Jeff and several other readers have lately sent me e-mails to ask me about the quality of the 2008 spring harvest. This year's winter had been quite long and cold. What was the impact on the tea?
Making generalizations about a season is always difficult. Each batch of tea tastes differently (even from the same field and the same day of harvest). This is what makes selecting tea so interesting, I find. But after tasting a wide range of samples, I must say that this spring's High Mountain Oolongs from Central Taiwan are rather disappointing. They are processed even 'greener' as usual. They are so light that they lack character and their aftertaste is not as sweet and long as it should be. Teaparker has already written about it , and several farmers I met shared this opinion.
This means that, so far, I have not been able to select any Ali Shan or Li Shan Oolong. And as for Da Yu Ling, I only could purchase the last 300 grams of a batch that was OK (but not excellent). So, I selected a Long Feng Xia Shan Lin Shi (1650 m) Oolong. Harvested on April 30, it had the typical bamboo and pine forest aroma of Shan Lin Shi, a sweet taste and a little bit astringency. I didn't say it was perfect, but it was closest to the standard I'm expecting from fresh Gao Shan Oolongs (as compared to the other batches I tasted).
Lower elevations don't face the same extreme conditions as in the high mountains, over 1000 meters. This probably explains why their quality has been more stable. I liked the 'fruity' Dong Ding Oolong very much. The slightly stronger oxidation gives light fruity aromas (white raisin) and the aftertaste is clean and mellow. And for those who just want a 'green' Oolong with a light floral smell and little taste, I found a Mingjian Tsui Yu (Jade) Oolong was doing a very good job.
Another alternative to the light aroma and fresh taste of Gao Shan Oolongs this year are the Wenshan Baozhongs. The 'lily flower' Baozhongs are quite close to what most expect in a light Oolong. And if you want more body and aftertaste, then the Baozhong made from 2 year old trees should be quite interesting.
Maybe this will be a good opportunity to rediscover the more traditional taste of roasted Oolongs. I selected quite a few:
- a 'classic' roast Luanze Oolong from Dong Ding (April 16)
- a high roast Luanze Oolong from Dong Ding (April 21). This one is more 'masculine' than the above, but less roasted than last year. (The winter version from Feng Huang is still available).
- a light roast Luanze Oolong from Shan Lin Shi (Long Feng Xia) of April 29. The roasting helps to make this High Mountain Oolong more concentrated and sweeter (masking this spring's defects). The roasting achieves a similar character as for a this winter 2007 light roasted Lishan. The tea starts first to taste roasted and mellow, but finishes by tasting green and fresh. I'm very glad to have found this one, because now I can propose 4 roasted Shan Lin Shi Oolongs with different roasting levels (as I do with the Dong Ding Oolongs).
I hope that I'll find time to write more detailed accounts about these new teas in the coming weeks.