Winter Oolong Teas 2020 from Taiwan
There has been growing interest to learn more about Oolong tea and so I wanted to tell you about three lovely winter oolongs from Taiwan we're offering this year. As a tea enthusiast you might wonder what these winter oolongs are all about, their characters and what makes them special?
The winter oolongs we have are all lightly oxidized teas, which means they have delicate floral character. Remember, oolongs are teas whose leaves are oxidized anywhere from 12% to 80%. (Black tea is 100% oxidized, while while green tea has 0% oxidation.) Because of this the spectrum of flavors in oolongs are most diverse compared to other categories of tea.
Although we use the term "winter oolong," it can be a bit misleading. The tea is actually picked and manufactured around October and November. As an aside, teas of this period in India and Sri Lankan are referred to as "autumn flush." One oolong tea expert explained that in Taiwan tea farmers go more by the weather than the season in naming the teas.
For comparative tasting purposes, we steeped the oolong tea in our professional tasting cups. This involved steeping 3 gm of tea for 5 minutes in the cups. The water was at 176F. We resteeped the teas for second time for 5 minutes again. You can steep this tea in a regular tea pot/ tea cup with infuser or gong fu style. Learn more about the best way to prepare oolong tea.
First let us take a look at Alishan Qingxin (pronounced "chin-sin"). The name indicates it is one of the best combinations: Alishan, a mountain in central Taiwan with good elevation for growing fine teas, and Qingxin, a cultivar of tea plant that is often described as the Queen of Oolong teas. The tightly rolled leaves of Alishan Qingxin oolong appear like exquisite green marble with delicate silver veins of tea buds running through them. The dry leaves give off a light floral smell. After the infusion, the wet leaves offer floral and ripe mango notes.
In the cup the pale liquor expressed light but sublime floral notes. The tea coated the palate with a sweet fruitiness of a delicious ripe mango. The sweetness lingered in the aftertaste for remarkably long time. Although light bodied, the texture is smooth and buttery. No hint of astringency. Pure refinement. One really feels cleansed and elevated after finishing a cup of this oolong tea.
Let us now explore Alishan Jinxuan (pronounced "ching-shawan"), also popularly referred to as "milk oolong." Jinxuan is the 12th cultivar developed by the Taiwan Tea Research and Extension Centre in 1980. (If you want to be a certified tea snob, you can call this tea "TTES #12.")
The leaves of this Alishian Jinxuan oolong tea are rolled up like the Qingxin, however, the shade of green is a bit lighter with shimmering silver highlights indicating a quality plucking. Surprisingly, the dry leaves have a stronger floral nose than the Qingxin. Take that Queen of Oolongs! The aroma of the wet leaf is quite similar to Qingxin oolong, just a few notches lower on the mango notes. The Alishan Jinxuan oolong tea tastes fruity (a blend of lychee and mango). You can also taste some of the "milk-like" notes often described as a buttery sweetness. Really enjoyable! Compared to Qingxin it feels a tad mellow. While the second steep of Qingxin felt more robust than the first, the Jinxuan taste profile does not scale up perceptibly.
But the Jinxuan is easy to fall in love with. Because the flavors are enjoyable in a very straight forward way. Not to say that it does not have layers of complexity. It certainly is more affordable!
Now onto Baozhong Wenshan oolong tea which is quite different than the above two teas. Firstly, this oolong is from Wenshan located in the northern part of the island. Also, the leaves are in a strip style as opposed to rolled up nuggets. The leaves express a pleasant floral and earthy presence.
In the cup, the body of Baozhong Wenshan oolong tea is the lightest. But don't let that fool you! The fragrance and taste notes are clear and sharp. Floral notes abound. A little bit earthy and perhaps even a touch herbaceous. There is a light tannic touch in Baozhong oolong which brings alive the cup, compared to the other two teas. As I think about it, this tea could be easily paired with a light cheese or a berry dessert.
One of the questions one may have is how do these winter oolong teas compare to the spring oolongs? Well, once upon a time the seasonal variation between the spring and winter oolongs may have been quite distinct. Compared to the winter oolongs, the spring oolongs were believed to be more fragrant but less sweet. However, in recent years the differences, perhaps due to climate change, are getting lesser. And we see that in these winter teas.
All three of these artisan hand-plucked oolong teas will delight your palate. They are each unique and glorious. Give them a try.