Monday, January 30, 2006

China Special Oolong, "Buddha's Palm", Upton Tea Imports
Out of 5.
Overall - 3.5
Primary Flavors - 4
Secondary Flavors - 3
Aroma - 4.5
Finish - 3
Temperament - 4

That this is the most expensive of my Upton Teas at $72/lb underscores how reasonable their teas are. I've been consistently surprised at the way they price their teas too, several of the $15/lb chaff teas have had more going for them than their more expensive counterparts. Going way out on a limb, perhaps Upton is targetting their teas for the more straightforward neutrality occidentals traditionally prefer?

This is a relatively delicate tea with a wonderful aroma and an agreeable, if shy, flavor. The liquor is light for a tea from Fujian, but the flavor is nicely rounded without a hint of green. The aroma is what really stood out about my first cup of the tea. There is no name for it... it's an organic, almost peaty flavor - not in the way Darjeelings often are, more distinctively oolong. Very good, if difficult to pinpoint. The primary flavor is less interesting however, a neutral, delicate woody tone without much backing it up. Vaguely sweet. I have a theory that I didn't let it go enough so I am going to try again, but this time I will seek to destroy the tight little rolls with a good minute under hot water.

My second round was definitely stronger... a burnt umber colored tea, with that aroma now infused into the flavors, a strengthening of the woody primary flavor and that funny numbing of the tongue I've tasted on several really good 2005 pickings. This is a much better tea when you smack it around. There is a lemony tartness to the undertone which is an odd counterpoint to the woody main flavor and the earthy aroma, but the package works well enough. The finish is longer this time around, and picks up the lemon and earth tones.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Premium Formosa Choicest Oolong, Upton Tea Imports
Out of 5.
Overall - 3
Primary Flavors - 3
Secondary Flavors - 3
Aroma - 3
Finish - 4
Temperament - 3

This was another very "Wuyi" Formosan, with long, curving, black, green, white leaves, and a straightforward yet delicate oolong flavor. It's good for a Taiwanese, but other than the finish there really isn't too much I can say about this tea. The aroma is mild and the primary flavor is an agreeable green bamboo with a hint of toasty oolong goodness.

I used a lot of leaves in the large yixing, in my experience longer "tri-color" leaves stew easily, so more leaves allows for a shorter brew while still bringing out the subtlety. Your tea color comes out lighter, but the flavor is robust. Basic gong-fu, but especially important with this type of tea. The high leaf content rewarded us with a very nice finish for such a bland tea, a unique salty bitter-earth that sits on the tongue long after you finish the cup. It was really quite pleasant, and counterbalanced the greens and toast of the primary flavor nicely. The tea is a little bit of a one-trick pony though, the finish redeems what is otherwise bland on a 'Republic of Tea' scale. A good tea to experience once, then put in the drawer to drink when you have a cold.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Shui Xian, Wen Shan, Fujian, China
Out of 5.
Overall - 4
Primary Flavors - 3 1/2
Secondary Flavors - 4
Aroma - 4 1/2
Finish - 3 1/2
Temperament - 4
I recently recieved a package of tea samples from my friends over at Tea Masters in Taiwan. I need to remember to return the favor! I selected the Shui Xian to try first, a loose rolled darker tea from Wen Shan. This was an interesting tea, unique in several ways from other teas I've had. First, it's almost black in consistency, with a fairly neutral aroma to the leaves, which seem much shorter than you'd expect, though they unfurled to normal long leaf dimensions. I brought my white crackle yixing into work to brew it in, it's a larger yixing that works better for sharing with Jocelyn and drinking tea throughout the day, but given the sample nature (I'm hoping to get 2 pots out of the bag) and the cooler water than at home (maaaybe 200 degrees from the tap, then transfered before pouring), the larger pot exacerbates the diluted nature of the brew, so my steeping times go up significantly. Still, it's a quality yixing and it comes with excellent wide-mouthed 1.5 oz finished yixing cups.

The tea's aroma has an acidic, almost smoky note to it, not like lapsang souchong, much more faint, and slightly sweet like barbeque. This acidic roastedness is prevalent throughout the experience, with the first flavor that greets you a toasted rice note matched with a rounded classic "dim sum" oolong taste. After a moment the secondary flavor greets you - unmistakably pu erh! The rich earthyness picks up on the toasted rice acidity and briefly eclipses the primary flavor, but the aroma of the classic oolong returns as the pu erh fades into a fairly sharp finish which leaves a sweet flavor on the palate. Overall a particularly complex, yet agreeable tea. The flavors work in much better concert than most muti-faceted teas, and it shows competency in each major area of the experience. For a classic oolong with some pu erh notes it has my recommendation - however in my opinion there are better teas available for an overall tea experience. With most things I'm a classicist-minimalist, I value simple things done exceptionally well over radical creativity, but tea isn't one of them. To evaluate a tea as truly world-class I look for a wonderful taste that I'd never imagined before, in addition to complexity and agreeability. So far I've never found a tea I couldn't find room for improvement on, and doing the basics exceptionally well put this tea in rare company. A delicious, if possibly somewhat uninspired tea.