24 September 2011

Taiwan Hong Oolong (Black Tea Oolong)

During our two-week trip to China earlier this year, I had little time to tea shop. Tea shopping in China takes a long time, because a consumer must spend a lot of time sorting:
  1. Sorting through hundreds of shops in tea malls to decide which dozen or more you want to enter
  2. Sorting through the offerings of these shops visually and/or by talking to the employees to find teas you want to try
  3. Sorting through the teas you taste to determine which merits asking its price
  4. Sorting through the asking prices to determine which is worth bargaining down
  5. Bargaining for the tea, if you have the luck to get through steps 1-4
As such, a consumer can feel lucky to actually purchase more than one tea per day of shopping.

As such, I bought relatively few teas in China.

This particular tea I bought as a curiosity. Its manufacture utilizes steps traditionally reserved only for either black tea or oolong tea. My understanding is the tea is:
  1. Picked as though intended to be an oolong
  2. Wilted and oxidized like a black tea
  3. Not given a "kill green" (杀青) process, i.e., frying or steaming, like a black tea
  4. Rolled like an oolong
  5. Roasted like an oolong
Taiwan Hong Oolong / Black Tea Oolong - dry leaf

The result you see in the dry leaf pic above and the subsequent photos below.

So why go through all this? From what my limited Chinese and translating online has lead me to understand, tea farmers in Taiwan wanted a uniquely Taiwanese product from their leaves, one that could not easily be replicated by the cheap "imitation" gao shan oolongs being imported from countries in Southeast Asia. Also, and merely guessing on my part, they wanted to diversify their product portfolio with a high-end and uncommon product.

So, merely a gimmick or more substantially a delicious tea?

Taiwan Hong Oolong / Black Tea Oolong - brewed

My answer is: a little of column A, a lot of column B.

It is a unique animal, a combination of some of the best features of oolongs combined with a hint of the better features of black tea. It has a very fruity flavor and great aroma, but also rich and roasty.

Given the high degree of oxidation, what surprised me was how different the tea is from both Taiwan black tea and oriental beauty oolong. Taiwan's black tea tends to run in the Assam flavor category, while oriental beauty to me has always tasted like a poor imitation of better darjeeling. This oolong, being made of a different cultivar than Taiwan black tea and processed like gaoshan oolong rather than oriental beauty, has a character all its own that I enjoy better than either of those two.

Its flaws: simplicity and a fleeting aftertaste (black tea/high oxidation trait?), and it lasts only 5 infusions or so, which is more than a black tea (owed to the rolling/unfurling slowing the infusions?) but less than a gaoshan oolong.

I know of no US/English-language vendor selling this kind of tea, and I am unsure what the cost would be. I paid just under USD$20 for 100g, and I can't say if I was "taken for a ride" or not, because no other store in the tea mall I went into had it for sale, so there was no comparing prices.

The store had butcher paper pinned to the wall where customers could write comments, and they asked me to sign. I wrote: "I came in to find pu'er, but instead I bought oolong. They must be Taiwanese!"

Taiwan Hong Oolong / Black Tea Oolong - brewed leaf


Alex Zorach said...

I find teas like this, that cross over boundaries of traditional classification, to be fascinating. I wish I could try some of this.

Hopepfully it will become more widely available; I imagine there would be a lot of people would be curious to try this.

Bearsbearsbears said...

Come visit, then, and we'll try some!

Or contact a Taiwanese tea vendor like FLT or Houde and see if they can do a special order.

Anonymous said...

that looks/sounds like a Da-Yeh cultivar Oolong black.

Not too uncommon, but uncommon enough for you not to be able to find the ball form from domestic vendors. (teasmasters and houde have the strip form).

I do enjoy this style of tea very much. It is hydrating, light, sweet, very easy on the body, good day and night. A good one heats the body up nicely and does have a significant lasting aftertaste. My last trip I picked up a box, 300g for....about $17 bucks (bought at place of origin though, If you buy in taipei in a fancy teashop it will cost you significantly more).

Bearsbearsbears said...

@Anon, thanks for the pricing info. I clearly paid a lot! :) Can you link to the teamasters & houde products?