Hello teaple! Today is the sixtieth installment of Teatime Tuesday, and I have decided that today’s installment will mark the final regular weekly installment for this blog. I have moved tea reviewing over to Steepster, where the more laid-back environment and tea-centric community is just working out better for me for this style of content. So if you really want to keep up with my tea adventures, they are still going on there! But today marks our final teatime here.
I may post some occassional Brewsletters on tea topics I want to talk about on a random and irregular schedule, when I get the time (I’ve had a rant about company sites that pick and chose customer reviews they allow onto their sites, and a post about “tea hacks” I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but you know, finding the time in my current health situation has kept me from both). I’ll also be doing a program on tea for National Library Week at my library in April, and will probably report on how that goes here, so there will be posts here, from time to time, and none of the old postings will be removed (that was always a pet peeve of mine in the Simlit community… why do people have an obsession with deleting their content?) But if you want to continue to keep up on what I think about various teas, I now do that over on Steepster, on a fairly frequent schedule. There is usually a new posting every few days, if not daily. They are designed to be very short and sweet. You do not need an account there to read any reviews on the site; I believe accounts are only necessary if you would like to Like or Comment on a tea review.
So for our final teatime, I’ve picked a personal favorite oolong to share. It is Li Shan High Mountain Oolong from Rishi Tea. I remember the name of the oolong got recommended to me by a fellow tealover in my Twitch.tv communities, so even though it was a bit expensive for the leaf, I was very curious to try it… he spoke very highly of it, and we are both fans of Tawainese oolongs! I decided to buckle and get it. My first time trying gongfu style brewing was with this oolong, and when my friend Todd came to visit, we had a gongfu session together and I prepared this for him to see what he thought, and it was a very enjoyable experience for both of us. The owner of Strand Tea, Jack Strand, once sent me a very nice e-mail that tea isn’t about being a “tea snob,” it isn’t about having the “best tea” but about creating a “special moment” with your tea, and that was definitely a moment I will remember. I had been sick with a migraine for days when my friend had come up to visit, and thus hadn’t been able to really see him, the pain had finally subsided enough for me to leave my bed, we had a little time before he had to go to the airport, and we just had this quiet, relaxing session in my little, cramped living room going through each infusion of this Li Shan oolong, trying to pick out the flavor notes together. “This is damn good tea,” Todd had remarked. “I feel like we are back at that Chinese garden in full bloom last spring right now.”
Rishi Tea‘s “Garden Direct” teas are a bit expensive, but come packaged quite emmaculately. This 100 gram bag of tea (bag no. 81/180) was vacuum-sealed for freshness with a packet to prevent moistness sealed in with the tea in the inner bag, which was then placed inside the larger, foil-lined zip-top bag! Most of Rishi’s teas are USDA organic, but since this was a spring 2017 harvest, it is no longer available, so I have no way of verifying that this particular tea fell under those guidelines. If you look at their current line-up of oolongs, most, however, are considered organic under the USDA, and all are directly sourced.
The information provided by Rishi in the packaging about this particular tea states, “In Taiwan, tea gardens situated above 1,000m in elevation are considered to be high mountain growing regions. In spring, Taiwan’s High Mountain Oolongs have thicker, sweeter body and heady hydrosol-based aromatics. Our Li Shan this season has an elegant astringency on the palate, with notes of early spring lilac and sweet cream.”
This tea from Li Shan (Pear Mountain) in Taiwan is from the Qingxin cultivar. The leaf has a very fresh, leafy green vegetal scent. What I find particularly fascinating about pure oolongs is not only how different subtle flavor notes can emerge from each infusion, but how the same tea leaf can have subtle flavor differences depending on the harvest year and season… this spring harvest was described as tasting of “spring lilac and sweet cream,” while the same tea harvested the previous season, during winter of 2016, was described as having a “lush fruity aroma with notes of lychee, grilled pineapple, and hints of orchids.”
Since I prefer to brew my pure oolongs gongfu style, a higher leaf-to-water ratio is used than in the more common western style of brewing. In western style, a teaspoon (which is about 3 grams of tea) is typically used for one cup of tea. I’ll be using a gaiwan that holds 150ml of water, but since I’m preparing tea for only one person, I’ll only be filling it approximately halfway (75ml). I use this handy application, OCTea, to help me figure out how many grams of tea I need when I’m using gongfu, since I’m still very new to the process! It suggested five grams of rolled oolong for 75ml of water, so that’s what I measured out on my handy tea scale.
I bought this beginner’s gaiwan from Dazzle Deer, a Chinese tea site that has really great customer service! This isn’t like a typical gaiwan, which is usually porcelain and the lid is used to filter the tea from the leaf. This one is more “beginner friendly” which is exactly what I wanted, since I’m very new to the process of gongfu and still have trouble holding the lid in place and pouring. It has a small spout and rivets for the tea rather than using the lid as the filter, and is also made out of thicker clay. It came with two tea cups, but since this session is just for myself, I only needed one. When I feel I’ve gotten better at gongfu, I plan to get a more traditional style set, but I have to say I really love this little clay gaiwan!
I heated my teapot to 200 F, and first gave my oolong a quick rinse to help the leaf start to open. This session ended up being ten infusions long. The first infusion was 10 seconds, the second and third infusion were 15 seconds each, the third infusion was 20 seconds, the fourth infusion was 25 seconds, the fifth infusion was 25 seconds, the sixth infusion was 30 seconds, the seventh infusion was 40 seconds, the eighth infusion was 50 seconds, the ninth infusion was a minute, and the final infusion was a minute and 30 seconds long. While gongfu brewing uses more leaf initially, over the course of so many small, short infusions, you actually end up having a lot of tea! I was very tea-full by the end of my session, and got to experience a much wider variety of flavors than making a cup western-style!
The tea looks a bit green because of the dark clay of the cup, but it actually brews up a very bright, clear, golden yellow color!
The first infusion of the tea had a very strong, astringent vegetal note, tasting of spinach and brocolli, with a slight, floral note lingering beneath the surface. The second infusion brought out the vegetal notes even more strongly, with that astringent, bitter spinach bite really filling the mouth, and the lingering floral notes becoming even more subdued.
By the third infusion, the leaves were really starting to open up, and a pleasant perfumey aroma was making itself present in the tea. The flavor of the tea was starting to sweeten out a bit, and taste more of orchids. The next infusion is when it really started to mellow out, becoming very sweet, creamy, and floral, tasting very much of orchids and lilacs! The next few infusions were probably the best, tasting extremely sweet, and entirely of floral notes… any lingering presense of the vegetal notes had disappeared! There was a slightly buttery mouthfeel, the tea was very smooth, it was filled with lovely floral notes, and it was hard to believe that it had such an astringent start. Subsequent infusions continued to have a very sweet taste of orchids and lilacs, though a slight vegetal aftertaste reappeared on my tongue. I got ten infusions from the tea, and on the eleventh infusion, could tell the tea was losing its flavor. The tea had very good staying power, and I felt very tea-full, satisfied, and had that nice aware-and-relaxed feeling from the session. I think fans of green teas or light floral notes would find this a very satisfying oolong.
As far as a western brew, this tea actually isn’t too bad; the more subtle notes aren’t present, but you do get a good mix of both the vegetal and floral flavors, and I have had some oolongs that I brewed western style where some of their key flavor notes completely disappeared, so I was pleased with that. I would say that the vegetal notes become a bit more dominant in the western-brewed cup, while the delicate floral notes are much stronger when brewed gongfu style, and I personally prefer the orchid and lilac notes the best. It isn’t a bad tea for a quick western brew, but it is a divine tea when brewed in a gaiwan!
Thanks so much for everyone who has taken the time to join me for teatime for the last year and these two months of 2018! Your support has meant the world! I hope that all of your days are filled with beautiful tea moments! Keep the kettle on!