Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Two Different Oolongs, Similar Backgrounds

In the last post I noted my disappointment in finishing off the last of the Alishan High Mountain Oolong from the 2014 Winter harvest. As I predicted there, the remaining Alishan was gone by the following day. However, I assured anyone reading it that I had some Long Feng Xia to put out and share. Perhaps one of the best High Mountain oolongs coming out of Taiwan at the moment, a quality Long Feng Xia is a pleasure to drink and enjoy. As with the Alishan, it is a "green" or "jade" oolong - slightly oxidized, primarily unroasted, light in the cup but full of aroma, subtle flavors, and delicious tea oils. The 2015 winter harvest just took place, and this year's batch is quite good, and well worth the price.
It took me a bit, but I found "Dragon or Phoenix Gorge" on Google Maps and zoomed in via the Earth overlay. As you can see, there are lots of tea farms right in the area, all of which fall under the label Long Feng Xia.
Here is the same spot in the topo overlay. Zhushan township is just to the north and west, while Lugu township (which is also well known in the Taiwan oolong world) is just to the north. The Long Feng Xia area is between 1400m and 1800m (4,500 feet and 5,900 feet).
This map shows the boundary of Zhushan township. Long Feng Xia (Dragon Gorge) is located in the Shan Lin Xi district, which in turn is in Zhushan township, Nantou County, Taiwan. Meishan township is directly below, which is where many good Jin Xuan oolongs come from, as well as where Alishan is located, the other exceptional High Mountain oolong area.

High Mountain oolongs should exhibit a high pluck standard, such as in the picture above. The batch I ordered for the shop is from the Qing Xin varietal, which is an "indigenous" varietal. By that I mean it is one of the original ones to come over from Fujian, China sometime during the late 1800s, versus the newer varietals created by TRES in the 1980s, such as Jin Xuan or Tsui Yu. As this oolong is unroasted and only lightly oxidized, it readily gives up its qualities to the water it is steeped in, as exhibited by the measurements I got:

Temp - 150
PH - 7.3
TDS - 79ppm

Brewed Tea
Temp - 148
PH - 6.27
TDS - 449ppm

PH - 1.03
TDS - 370ppm

The name of this post is "Two Different Oolongs, Similar Backgrounds." I titled it that because the other oolong, which I had a few days ago, is called Jin Chuen. It is from Fujian, China. What could be similar about these two oolongs other than that they are both oolongs? Well, it turns out that Jin Chuen is Jin Xuan! So, here is an example of an oolong varietal developed by TRES in 1980 and labeled TRES #12, Golden Daylily, or Jin Xuan, which was taken back to Fujian, China and grown there. The similarities stop there, as the Jin Chuen tastes nothing like Jin Xuan oolongs coming out of Taiwan at the moment. Rather it is lightly roasted in the traditional Chinese method, imparting a bit more earth, muting the floral notes, and presenting the drinker with a flavor profile that clearly carries an "old world" sensation. Not the most popular among contemporary US oolong drinkers for this very reason, I found the Jin Chuen to have it's own enjoyable qualities, taking me on a journey to ancient farms, ancient soil, and ancient techniques. I found it to respond best to a few longer steepings instead of my usual multiple, quick steepings.

The pluck standard is not the same in China as it is in Taiwan, so the leaves were primarily single leaves with either no stem or a single stem.

The readings I got were:

Temp - 150
PH - 7.30
TDS - 80ppm

Brewed Tea
Temp - 152
PH - 6.12
TDS - 414ppm

PH - 1.18
TDS - 334ppm

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Talking Taiwan Oolongs, Superior Puerh, and Green Needle Tea

Alishan Light Roast High Mountain Oolong

I feel a bit bad for posting this, as we got in around 300 grams of the Winter 2014 harvest to taste and review. I've had Alishan High Mountain from many sources, and the one we got this batch in from is one of the best (and the price reflects that). Aromatic, light, with plenty of tea oils to coat the back of the tongue and throat, allowing you to continue to enjoy the subtle flavors well after the last sip. This is what the modern, light roast, "jade" or "green" oolong is all about. I put out the 300 grams and it is pretty much all gone - if you are reading this today, there is enough left for a pot or two. However, don't fret, as I've put in a large order from the same farmer for several pounds of this winter's harvest. We do have some excellent Long Feng Xia High Mountain oolong, which is very similar but comes from the Shan Lin Xia area (Jhushan township of Nantou county) to the north. Alishan is the principal high mountain in the Mei shan area of Chiayi county, just south of Nantou in central Taiwan.

The tightly rolled leaves and stems open quickly in one to two steepings.

The big, bold leaves still attached to the stem.

This Alishan is from the Jin Xuan varietal, and the large, robust leaves reflect that. The readings I got on this tea for the third steeping of 30 seconds was***:

TDS - 73ppm
PH - 7.72

Brewed Tea
TDS - 371ppm
PH - 6.34

TDS - 298
PH - 1.38

The Long Feng Xia, which I tasted on the 15th and will post later, for comparison, had a difference of 370 (TDS) and 1.03 (PH).

Superior Puerh - Shou Style 2010

Puerhs are an interesting thing - the cultural packaging around this tea has reached almost mythological proportions. "Symbols associated with Puer tea represent new national, regional, and individual identities to counterbalance prior identities and ongoing globalization" (Zhang, 2014, p. 23). These symbols and the cultural packaging around Puerh tea that has happened in the last 20 years are fascinating, and here in the West we have fully bought into them, as have many Chinese and others. "Many Yunnanese are confused by them, especially by the sudden appreciation for the flavor of aged Puer tea, which ironically was 'artificially' created by a group of advocates in only about five years..." (Zhang, 2014, p. 21). I'm just now delving in to this packaging and re-packaging of at one point what was thought to be a simple beverage, but that does not deny that I do enjoy good Puerh, and the Superior Puerh we have from 2010 is an excellent example of this recent mythology allowing one to enjoy a "drinkable antique."

An old leaf, but still partially intact.

 We have been sitting on this Puerh since 2010 when we acquired it. I have no idea as to the "factory" that it came from, as the package was unlabeled other than the name and date. It is certainly not from Menghai, but most likely one of the other larger factories. We have a number of "mystery" puerhs that we have acquired over the past 20+ years - does that make them any less exciting in terms of the tea itself and the journey it provides? I don't think so, and perhaps that makes them even more exciting, they are truly one-of-a-kind teas and their is only a small amount of them that we can offer. There is also a reason that these puerhs have no provenance - prior to the past 5-10 years, that was how puerh was packaged and sold. Even today, most puerh is blended in some fashion, even "wild arbor" stuff.

The readings I got doing the standard third steeping at 30 seconds:

TDS - 103 (high day?)
PH - 7.68

Brewed Tea
TDS - 322
PH - 6.07

TDS - 229
PH - 1.61

Rainflower Needle Spring Green

This green was picked towards the end of the spring season in Jiangsu Province, China, and arrived on US shores in August during the start of the second green season. In the US, there are really four or five green seasons when buying: the first pre-qingming greens which we air freight directly in from China, the pre-qingming greens that come over on the boats and arrive later, the first summer greens again air freighted over, and then the summer greens that come via boats. Each has a different price point and freshness quality. This Rainflower (Yu Hua) green comes from Nan Jiang area, one of the ancient capitals of China and current capital of Jiangsu, located on the edge of the Yangtze River delta. Lower in elevation than other tea regions, this area has four distinct seasons, with spring being the best for producing fresh greens before the hot and muggy days of summer arrive.

Tightly hand rolled, then pan fired leaves in the form of needles.

A spring leaf, obvious when compared to the size of the ones above.

This Rainflower Needle batch is very good, exhibiting all the qualities that I enjoy in a spring green: freshness, vibrancy, vegetal flavors with sweet undertones. Steep it too long and it will become astringent, but flash steeps of 20-30 seconds produce lovely cups. It is always a gamble with boat greens, as you don't really know what kind of conditions the tea was subjected to on the long journey across the Pacific, but this batch seems to have survived well. Nice to have it around for a bit.

The readings I got were:

TDS - 64
PH - 7.75

Brewed Tea
TDS - 396
PH - 6.25

TDS - 332
PH - 1.50

*** I'm collecting TDS, PH, and now temperature of every tea I drink and will post it here. There are several lines of investigation that is involved with this, but until I can at least come up with some baseline data, I will not conjecture about anything revolving around these numbers. However, tends are starting to make themselves apparent.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Moonshine, Orchid Dew, Black Beauty

Moonshine First Flush Darjeeling

 I've been drinking a fair amount of teas from Darjeeling (and just over the border on either side - Nepal to the north and Assam to the south and east) recently, probably because I have been reading the book "Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea" by Jeff Koehler. Published in 2015, this is a fun, slightly romantic, but also honest look at the history of tea in Darjeeling. I'll try and do a proper review when I am finished, but since I have been reading the book at lunch, my afternoon tea preference has migrated towards the Darjeelings. One of my favorites right now is the wonderful Moonshine First Flush tea from Glenburn Estate. Glenburn figures prominently in the book, and the characters and writing make me feel like I have a closer connection to this delicious tea. I also have another connection to this tea, as I regularly talk with several people from the Estate. I had ordered the Moonshine earlier this year, which was from clonal plants and instantly fell in love with it. This batch, which I re-ordered came from Chinese plants, not clonal plants, but was equally delicious. A touch more earthy then a true First Flush, the Moonshine for me has the perfect combination of floral and ethereal qualities while still maintaining some connection to hills from which the tea is produced.

The carefully dried leaves.

Second steeping.

Whole, China varietal leaves.

I have started to experiment with water - not just in temperature, but in the water itself. Water is perhaps the greatest overlooked component of tea brewing here in the United States, and for me it is a critical part of respecting the tea and the flavor profile crafted by the tea master. Not only is temperature critical for brewing the proper cup of tea - I prefer to brew around 190 degrees for most teas, with a slight cooling taking place over the drinking process of the water to around 185 degrees - but so are the PH and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). I will write more on this in a separate post, but since I have started to record some of this information with each tea I drink, I'll post it here.

Orchid Dew Green Tea

I brought in a pound of this tea to try for the first time. Produced from a Japanese cultivar in China, this green tea is a fresh, lively green that combines tea growing and processing techniques from Japan and China. Air dried, slightly steamed, and then partially rolled this green was a pleasant surprise, and one that I would certainly buy again. It reminds me of a hearty Mao Feng (as oppossed to the lighter Mao Fengs one often encounters) but with a touch more sweetness and vibrancy. With only a pound, I'm sure it will go fast. At a 20 second steep, I got 402 TDS!

So green and vibrant.

Floating in a sea of green.

Perfect leaves.

Black Beauty Orthodox Assam

Jumping back from China to India, the Black Beauty Orthodox Assam is the final tea in this post. I'm working on doing a tea tasting with several different teas from Assam to reflect the different terroir found up and down the Brahmaputra River Valley. Some of the Assams I've been tasting include ones from Halmari Estate, Mokalbari Estate, Hathikuli Estate, Heritage Tea Estate, Mangalam Estate, and others. The "Black Beauty" from Heritage Tea Estate is the latest that I've had. An orthodox tea (like most we carry from Assam, simply meaning whole leaf as opposed to CTC - cut, tear, curl), the Black Beauty was remarkably sweet, with a light maltiness and rich body. A gold-tips tea, I was surprised by its sweetness, which was more honey like than sugar or malty sweetness, and because it did not have nearly as many gold-tips as the Gold Tip Mangalam which we also have. At a 20 second steep I got 394 TDS and a PH of 5.72! To compare, for Mangalam I get 372 TDS for the same time.

No whole leaves, mostly because of the machine rolling.

Now, for some depressing news, but first, a cool painting I found by Sun Wei from the Tang Dynasty depicting a liesurly day in the country enjoying tea. The painting is supposed to be of royals during the Jin (265-420) and Wei (220-265) dynasties in China. Here it is obvious that tea is still consumed more as a soup or broth than as tea like we know of it today.
OK, so for the depressing news. I can't comment really on the situation since I am not there and do not know the particulars. Rather, or me this stresses the importance of knowing your sources, knowing your teas, and knowing whom to buy from. We currently do not carry any teas from Duncan-owned Estates, and I have no plans on doing so in the future. As the tea world continues to shrink and buyers source directly from growers or Estates, human rights issues, the use of pesticides, and greater transparency will continue to be emphasized. I hope the situation rights itself.