Sunday, August 07, 2005

Today I am reviewing perhaps the best Taiwanese tea I've had, which is not saying much. The problem with Formosans isn't that the leaves are inferior, which they are, it's that the Taiwanese are afraid to oxidize their teas, so they all come out mostly green. Take today's tea, for example, a High Mountain Dark Roast. I got pretty excited when I saw this tea. Grown at 6000+ feet, as a rule of thumb altitude is generally required for subtlety in tea. Dark Roast implied that perhaps this tea would overcome the Formosan problem, and Teance's teas are as good as their name is stupid, no kidding. I dream about their Tikuanyin.

In the end, the Formosan Dark Roast was ok. The leaves were quality but the tea was a little green. A little browner and this would have been a real winner, and as it is it was decent, I drank the whole quarter pound fairly quickly.

Teance High Mountain Dark Roast Oolong Tea Tung Ting Taiwan, 2005

Out of 5.
Overall - 3
Primary Flavors - 2
Secondary Flavors - 3 1/2
Aroma - 3 1/2
Finish - 2 1/2
temperament - 3

If you like your oolongs green this is a really excellent tea. The finish was much less sharp than I expected, and the secondary flavors held up. These were what you'd come to expect from a high altitude Wuyi - a nice toasted flavor, with a unique hint of matcha. A woody undertone. The liquor was a darker yellow than I expected with a true oolong aroma.

The tea comes in tight, glossy little knots, some with stem - the bottom leaves. I thought it was interesting they used the lower leaves for such a high grade tea, but the result was fine, it actually probably helped. Being the bottom leaves they unrolled huge, 3+ inches long. If you wanted a tea to make in your gaiwan, this would be a great candidate (both because of the green-ness and because the leaves would stay put in a loose infusion).

Brewing was fairly delicate but the lack of a sharp finish helped with malleability. Since it was so tightly rolled you have to go long on the first infusion, especially if you don't wash the leaves, which I haven't been. A point of order here. In traditional gong fu the rules are pretty firm about washing the pot with boiling water without leaves then washing the leaves with boiling water to clean them and get them unfurling. I have been known to cheat this process in order to save time and get more out of the leaves. For dried-long teas from good importers I don't see a need to ever wash the leaves. For tight-rolls it makes a difference though, no doubt. The best way to do it is to wash the leaves then let them sit for about 5 minutes damp to let them unroll. Like I said though, I've been known to cheat. I usually make several pots at a time and mix them in my bigger serving teapot, and I've found that inconsistencies in flavor from brewing the wash water get smoothed out when pots two, three, and four are mixed with it. That said, if I was serving someone else or really being careful I'd definitely wash a tight-roll tea first.

So back to it, for an everyday cup without washing, I usually did 45-35-40-50-1:00-1:15. This tea finished strong on the 5th and 6th, with more of the undertones coming out rather than fewer - it actually settled down in a good way.