Unravelling Green Mandarin Tou Cha with Family and Friends
Months ago now, I had a small gathering at my home during which we all shared five steeps of the green mandarin tou cha, and I am only just now finally sitting down to write up a little story about the experience. There were three of us tasting (with interjections from two children here are there), so hopefully our observations connect for you in some way.
I began by heating the teaware and pouring a flash wash of the tea at 98°C. It was lovely to watch as the tea opened up and the dark color began to billow out from the base of the orange rind! All the subsequent steeps were flash steeps as well, increasing from 10-15 seconds up to maybe 22 seconds for the last of the five steeps. For the first steep, I found the tea liquor bright and crisp with a prominent citrus flavor followed quickly by a minty undertone. One of my esteemed colleagues agreed that the mandarin flavor took center stage, but with the flavor of the tea underneath giving earthiness to balance out the sweetness. Lovely!
The very light orange of the first steep changed to a “golden peach color” (as quoted from my daughter) for the second. The thrilling mint and subtle sweetness rose above the citrus in the taste profile for me—a really well-balanced cup! Other tasters shared experiences of the hay or straw of a traditional pu erh coming through and found the lightness and more subtle but lingering tannins an enjoyable experience. Our youngest taster had this to say: “It tastes so good! It tastes like tea, I think.”
For the third steep, things got spicy! The color of the tea liquor was a robust orange now, and the flavor of the broth had a distinct spiciness that began to replace the original minty crispness from the earlier steeps for me. My children agreed: “It’s so hot!” “It tastes spicy!” Notes of leather began to come through, and one of us expressed having trouble even pulling out flavors from the cup because it all blended together so nicely. This steep was a favorite for the group!
The coppery color of the four steep pointed to a shift in minerality. The gaiwan lid offered a clear aroma of hay and earthiness, all three tasters experienced the spicy-salty notes of the broth coming through even more prominently, and even the zesty orange rind made a comeback! Although every steep was different, the balance between all of the flavors of tea—the earthiness of a pu erh, the warmth and spice and sweetness of oxidation, the brightness of herbal citrus teas—was never lost.
As if to remind us that despite all of the twists and turns in the journey offering exciting flavor profiles along the way we were still drinking a ripe pu erh, the fifth steep took a turn for the dark and earthy. The flavors of fermentation rejoined the cup with undertones of gourmet cheese, wet forest floor, and a heavy warming robustness. The spice, mint, and brightness were still there in the mix, just less so in this fifth adventure. The tea liquor reminded me of maple syrup in color and, in some sense, in flavor as well; an absolute treat from start to finish.
Although I should have provided the disclaimer at the beginning of my story, I’ll share now that none of us is a particular fan of ripe pu erhs. In fact, all three of the tasters in this story had tried a variety of pu erhs over their time as tea drinkers, and moderately disliked the vast majority of them. Yet, for the green mandarin tou cha, all three of us found a soft spot! The excellently well-balanced cup yielded steep after steep is a treat for any tea drinker and perhaps a nice entry point into the world of pu erhs overall! If you’ve seen Leaf Tea Bar’s pu erh menu and been too intimidated to give them a try, stop by and ask for “the one inside an orange peel” and see what you discover!