Alishan Qingxin Oolong: Spring and Winter
Enjoy this blog post contributed by one of our regular customers, Kyle Trenshaw.
As I am sure many of the folks who are reading this can relate, I buy too much tea, far more than I can actually drink by myself in a reasonable amount of time. Because of this tendency, I found myself with both the Spring 2020 and Winter 2020 harvests of the Alishan Jin Xuan that Happy Earth Tea stocks. I am always looking for new ways to amuse myself and fill all of the hours sitting around my own home lately, so I thought, “Ah, I know! A taste test!” What follows is my experience comparing the two teas under identical brewing conditions.
The morning of the taste test, I woke up and went directly to the business of boiling water for tea. I did not have breakfast and only had a bit of water to freshen up my mouth without toothpaste so that no other flavors would interfere with the test. I weighed 5g of both the Spring 2020 and Winter 2020 Jin Xuans as the water came to a boil, and then I allowed the glassware to heat in preparation for brewing.
The spring tea went into the more colorful teacup and the winter tea got the whiter one—more fitting for snowy weather! I used fully boiling water for all steeps (against the packages’ kind directions, sorry Niraj!) and increased the time based on the robustness of the flavor of the previous steep. The first steep was 30 seconds, followed by another 30-second steep, a 45-second steep, and a 55-second steep. I also did a fifth steep for 90 seconds, but I had stepped away from the kitchen for over an hour after drinking the fourth steep, so the leaves were a bit stale by then. Still, the teas were full of flavor and absolutely worthy of drinking the whole way through despite the rough handling in the later steep!
The first steep was really lovely. The spring tea had a sweetness that the winter tea did not, probably from slight oxidation as it sat in my tea cabinet for several months; that same flavor was evident from the aroma of the gaiwan lid as well. The spring tea was also creamier than the winter tea in this steep. The winter tea had a rich brothiness as the tea liquor spread through the mouth with just a hint of floral character right at the end. The savory notes came through in the gaiwan lid aroma to match!
As you can see, the leaves were already opening nicely by the second steep! The tea liquor intensified to an almost glowing golden color for both of the teas. This steep was the most similar between the two teas, with both offering a creamy, brothy character. The winter tea still had that tiny hint of floral at the very end, and as both the teas cooled that floral note came out just a bit in the spring tea as well. The salty minerality of the broth lingered on the gaiwan lid after I had finished both cups.
Both teas took a sudden turn at the third steep. The spring tea took on a much more vegetal flavor with an almost citrus highlight—like lemongrass, but more mellow. The winter tea, on the other hand, really filled the mouth with that sense of umami, robust and satisfying! The final surprise was a lingering hint of something like vanilla in the winter tea which only added to the warming experience of the cup. Both of the gaiwan lids took on a richer character this steep, while both tea liquors became more vegetal as they cooled. A very pleasing steep with lots of excitement for the drinker!
I was so excited to drink the fourth steep after the experience of the third that I nearly forgot to take a picture before I had emptied the winter tea’s cup! This steep really showed the difference a few months can make. The spring tea reminded me of an island beach with that hint of citrus becoming more pronounced and joined by a brininess, more intensely mineral than the brothy flavors of earlier steeps. The gaiwan lid also shared that deep mineral scent. The winter tea remained creamy and rich with that warming umami character with the hint of vanilla evident in the aroma of the gaiwan lid. And as a final cheeky note to this steep, that little hint of floral character waved hello again as the winter tea cooled. So much fun!
The fifth steep was still lovely despite how long the leaves sat out on the cold kitchen counter. The spring tea was fresh and bright with the same brininess and citrus elements overlaid on a creamy body to the tea liquor. The sweetness of the first steep returned as the cup cooled. The winter tea continued on its journey to become even more creamy and robust, this time joined by a rich buttery aroma on the gaiwan lid.
Of course, if you have already come into possession of either of these teas (or any of the teas that Happy Earth Tea stocks), you will know that they both held up for several more steeps before I finally let them rest. From the first to the last, both teas were lovely and joyful to drink. I think I prefer the winter tea because of its rich creamy mouthfeel and satisfying savory elements, but the spring tea is just as nice for anyone seeking a brighter, fresher cup that still has that underlying Jin Xuan creaminess.