The most common way to classify between teas is by their color (white, yellow, green, green-blue, red and black). Oolong, the green-blue tea, can be further broken down in 3 categories according to the amount of 'Fire' it received. The tea is then called:
- Raw (Sheng) if the oxidation and roasting were light (High altitude Oolongs or Jinxuan fall in this category, like my Da Yu Ling),
- Half done (Ban shou) if the oxidation and the roasting were medium (like the traditional Dong Ding Oolong),
- Done (Shou) if the roasting and/or the oxidation were strong. My old baozhong is an example of light oxidation and repeated roasting that resulted in a tea that is full of fire. Young roasted Tie Guan Yin or Shui Xian, like I will show below, are strongly oxidized and strongly roasted.
I call such teas 'done' instead of cooked or roasted or baked, since cooked refers more to manually fermented puer, and because it's about both the degree of oxidation and roasting. But maybe there is a better word for it...
Such teas are more traditional and, in Taiwan, appeal more to the older tea drinkers. The young market leans towards more and more fragrant and raw teas. Such raw teas also display more beautiful leaves when they open up. However, as this German blog explains, raw teas come with some drawbacks: they are harvested at an earlier stage, are more fragile and thus don't spend as much time under the sun as traditional teas. Since they also spend less time oxidizing and roasting, the humidity level of such leaves is much higher. Raw tea is more aggressive on your stomach and the contact with air during storage will make the leaves become sour and age quite fast.
Tradtional teas can be drunk on an empty stomach and will not loose much taste over time. The best season to drink these teas is in winter, as all the 'fire' in them will warm you up from within. They are enjoyed more with the throat and mouth (and stomach) than with the nose.
1. Wu Yi Shan Shui Xian
I drink this very cheap oolong almost daily in the morning. It comes from the famous Wu Yi rock mountain in Fujian. But the roasting is done in Taiwan by a 80+ years old tea merchant Teaparker introduced me to. He has a skill to take these common Shui Xian (translated 'Water Fairy') leaves and roast them to the edge, without burning and destroying them (what is so often the case by people with less experience). The tea is nicely orange-brown (depending on how strong you brew it). The aromas are classic: forest, warm wood, fallen leaves. The taste is round, soothing and quite long lasting. The smell of the wet, hot leaves shows strong aromas of charcoal and smoke, but the magic is that such smells stay in the teapot! It will give at least 4-5 brews. I recommend to start with this tea if you're interested in exploring the world of roasted teas.
2. Nanyan Tie Guan Yin from Fujian
Actually, I alternate this tea with the Shui Xian. When the unglazed jar gets empty I refill it with this Tie Guan Yin. The same old merchant is roasting this tea with the same skill. Tie Guan Yin is very well suited for roasting. It's floral fragrance (when raw) transforms into ripe mellon and warm fruit aromas that make the tea complete: a beautiful nose and a fullbodied taste. The warm fruit fragrance adds to the mellow, dry taste of the roasting. The tea almost feels 'oily', so rich it is. The leaves can be brewed 5-7 times until the leaves open up completely. If you drink it very concentrated (like the old merchant) you may mistake it for a strong and tasty coffee!
The top grade Tie Guan Yin I have also added to my selection is made of the best leaves of this tea. Since the leaves are bigger and better, its fragrance even stronger, richer. It will hold 7-9 brews.
Like for the previous 2 teas, the best is to store this heavy roasted tie kuan yin in unglazed jars, so that it can breath a little bit and release some of its edges, excessive dryness from the roasting.
With these teas, you'll experience how the dry taste transforms into sweet in your throat and mouth, thereby producing a long finish. It's a very different experience compared with raw oolong and may need some time to adjust to. It's not because they are out of fashion that they are not as enjoyable (on the contrary!). It just takes more time for them to show their beauty.