Reading the Tea Leaves

Tea Education, Consultancy, and Tastings

Beyond Friendly & Floral

Most of us are practiced readers of food package labels now.  Recently I was intrigued by a box of teabags that were labeled “Green Tea” and also English Breakfast.  Reading a little further, the ingredients also included cinnamon, lemon grass, and a few other organic additions, with plenty of copy about the purported benefits of the tea; and that’s where I stopped reading.  Each of us, of course, has specific preferences.  With the exception of scented teas such as Jasmine, I expect to see only one ingredient listed for teas that I like to drink.

A gift of tea from Taiwan

A tea I received as a gift was in a box that bore almost no information.  The name of the tea, Dong Ding, was modest in size and prominent only because so much of the box was a white surface.  There was nutritional information on the back (no protein, carbs, or transfats and a tiny amount of sodium; the production and expiry dates were stamped on the back.  The clean, minimalist design (the box was white) was the point, of course; there was no busy clutter of descriptive text.

This was a Taiwan tea, and many teas have “high mountain” appearing on the labeling.  Sometimes high elevation is accurate; in other instances, the term is used to add cachet as a marketing ploy.  Tung Ting is one of Taiwan’s best known teas, and the name alone does not guarantee any specific standard.  I’d had the tea for about a week before sampling it.

Not much happens at the tea gardens during winter.  From Darjeelings’ gardens where temperatures are frigid to the milder clime of Yunnan, Fujian and Taiwan, there is weeding, but not much else.  Samples that come in during these months represent shipments en route.

We were doing a routine cupping of Assams that had just arrived, and used the opportunity to taste the gift tea from Taiwan.  Assams are bold teas with some heft, but the lovely aroma that filled the room was clearly not coming from the Assams.

The work day ended with me drinking 4 cups of this Oolong, a medium roast Tung Ting.  For some time after the tea was poured, the fragrance lingered in the air: fruity, mellow, and inviting.  Here were some of its notable attributes:

The Tung Ting in dry form

1. Note how small the dry leaf is; the crinkly dark leaves were smaller than most Ti Kuan Yins, and not particularly striking in appearance.  But look at the infused leaf: one plucked from the mug measured 4 inches from the tip of the sprouting to the stem.

The leaves after two infusions

Just think of the rolling that went into making this tea.

This sprouting unfurled to 4" from tip to stem.

2. This is the type of tea that is shown to best effect when brewed in a gongful pot; I am eager to see the bloom through several infusions.

3. Even before the first sip, bringing the cup (or spoon) upward brings a strong hint of the pleasure in store; the aroma is very present.  No need to inhale deeply.

Not the golden cup of the lighter floral style

4 The first sip conveys freshness and brightness, followed by warm fruity notes, finishing with the fragrance of toasted grain.  If I had to condense a description, I would use honey-lichee to describe the taste.

The depth of flavor was not the first surprise. Given the popularity in China and Taiwan of green Oolongs processed to showcase the delicate floral quality of the varietals used, I had expected a delicate, golden brew.  So finding an orangey, light amber brew in the cup was unexpected.

The lightly oxidized, green Oolongs have found a large audience, and it is easy to see why.  These teas, with even that little bit of oxidation to coax out more from the leaves, give up friendly, flowery notes.  My view is that they offer the taste that many Green tea drinkers wished that Green teas possess.

In contrast, examine the infused leaves of this medium roast Tung Ting and we cdan see that after two infusions, the leaves are still quite crinkly; they have expanded many times over their dry size, but the wet leaves are not fully open or flat.  There is more flavor to be elicited from subsequent infusions, and that is a wonderful feature.

i am not alone in preferring this style to the floral, which I also like.  Most retailers who are partial to Oolongs are in agreement on this point: consumers are easily drawn to the light/fragrant style, yet with more experience, the appeal of these medium roasted teas grows stronger.  These teas exemplify more steps in processing, steps that require experience and judgment rather than just following a sequence of tasks.

Post a Comment

Use the form below to submit a comment on this post. Your e-mail address will not be published and is required only for verification purposes. Comments are closely moderated.

About This Post

Have something to say? Comment!

Reading the Tea Leaves
Lydia Kung