Category: Oolong

A day of Wuyi that broadens the tea mind

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The last couple of weeks the cliff teas from Wuyi came across my path more than ever. It’s like the cold weather has sparked everyone to drink and talk about it. In this entry I will share some very valuable experiences I’ve had the last couple of weeks that made me so much more excited about Wuyi teas.

Not like every tea, teas from the Wuyi area have the capability to warm me up rapidly, without ‘the high’ getting to your head like a Pu’er can do. It’s warming, but in a more calming than rushing way. So winter seems to be the most fitting period to drink this tea on a more regular base. Also, this time of year is when the charcoal roast applied to these teas has settled in the leaves produced in the spring of 2016. So now is the moment to first get a good glimpse of what the tea is really capable of.

All these factors are pointing me to Wuyi teas the last few weeks, but it was a meeting at a Global Tea Hut member in Amsterdam that highlighted this little Wuyi detour I’m on right now.

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Niklas is a member of the Global Tea Hut and organizes tea sessions on a regular base in Amsterdam to enjoy tea in silence, before the tea geeking starts. This was my first time attending and the tea we drank was a Liu Bao from the 1990s, a shou-like Heicha that one attendee, the only female by the way, described as very masculine. Niklas and another Global Tea Hut member present, Jing, were sharing their experiences on their travels to Wuyishan in the aftermath of the session and were telling me about this farmer family, the Huang family, that is the only farm allowed to process their teas within the Wuyi reserve. From their faces and stories I could tell the tea produced by the Huang family had to be top-notch and so I was very excited when Niklas gifted me a sample of Rou Gui produced entirely by hand by farmer Huang Xian Yi and his son.

Want to know more about Master Huang? The Essence of Tea provides more information on him on this page.

He sent me a message the day after with some links to more information on the Huang family, including a seven-chapter documentary on this farmer made by The Essence of Tea, a company selling the Huang teas. Niklas urged me to first watch the videos and then give this tea my full attention and so I did. Before sharing my thoughts on the video I have to say that drinking this Rou Gui was an experience a level or 3 higher than I’ve had so far when it comes to Wuyi teas. Such heavy round notes, dark chocolate and espresso, with a floral note to it. A sharp minerality with the charcoal nicely settled. Thick in the throat. It was hard making an end to the session and after I had decided to wrap up the session after an hour or so to take a few pictures, I had to brew it again. And again. I felt incredibly lucky getting to taste this tea. 

What contributed to the experience was the documentary on the Huang family I saw that same morning. Watching this skilled farmer make his tea and talk about the process is something I recommend to all of you. I love how farmer Huang tries to explain certain steps of the process that are simply unexplainable to us, the people not spending their whole lives on the farm processing the best Wuyi teas around. Why am I spitting water in the wok before I throw the leaves in? Because. It is the result of generations of tea making. And it works. No explanation needed.

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I have embedded the first 2 videos beneath here, but also check out the other 2 I’ve put a link to (I cannot embed those), video number 3 being my favorite because of the stage of processing and the comments farmer Huang makes. But I recommend starting with the first video and see them from the start on. This is an insight that broadens your mind and lets you appreciate the tea you’re drinking so much more. And that is the exact reason I want to head to China in spring and see with my own eyes the effort and skills needed to produce that beautiful leaf in your gaiwan every day.

And the good news is: I will be going to China. In april I’ll be spending three weeks traveling the tea lands of China and I have lots of ideas on the content I hope to make and share with you. So stay tuned, as always.

The teas from the Huang family are sold by The Essence of Tea (link). They also sell a great range of Pu’er and Liu Bao. More information on Master Huang on this page.
I have also added two links from the Mei Leaf YouTube channel down below. Don Mei cleary is in his Wuyi phase too and gives some excellent background on for instance the mystery of Da Hong Pao. Please check out those videos too and make a whole Wuyi night out of it!

The Beauty of Wuyi Yancha (pts. 1& 2) from The Essence of Tea on Vimeo.
The Beauty of Wuyi Yancha (pt. 3) from The Essence of Tea on Vimeo.

 

Link to Video 3 (Part 4&5) and Video 4 (Part 6 & 7). Link to Essence of Tea Vimeo channel

Don Mei on Da Hong Pao

Don Mei on Tie Luo Han

Mr. Chen’s Magic: Best Bug Bitten 2016

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I have been bitten by a bug that is called Best Bug Bitten 2016. Be prepared for a Taiwanese oolong flavor explosion if you dare to get your hands on this tea.

This Best Bug Bitten 2016 is made by Taiwanese grower and farmer Hau Ying Chen and really was an Instagram find for me. After I saw (extremely positive) mentions on the teas of Mr. Chen by Instagrammers like @cwarrencollins and @unytea.store (before @unyteaguy), I had to know how to get my hands on some of that ball rolled magic. I asked @cwarrencollins and he told me the only way to order was to contact Mr. Chen himself. So I did, on Facebook, and I received the list of teas and prices. Mr. Chen gave me very helpful recommendations on which top teas I had to order and so, a few days after making the PayPal payment, a full box arrived from Taiwan.

 

上架!室內萎凋

Een foto die is geplaatst door Hau Ying Chen (@hauyingchen) op

Honestly every single tea in that box is a treat. Mr. Chen’s Shan Lin Xi is by far the best I have tried in cream and complexity, his Alishan Jin Xuan is so much more than those milky notes, his Da Yu Ling offers beautiful aroma and taste that brings you to the top of a Taiwanese mountain yourself and his Mucha TGY… no words. This Best Bug Bitten 2016 is the flavor powerhouse of the five.  

Want to know more about teas bitten (or not) by bugs? Eric Scott wrote a very interesting article on the subject on the World of Tea website.

This is the most dominant outburst I have experienced in a tea so far. Even the rinse to open up the leaves is so full already. So fruity. Perfectly ripe peach that gives you enough sweet for the rest of the week. A citrus sour bitterness, similar to that of a grapefruit, that pulls the tip of your tongue a bit, before the honey comes in and coats your mouth. Especially that little citrusy bitter note is very pleasant in this tea. I can imagine some people being a bit overwhelmed by how fruity and sweet this is, but that slight grapefruit-aspect of the tea makes sure it is perfectly balanced.

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I think this tea could go on for way more brews than I can handle, and there is an interesting change noticeable in taste during the session. You definitely need to tame the full dominant flavors yourself in the first few brews, but after a while the tea does that for you. It gets more buttery, creamy, not particularly in mouthfeel but in taste, and it’s settling a bit, getting more fruit pastry-ish. This is a change that makes this tea so pleasant. First the outburst, flavors so strong you simply can’t enjoy them if they are still there 15 brews later. But then the tea, being all Charles Darwin-evolutionary, knows he needs to throw in some other elements (the cream-butter notes) to keep you hooked. And hooked I was. It’s truly incredible that this can be the result of growing and processing tea. That these flavors are natural and enhanced by a very skilled tea master.

Want to try Hau Ying Chen’s teas yourself? I highly recommend it as it is top-notch Taiwanese tea for me. Contact him through Facebook or Instagram to ask for the current list with available teas and prices.

As this really sounds like a commercial I have to add that I paid for these teas myself. I’m no tea George Clooney. Best Bug Bitten 2016. What else?

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From 1995 to 2016: the wait for Lao Chin Shin is over

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This year I celebrated Christmas for the 26th time in my life. The tea I review today celebrated (sitting in a bag doing nothing) its 21th Christmas. And its last. No way I can keep my hands off this tasty Thailand Lao Chin Shin from 1995 for another year!

1995. 1995! Let that sink in for a minute. This tea made me wonder what I did back in 1995. I asked my mom and she said straight away: ‘Going to school for the first year’, to add right after that: ‘And drink tea with milk and sugar! That’s it.’ I’m sure my life was a bit more than that as a 5-year-old. Practicing my David Beckham-like free-kick on the streets. And playing this dubious game called ‘Oorlogje’ (‘War’) in which you would seek cover in the gardens of neighborhood houses, come out, point your finger at one of your friends like a rifle and say ‘ke-deng-ke-deng-ke-deng’.
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The good actors among my friends surrendered or dramatically died. The tough guys ran away like they weren’t just sieved by 50 bullets of my imaginary machine gun. Now that I think about it this game becomes stranger and stranger. Was it just boys being boys, or did the Dutch government prepare us for years of foreign war missions to come introducing these weird kind of children’s games? Ah well. Fact is that I decided my ‘ke-deng-ke-deng’ wouldn’t do anyone good in this world, so before I turned 8 I left the imaginary army for good.
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So what does this all have to do with tea? Nothing, really. Nothing but the fact that in that year, 1995, when I was running around being little Rambo, there was a tea plucker on the slopes of a mountain in the Chiang Rai region in northern Thailand, plucking these exact leaves that I have reunited with water now, 21 years (!) later. This Lao Chin Shin is from a company called Tea Side, which specializes in teas from the Golden Triangle. When receiving the package of samples I wasn’t all too sure at first. If it’s not from Taiwan, Japan or China… But I tried a few of the samples so far and they are surprisingly good. Some, like the Myanmar Roanji oolong, are real quality teas.
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But the Thai 1995 Chin Shin, the type of oolong often found and grown in Taiwan nowadays, really stood out. This tea is all spiced apple to me.  And cherries. Really fruity, but not in the sweet, peachy way. It’s darker, heavier, fuller, more complex. Fruits mixed with chocolate. The chocolate is very present in the aroma and more subtle in taste. It has a pretty thick liquor in your throat and during the tea session more spices come out. Clove, cardamom. It gives off a typical aged oolong taste, but it seems more alive and more fresh than most I had so far. I have written PORT very large in my tea tasting book. Yes, it is quite similar to a port in terms of fruity notes. A port-like dessert wine you would serve at Christmas with chocolate. But this tea offers both the dessert wine and the chocolate in one sip. Note that for Christmas 2017!

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Although very powerful, don’t take the whole day off for this tea. It doesn’t have much stamina. Brew 7 is pretty much it. But the previous brews are strong, outspoken, with the tea developing into a more nutty structure while it keeps pumping those cherry and spiced apple notes on your tongue.

Now keep in mind if you session this tea to make it all a bit more special. Every step that you took the last 21 years. Every milestone in your life. This tea was there. Somewhere. Waiting. For you. Getting tastier by the day. For you. Isn’t that what love is?

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A Rioja red wine and chocolate Da Hong Pao

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I like a Wuyi oolong because it sparks a bit of a fire in me. A little energy boost. I suspect it’s the mineral ‘rock taste’, a very distinctive taste for Wuyi teas. A late night session with a Mei Leaf’s Da Hong Pao, also called Empress Oolong by this Londen-based teahouse, was a memorable one.

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A little shout out to the leaves to begin with. With some Wuyi teas I find it hard to appreciate the beauty of the dry leaves, but the changing of color to dark brown-green when wet is absolutely beautiful. This tea looked extremely delicious in wet AND dry state, as you see on the picture above. Elegant in a very dark roasty way.

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I had some Wuyi teas before. They were called ‘high quality’, but it was not from sellers that I trust to sell high quality. So trying this Da Hong Pao brought me to a next level of Wuyi tea. There is a hint of charcoal in it but it wasn’t overwhelming. And this was the biggest difference with my previous, less impressing, Wuyi experiences: those teas gave a bit too much of that charcoal profile. One Rou Gui was so bad that I thought it was put on the barbecue for an hour or two before ending up in my gaiwan. Well, you need to have some bad experiences to appreciate quality, I guess.

Next to the ‘mineral’ energy it gave me and the subtle, gentle charcoal hints, this Da Hong Pao offers heavy red fruit notes, like a Rioja red wine, and combines it with very pleasant cacao hints. Red wine and chocolate, perfect! But wait, it’s getting even better with an almond sweetness and peachy aftertaste. Oh yes, this tea just can’t go wrong.

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A refreshing and juicy dip into Alishan Cream

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So, I wasn’t feeling all too well today. Short night, tired of work. I had the afternoon off and decided I needed some ‘comfort tea’. And this Alishan Cream, a Jin Xuan from Taiwan, turned out to be the best possible choice.

In case you wonder why pretty much all my reviews are positive: I have some shitty teas too, but they don’t deserve a place on this website as I like to spread positive vibes. Next to that, pretty much all the samples I bought and received, I liked very much. So, that being sad, this Alishan Cream was one of those. I had my eye on this tea for quite a while, so I was super excited to finally open this sampler. It was a large amount, 8 grams, and I followed up on the brewing guide of Mei Leaf this time and didn’t have any regrets.

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The dried leaves looked very healthy and even in color and by the time the aroma of the rinse hit me all my tiredness was forgotten already. I rinsed it for a very short time, so after first steeping the leaves were not fully opened yet, as was the taste. It gave sweet hints of honey and a floral taste and you could really feel something was starting in this tea. I think that’s what differs an okay tea with a very good tea. With an okay tea this taste would never develop into something complex, but with a very good tea like this one the taste is getting more interesting with every brew.

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In the second brew the tea was really starting to develop into a stronger, creamier tea with more body. And after the third brew, when the leaves started to open up completely, I could say: there it is! It was so rich, nice and creamy with fruity, slightly peachy, and floral notes. I don’t know how many times I steeped this Alishan Cream but it wasn’t the taste that made me decide to wrap up the tea session, it was my full tea belly. And that says everything about how much I liked this tea. This Alishan Cream is sold by Mei Leaf, one of my favorite stores you know by now, for a fair price. 10 pounds for 60 grams of magic.

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The Not-so-Wuyi Wuyi treasure called Bai Ji Guan

Bai Ji Guan

Bai Ji Guan is a strip style oolong tea from the Wuyi mountains but it’s definitely not your typical Wuyi tea. No strong dark fruity notes with cacao and charcoal hints, but a very subtle aroma, liquor and taste. A true Wuyi treasure this is.

The package of the China Life/Mea Leaf sample I ordered said: ‘Toffee softness’. Sometimes I find it hard to discover the tasting notes of others in a tea, but this one was so right! So toffee indeed! Don’t get me wrong now, the toffee-ish notes were not as present as in toffee itself. It was even better: very subtle, very light in the back of your mouth, very gentle. This Bai Ji Guan reminded me a bit of a white tea: some people may call it light, but in fact the flavor is very intense, just in a subtle way. It makes you appreciate the more delicate flavors a lot more.

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Although it’s lighter than most Taiwanese oolongs, it has a similar creaminess and smoothness of those high mountain oolongs. And this Bai Ji Guan is as much a pleasure for the eye as it is for the mouth. It presents itself beautifully with a very clear and bright liquor.

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After a couple of brews the aroma changes from a more toffee to a more grassy and apricot smell and the taste follows the same path, very gently again. The smoothness and creaminess survive all the way while the toffee stays very present in the aftertaste. This is one of the strong points of this Bai Ji Guan too: it evolves very nicely. Too much of the same sweetness all along is boring: a tea should change to keep you intrigued and this Bai Ji Guan is doing that with class! Unfortunately for the world, this tea has run out at the shop… So from now on, this is all just a memory… until Mister Don Mei finds another beauty!

Bai Ji Guan

The Last Breath of this Bai Ji Guan. Literally.