I like better, that are not so demanding. But given how dilute I’m preparing it, I anticipate many, many more infusions before I’m done.

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Thanks for the detailed tasting notes on the Aged Fo Shu, WC. I happened to brew it the same day and also found that a few weeks of just sitting in the zipped bag after being opened the first time really took the edge off the roasted component to the taste...and as you know, I drink mine with a much higher leaf: water ratio than you do. Impressive improvement. I may get another sample of this to see how it does after many more months, just because I am really curious about the various aged Oolongs that are finding their way westward. Just a few years ago most of us assumed that only Puerh was intentionally aged.

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Anyone knows of any tea websites that provides good information on green and black teas? I would like to deepen my understanding and appreication of tea, Thanks!

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Surprised to realize the question above never got answered. If I read a post like that and don't have time for an answer right then, I often forget. In case you're still looking for info, I can suggest the Japanese and Chinese green tea & black tea topics here in the coffee & tea forum. For deeper understanding, I'd suggest a book, rather than websites, because most of the really nice websites I know of tend to specialize in one or another type of tea, and The Story of Tea (by Heiss & Heiss) gives a good basic grounding so that you can scout some tea purveyor's sites without getting lost in their particular biases too much.

I don't drink much black tea or read a lot about it, so can't help much there.

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Yesterday and this evening, I tried Norbu's 2011 Tsou Ma Fei Ali Shan oolong tea, Greg's fanciest offering of Taiwanese oolong. It is just terrific: even the first 'bulk' brewing in my thermos (I really was impatient to start it ) drew a "wow" from my colleague: "This one is really high class, isn't it?" In the evening, I revisited the tea and took notes.

Tsou Ma Fei 2011 Spring Ali Shan Oolong Tea


5 grams of tea in a 100mL gaiwan, with about 75mL water per infusion, water heated to about 205 degrees. The leaves are quite large rolled up, and large and lovely unrolled, deep green with reddish margins.


20": elegant, floral, spicy, sweet--a wonderful starter infusion.

30": spicy sweet dominates the floral a bit in the first sip. There is a hint of astringency in the last few drops, so I will decrease the next infusion time.

20": rich, spicy-sweet, floral and deep. It reminds me very much of the 'white oolong' from Norbu, but they are not quite the same. I will need to do a head-to-head to figure out why there are not.

30": a little more astringency and spiciness, with the sweet lighter--more apparently if I slurp with a lot of inhalation. It's not the grassy astringency of a sencha, but some drying on the tongue, a woody/herby/spicy quality.

20": shortening again, as the unfurling leaf has filled the gaiwan with long, deep green leaves with red tinted edges, so full that I realize its a LOT of leaf, and the shorter infusion is, indeed, very unlike water: a little lighter than the first, but still spicy-sweet in that wonderful Ali Shan way, mmmmm.

25": such a fantastic spicy floral scent--sweet, but not cloying, hints of cinnamon and almonds, and I just want to sniff and sniff. Eventually, a sip proves just as lovely, but more of the spicy flavor is dominant.

40": (last infusion was a little thin) sweet, floral, spiciness receded a bit for mellower feel this time

45": (lost track of time) we're mostly at sweetwater here, but very delicious sweet water with hints of flower and spice.

10 minutes (lost track of time again): spice, warmth, some hay/caramel base but still light, floral notes mostly gone but a little sweetness remaining

about 5 minutes: warm, light, sweet with just a little warm depth to it, better than the last one, though thinner, because the sweetness was better balanced

about 5 min: warm, sweet, delicious but light.

Had at least another 3-4 infusions like this, long, slow, just mild and warmly sweet for the end of the evening

Round II: out of curiosity, and because I had an open pouch already of the 'White Oolong' (spring 2011 from Jenai Township, Nantou County, Taiwan), I compared them this evening. I used a little less tea so the leaves wouldn't be pushing up the lids of the gaiwans.

3.5 grams of tea on small gaiwans, about 75 mL per infusion, kettle set to maintain 205 degrees throughout

The Tsou Ma Fei has a richer, more floral scent; the White Oolong is sharper. TMF has larger leaves, and the dried leaf balls are a little paler sage color.

15": probably could have been a little longer, and the white oolong is distinctly lighter here too--even with only 15" infusion, the TMF is sweet and though not yet deeply flavored, it has more depth than the lightly sweet and grassy WO.

30": Very similar to the first infusion distinction: both sweet, spicy, but the TMF is definitely richer, deeper, sweeter--a stronger flavor at the base. The WO is delicious, but in a more delicate way, and it shines better when I sip it first, enjoy the lighter tea, then drink up the TMF.

30": Similar distinctions, both very similarly sweet and floral and spicy, but definitely a deeper richer oolong-ness in the TMF, and a grassier, more delicate white-tea-ishness in the WO. I understand better now why Greg calls the WO 'White' 'Oolong'.

30-45": delicious again, such a nice 'comparison', where the teas are each so nice, but so distinct.

Several minutes (forgot!): still delicious, and both forgave the long infusion

1 minutes: this time, a little light--although normally this would be a good infusion length at this point in the series, the long prior infusion took a lot out of each of the leaves.

Almost 3 minutes: more delicate, but still delicious, floral and sweet both, but distinct

5 minutes: still a difference between them, but both are now floral, sweet, and the astringency and spiciness are mostly gone

I think I missed at least two infusions towards the end here, long infusions where I just ignored the gaiwans for a while and then poured and drank. They were also good. A lot of people might have stopped before this point, but the leaves were still yielding an improvement over plain water, so I enjoyed them. And interestingly, the flavors of both lasted to this point about equally well, with the same consistent flavor profile difference maintained to the end.

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