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Tea Tasting: Three Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas


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For our first comparative Tea Tasting & Discussion, eG Society member Greg Glancy at http://www.norbutea.com is contributing samples of three Wuyi Oolong teas. I will mail three of the sets of three 7 gram samples to the eG Society members participating in this Tea Tasting and Discussion.

Here are the three featured Oolongs from the Wuyi Mountain area of the Fujian province. Please follow the links for more information on each of these teas and for brewing suggestions.

Da Hong Pao - Wu Yi Oolong Tea - Spring 09

Shui Jin Gui - Wu Yi Oolong Tea - Spring 09

Ban Tian Yao - Wu Yi Oolong Tea - Spring 09

The sets of three free samples are available to members who 1) will do at least one gong fu cha style brewing session with multiple infusions from each sample, 2) will report on their experience and participate actively in the discussion within ten days of receiving the samples, and 3) who have previously posted at least twenty-five (25) substantive posts (questions, answers, comments that add to discussions) in the Coffee and Tea forum.

While the tasting is open to all members who have posted at least twenty-five (25) substantive posts in the eG Coffee and Tea forum, preference will be given until midnight (EDST) Monday, January 18th, to those who have not participated in the last two tastings.

As always, everyone who does not receive the free samples is welcome and encouraged to participate in the discussion.

So, please PM me now for details if you would like to receive one of the the free samples and participate in this Tea Tasting and Discussion.

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I have known Greg for several years since a presentation he once gave on a trip through the tea markets and farms of China fed my growing interest in learning more about fine teas. Since then he has become a tea friend and we drink tea together and trade teas and tea stories from time to time. Greg and I spent most of a Saturday recently drinking tea and selecting these three Wuyi Oolongs from his Wuyi offerings on norbutea.com. We picked them because we think there are interesting, if subtle, differences among the three: Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui and Ban Tian Yao.

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Here's more information from the norbutea.com site on the first of the three Wuyi teas included in this Tea Tasting and Discussion. Used with permission.

Da Hong Pao (English: Big Red Robe) is by far and away the most famous and revered varietal from the great category of oolongs known as "Wu Yi Yen Cha," or Wu Yi Rock Teas. It was hand harvested and processed during the Spring season of 2009 in the Wu Yi Shan National Scenic Area of Northwest Fujian Province.

Cultivar History:

The name of this tea cultivar comes from a legend with many different variations. The main drift of these legends is that someone in the royal family, usually the Emperor, fell ill with a deep chest cough which was potentially fatal. To cure this illness, the Emperor was served a brew made from the leaves of a particular group of tea plants from the Wu Yi mountains in modern Fujian. The Emperor was so moved by the mystical life-giving powers of these unique tea plants that he had fine Royal Red silk robes, a sign of their divine status, made for the trees to keep them warm and protected during the cold mountain winters.

Three of the original Da Hong Pao trees are still alive in the Wu Yi mountains today, and they are a huge tourist draw for the region. Leaves are still harvested from these trees on an extremely limited basis, and are by far the most precious teas in the world. These rare productions from the original Da Hong Pao trees are considered Chinese national treasures and are reserved exclusively for the highest Government officials and visiting dignitaries. In 2004, 20 grams of tea produced from the original trees were sold at auction in Hong Kong. The selling price for this 20 grams was approximately US $21,000, or well over $1,000 US Dollars per Gram!

Cuttings from the original Da Hong Pao trees have been taken and grafted onto existing rootstock, creating exact copies/clones of the original plants that could be grown and harvested in more accessible parts of the the Wuyishan area. This is a very popular cultivar, and demand for Da Hong Pao is huge both inside and outside of China. This means that Da Hong Pao of varying qualities and price points is widely commercially available, and not all of it is produced by recent generation cuttings from the original Da Hong Pao trees grown inside the Wuyi National Scenic Area. This particular Da Hong Pao represents a moderately priced, but high quality offering from plants grown inside the Wuyi scenic area.

Dry Leaf:

This tea's dry leaves are the long and twisting shape and dark greenish red-brown color characteristic of traditional Wu Yi Yen Cha. The fragrance of the dry leaves is predominantly of dried fruit and roasted nuts...gentle but rich and intriguing.

Roast:

This is a traditionally roasted or "fully" roasted Oolong, which serves the practical purpose of killing or deactivating any remaining oxidizing enzymes left in the leaves after they have been bruised and allowed to partially oxidize, creating the basis for the complex flavors in the finished tea. This roasting process traditionally happens using glowing (not flaming) charcoal covered with rice ash to prevent flame ups, but larger/more modern/less traditional factories use electric ovens for consistency and to prevent the accidental introduction of smoky tastes into the leaves. To use an example from western cooking, much in the same way as searing a piece of meat prior to cooking "browns" or caramelizes the proteins on the surface of the meat (the Maillard reaction) and creates complexities of flavor in the finished dish, this traditional roasting process caramelizes or "browns" the proteins in the surface of the tea leaves, creating an amazing layer of roasted/toasted richness & complexity in the flavor of the final product.

Flavor & Aroma:

The flavor of the deep red-amber tea liquor has sweet woodsy elements that are balanced out nicely with interesting fruity flavors...not exactly dried peaches or plums, but not exactly the rich perfume of pears, either. The caramelized/roasted elements of the overall flavor nicely balance out the sweet fruitiness that could have otherwise dominated the many layers of flavor that are present. The aftertaste is lingering and profoundly woodsy-sweet. This tea is good for at least 5 distinctive infusions when steeped gong-fu style before it starts to fade.

Edited by Richard Kilgore
correction (log)
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Just a reminder that priority will be given until midnight (US-EDST) to members who have not received a free sample in the last two Tea Tasting & Discussions. PM me now after reviewing the first post above if you are interested.

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More information on Shui Jin Gui, the second tea in this three Wuyi Oolong Tea Tasting & Discussion. From the norbutea.com site and used with permission.

Shui Jin Gui (English: Golden Water Tortoise) is one of the 5 most famous cultivars or varietals from the great category of oolong known as "Wu Yi Yen Cha," or Wu Yi Rock Tea. It was hand harvested and processed during the Spring season of 2009 in the Wu Yi Shan National Scenic Area of Northwest Fujian Province.

Cultivar History:

As with other Wu Yi cultivars, cuttings from the originally found "wild" Shui Jin Gui plants (of which 3 are supposedly still alive but not harvested) were taken and grafted onto existing rootstock, creating exact copies/clones of the original plants that could be grown and harvested in more accessible parts of the the Wuyishan area.

Dry Leaf:

This tea's dry leaves are the long and twisting shape and dark greenish red-brown color characteristic of traditional Wu Yi Yen Cha. The fragrance of the dry leaves is roasty-toasty with hints of toasted nuts and maybe a touch of cocoa.

Roast:

This is a traditionally roasted or "fully" roasted Oolong, which serves the practical purpose of killing or deactivating any remaining oxidizing enzymes left in the leaves after they have been bruised and allowed to partially oxidize, creating the basis for the complex flavors in the finished tea. This roasting process traditionally happens using glowing (not flaming) charcoal covered with rice ash to prevent flame ups, but larger/more modern/less traditional factories use electric ovens for consistency and to prevent the accidental introduction of smoky tastes into the leaves. To use an example from western cooking, much in the same way as searing a piece of meat prior to cooking "browns" or caramelizes the proteins on the surface of the meat (the Maillard reaction) and creates complexities of flavor in the finished dish, this traditional roasting process caramelizes or "browns" the proteins in the surface of the tea leaves, creating an amazing layer of roasted/toasted richness & complexity in the flavor of the final product.

Flavor & Aroma:

The flavor of the infused tea liquor is quite rich and assertive with dried stone fruit (peaches, plums, etc) overtones and hints of roasted cocoa in the finish. While this is a stronger roast than some of our other Wu Yi rock teas, the caramelized/roasted notes do not overpower the subtleties in the many layers of flavor, and bittersweet aftertaste (Hui Gan) is fruity, assertive and lingers nicely on the palate.

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I think that I still have a small amount of two of these three teas from my last Norbu order.

I am really looking forward to everyone's tasting notes on these teas.

Do join in, LuckyGirl!

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And here's more background on Ban Tian Yao, our third Wuyi tea from norbutea.com norbutea.com in this three tea comparitive Tea Tasting & Discussion. From the Norbu Tea site and used with permission.

Ban Tian Yao ("Halfway to the Sky") is a lesser known but increasingly popular varietal from the great category of oolongs known as "Wu Yi Yen Cha," or Wu Yi Rock Teas. It was hand harvested and processed during the Spring season of 2009 in the Wu Yi Shan National Scenic Area of Northwest Fujian Province.

Cultivar History:

The name of this tea cultivar comes from it's discovery as a wild-growing, unique varietal high up on a rocky cliff in the Wu Yi Mountains. Cuttings from the originally found "wild" plants were taken and grafted onto existing rootstock, creating exact copies/clones of the original plants that could be grown and harvested in more accessible parts of the the Wuyishan area.

Dry Leaf:

This tea's dry leaves are the long and twisting shape and dark greenish brown color characteristic of traditional Wu Yi Yen Cha. The fragrance of the dry leaves is tough to describe, but a sweet & sour toasted nut type aroma makes itself known when the bag is first opened.

Roast:

This is a traditionally roasted or "fully" roasted Oolong, which serves the practical purpose of killing or deactivating any remaining oxidizing enzymes left in the leaves after they have been bruised and allowed to partially oxidize, creating the basis for the complex flavors in the finished tea. This roasting process traditionally happens using glowing (not flaming) charcoal covered with rice ash to prevent flame ups, but larger/more modern/less traditional factories use electric ovens for consistency and to prevent the accidental introduction of smoky tastes into the leaves. To use an example from western cooking, much in the same way as searing a piece of meat prior to cooking "browns" or caramelizes the proteins on the surface of the meat (the Maillard reaction) and creates complexities of flavor in the finished dish, this traditional roasting process caramelizes or "browns" the proteins in the surface of the tea leaves, creating an amazing layer of roasted/toasted richness & complexity in the flavor of the final product.

Flavor & Aroma:

The flavor of the infused tea liquor has elements of toasted spices with sweet & tart background flavors. One of the subtle flavors in the background of this Ban Tian Yao makes me think of the rich, herbal flavor found in real sarsaparilla or root beer (imagine the root beer flavor without any sugar), making this an intriguing infusion to say the least. The caramelized/roasted notes do not overpower the subtleties in the many layers of flavor, and bittersweet aftertaste (Hui Gan) is assertive and lingers nicely on the palate.

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Brewing guidelines for all three Wuyi teas. From the norbutea.com website, and used with permission.

Wu Yi Teas are best suited to Gong Fu style preparation, but we have also had interesting flavors show themselves when steeping this tea western style. Rather than sticking to a specific weight of tea leaves to water volume measure, we recommend simply filling your gaiwan or Yixing style teapot 1/2 to 2/3 full of dry tea leaves, use water just under a boil and a series of short steepings. If you customarily use a specific guideline when steeping a tea for the first time, start with 6 grams of leaf in a 150 CC steeping vessel.

We strongly recommend using aroma cups when tasting Wu Yi Yen Cha because the sweet fragrance of the tea liquor clings to the porcelain for a surprisingly long time and the different layers & aspects of the complex nose will reveal themselves as the aroma cup cools.

For western style steeping, we have achieved dramatically different results with different amounts of leaf, but we suggest starting with 3-5 grams of leaf in a standard size (+/- 4 cup) teapot. Use water under a boil (195 degrees F), and steep for 5 minutes. Of course these rough guidelines are merely a suggestion, and individual tastes will vary. Adjust the amount of leaf, steeping time, and water temperature used according to your preference.

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Hope your taster/smeller returns to normal soon, Chris.

That's an ambitious approach, Wholemeal Crank, in an already ambtious Tea Tasting & Discussion. I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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I'm going to order a handful of this 80 ml gaiwan from yunnansourcing.com. Not as small as you were looking for, but probably a useful gong fu size, given the various leaf shapes we may be trying to fit into a gaiwan. And not just inexpensive; they are down right cheap!

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This is a very difficult assignment. Using the matched gaiwans described above, I worked with these three teas and, for comparison, a Taiwanese oolong from TenRen. Why difficult? They're all lovely teas, and quite similar in their flavor profiles--toasty, spicy, a little fruity, a little sweet. Little separates them. I think I did the first infusions a little too dilute--1 gram apiece in 75 mL gaiwans but using only 30mL water just off the boil. I will try again with fewer at a time and a more concentrated brew to try to distinguish them better. But I think I did find a little more depth to the Wuyi's that might represent the 'rock' taste.

Here are the teas before brewing

4317407870_1a7c64ff25_o.jpg

Infusion parameters: 10" rinse; 30", 30", 30", 60", 90", 150" infusions

1--Da Hong Pao Wuyi Spring Harvest 2009 from Norbu

Leaf aroma after rinse--spicy, tart, strong

1st--spicy, toasty

2nd--warm, spicy, want more

3rd--a little more fruity and toasty

4th--toasty, with a depth not quite there in the Ting Tung

5th--smoother than 2 and 3

6th--little change, not particularly sweet, still fruity/spicy/toasty

2--Ban Tian Yao Wuyi Spring Harvest 2009 from Norbu

Leaf aroma after rinse--spicy, milder

1st--spicy, toasty

2nd--having trouble differentiating

3rd--dark, toasty, sweet

4th--toasty, more like the 3rd than the Da Hong Pao

5th--still delicious

6th--a bit more camphor than the ad hong pao, otherwise very similar

3--Shui Jin Gui Wuyi Spring Harvest 2009 from Norbu

Leaf aroma after rinse--spicy, tart

1st--spicy, toasty, slightly bitter

2nd--similar

3rd--dark toasty but a little sweet

4th--again, like the 2nd more than like Da Hong Pao

5th--still delicious

6th--a nice sweetness coming out

4--Ting Tung Oolong from TenRen

Leaf aroma after rinse--fruity, tart

1st --toastier

2nd--dark, toasty

3rd--toasty, less spicy

4th--warm, but something lighter about this one--I think this (the element that is not in this one) is the minerality discussed previously

5th--relatively darker, toastier than the 3 whys

6th--smooth, toasty, still less of the 'mineral' or 'rock' taste

First infusion:

4316674613_276ae05a88_o.jpg

Leaves after brewing:

4316674851_2edc0df93f_o.jpg

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Am just starting to play with these teas, and picked the Shui Jin Gui to begin my experiments. 3g of this in a 100ml yixing pot, then poured into a tall clay aroma cup, and then a clay tasting cup. I've noticed with each infusion that as the aroma cup cools, a strong sweet aroma develops that is quite reminiscent of pistachio ice cream, in that toasty, floral way that pistachios are. The tea flavor always starts roasty and mildly bitter, then a sharp tartness appears, then a mellow sweetness arrives. As the infusions progress, the intensity of the tartness decreases, and the sweetness becomes more intense and the roasty bitterness meshes with the sweetness.

Will have to give the others the same treatment and see what aromas the aroma cup brings out.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Today, drinking the Ban Tian Yao again, this time with 2 grams of leaf to the 60mL yixing teapot I'm using for oolongs. The first infusion was fruity, sweet, earthy and toasty all at once; the fruitiness increased nicely in the 2nd & 3rd infusions; but now, as I'm getting to the 9th or 10th (have lost count), the toasted/earthy flavors are more dominant.

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Interesting. Sounds like more fruit notes came through with this session using the Yixing, compared to the one with the gaiwan. Was the leaf: water ratio about the same, or slightly more concentrated? Timing the same? What do you attribute the difference to?

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The yixing may have contributed; I was thinking the leaf to water ratio was higher, but actually it was about the same; and probably tasting it on its own, not comparing it to the other teas, allowed the flavors stand out more than when I was trying to find differences between them.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)
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Ok. Now I'm trying the Ban Tian Yao, and I'm getting a totally different impression from this tea than from the Shui Jin Gui. Right now I'm commenting on the first 30 second infusion of 4g in my 100 ml yixing, done with just off boiling water. This is much more vegetal and much less toasty. A sweetness comes through in the aroma and the flavor, but it is so intertwined with the vegetal that it is presenting something that brings to mind green peppers... a sweet, yet quite vegetal flavor impression. In the aroma there is an almost peppery thing going on which also seems to help push the vegetal impression. There is no tropical floral aroma happening here at all yet... perhaps that will emerge in subsequent infusions... the closest floral characteristic I can think of might be osmanthus, a flower that the Chinese traditionally use to augment some teas. The aftertaste of this cup is much more vegetal, and not so distinctly toasty/sweet. As this tea cools the osmanthus characteristic begins to pop, and brings along a fruity note as well.. a sharp current/elderberry aroma accompanies the cooling cup, but does not appear in the flavor.

A second 30s infusion brings another cup with the distinctive peppery/vegetal aroma up front. This infusion is flatter on the palate than the last... (probably should go 60s on infusion 3). Again vegetal, remiscent of green peppers in the sweet/bitter/vegetal combination. This tea is just not clicking with my taste buds today. Smells fantastic as it cools, but doesn't deliver on the palate. Must try a cooler water as well.

Will continue my thoughts after I get around to doing infusions 3-5.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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OK... have done infusion 3 now (I know, bad me leaving leaves in the pot for 48 hrs... they got a 15 sec pastuerization rinse, at least.) I used water closer to 180 this time, 60 seconds of infusion, and the results were, sadly, truly unremarkable. The character of the leaves was obscured by a sort of generic oolong quality of a slightly woody slightly fruity-leaning-towards-metallic character, which while nice enough, didn't demonstrate what else was going on in there. Water getting warmer again for infusion 4.

Infusion 4, water in the 190s, 60 seconds was also unremarkable. Woodsiness predominates much more like a Bai Hao now, which indicates that the rest period permitted the leaves to oxidize further. Any further reports would be on a tea not as intended. Will have to rebrew with some of the remaining leaves and see if I can make myself go through more than 2 or 3 infusions of this one... If I can, I'll report back. If not, then my next musings will be on the Big Red Robe.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Have just done a few infusions of the Da Hong Pao and have some observations. 3.5g to 100ml water just off the boil 30", 45" and 60". Nice fruitiness, more significant tannins here than in the other two. This seems much more oxidized than either of the other two, almost more like a fruity black tea than like an oolong. This seems like the same base leaf stock as the Shui Jin Gui, but allowed a longer wither and oxidation period... similar notes between the two, but more oxidized and tannic in the Da Hong Pao. The first three infusions present a darker color in the cup than the others and an astringent tannic mouthfeel, and a stone-fruit flavor, which goes along with a stone-fruit aroma that develops as the cup cools. The tannins bring a slight woodiness, and supress any real sweetness that is in the leaves, leaving a balanced cup leaning toward the dry astringent side.

Will do another few infusions after lunch.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Have done infusions 4 & 5 at 90" and 120". The woodiness and bitterness on the palate increase, while the aroma goes to a cross of fruity and metallic. I don't get the impression that any further infusions will yield much interesting.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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