Thursday, December 15, 2005

Formosa Fancy Oolong Imperial, Upton Tea Imports

Out of 5.
Overall - 3
Primary Flavors - 3 1/2
Secondary Flavors - 3
Aroma - 4
Finish - 3
Temperament - 3

Today's tea attacks the monster head on, with a pricey loose roll Formosan. While I didn't love it, I appreciated this tea. The aroma pulls you in, a grassy meadow with a black earth undertone... it smells like summer in Georgia. One of the best aromas I've found in an oolong. The taste was less subtle, however, with an overpowering taste of sugarcane and grass. It sits on your palate overly sweet, and stifles the sesame and mahongany undertones that would have really filled out the flavor. There was no bitter green at all, which represents a major step forward for Taiwan, and bodes well for their chances of overcoming their national fear of oxidized tea. I definitely "get" this tea, I appreciate the uniquness of the aroma, primary and secondary flavors, but it isn't my favorite.

Another light liquor, this tea looks almost identical to Rishi's Wuyi generic tea you can buy at Whole Foods. You could easily pull a Folger's crystals switcheroo and fool someone with the loose, multi-colored red/green/white leaves - at least until you went to brew it, when the very Taiwanese yellow-green cup would give it away. We did it again with hot water and a basket... I wonder if a yixing would mellow out the sugarcane? A darker clay would add some much needed toastiness... I almost suggested that this tea would blend well, but besides being anathema to tea snobbery I think the sesame/mahogany secondary notes would be crushed rather than enhanced by a blending, and a crude sugary grass isn't going to enhance anything else well. It would be much too cruel to suggest a nice plum flavoring, so this one will have to stand on it's own... an interesting but gangly prototype of a tea, a few pekoe leaves and another couple of hours in the sun away from greatness.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from writing about tea because I've been gnawing my way through a pound of Imperial Tea Court's Aged Oolong, a long leaf and therefore lightweight medium bodied "Chinese Restaurant" style oolong. It's cheap and not bad for a daily cup, and a pound of loose rolled tea lasts a very long time. I'll review it at some point, I still have about 1/4 lb left, but I got a slew of new teas in to review. My general policy is to order an assortment from a new vendor each time, usually everything from China with Wuyi, Monkey Picked, or Tikuanyin in the name, and then buy a pound of my favorite. When I get back down to about a quarter pound the process starts over. Thus this blog will have lots of entries all at once as I sample the new haul, then go quiet as I drink the winner off.

Yesterday two boxes arrived, one being a half pound of my favorite tea in the world, Teance's Monkey Picked Tikuanyin from Mom for Xmas. I haven't tried the 2005, but I'm sure it's dreamy. Thanks Mom. I also received my assortment from the new vendor, Upton Tea Importers. I liked their website, they seem pretty serious about tea and offer samples of everything. I ended up picking like 10 teas that looked pretty good.

First Grade Tie-Guan-Yin, China, Upton Tea Imports
Out of 5.
Overall - 2 1/2
Primary Flavors - 2
Secondary Flavors - 3 1/2
Aroma - 1
Finish - 3 1/2
Temperament - 3

This was a confusing tea... with its tight little green rolls it looks like another formosan tea aka dish water, but when brewed is "actually not so bad". I was heartened to notice that this was one of the Chinese varietals and my hatred of all Formosan teas remains unabated. Upton convinced me to try a couple with florid prose about dark chestnut chocolate woody yummies, so I got a couple of Formosans to try later. Back to our Wuyi disguised as a Taiwanese, the dominant flavor is quite mellow, but not green at all. The undertones are even milder, but touch on spice and bamboo. It's the sort of tea that makes you wish you'd used the light colored yixing and the good water, less because it is so wonderful than because you can taste *everything*. The finish holds only the undertones, and creates a good balance of wood and spice. Aroma is basically nonexistant. This is a truly neutral tea and though I can appreciate the sublety, a better tea would leave me more satisfied with the main course as well.

In defense of this sampling, it was made using hot water and a strainer by Jocelyn... she makes a fine cup of tea but to be fair I ought to test it out using a light clay yixing and 200+ degree water. But I probably won't, I have a huge amount of really stellar tea going stale at home and no amount of zazen preparation is going to make this into a winner. Way better than the Formosan that it looks like, but I wouldn't buy it in bulk.