Tuesday, September 04, 2012

2012 Spring Yiguang Shan Hung Shui Oolong

How good is this tea? How good are your brewing skills? When you are not satisfied with your cup of tea, do you know if it's because of the leaves or your brewing?

1. Evaluating a tea.

There is a standard way to judge Oolong (and we can extend it to other tea classes). The way Taiwan's tea judges brew tea is always the same: 3 grams of tea, boiling water poured with strength and then 6 minutes brewing in a (preheated) competition set made of white porcelain (see above). The cup is approximately 15 cl in volume, which means that you could also replace it with a porcelain gaiwan of similar size.

 Tea judges only judge a tea based on that first brew of 6 minutes: Color, smell, taste, aftertaste, appearance of the tea leaves. 6 minutes is quite long. It leaves enough time for all the good and the bad to come out of the leaves. It's like a stress test. If the tea is still pleasant under these extreme circumstances, then it is a good tea.

The advantage of doing this test for normal drinkers is to get to know your tea. What are the defects, unpleasantness that appear and that we want to minimize with our brewing. Also, it enables to better compare the different teas we have against each other.

This is the method I used today with this tea:

Cultivar: Luanze (qingxin) Oolong
Origin: Yiguang Shan (between Zhu Shan and Shan Lin Shi)
Elevation: 700 meters
Harvested by hand on April 6, 2012
Low temperature slow roasting over an electric heater in a bamboo basket.

The color of the dry leaves is greyish green. The roasting is medium. However, the leaves open up fully and with vivid colors. This shows that the roasting has managed to preserve the freshness of the leaves. The tea is a balanced mix of nutty/malty and flowery/fruity flavors. There are no burned fragrances. Compared to the 2011 version, this is a hung shui "light": the roasting is much softer. The aftertaste is long.
With this 'competition brewing' some small defects do appear in this (low priced) tea: the taste becomes a little bit harsh with bitter/sweet notes.

2. Can our brewing improve this tea?

Now that we have a standard, a benchmark, we can compare the 'competition' brew to our own careful brew. The difference between both brews will show us how much 'gongfu' we have aquired (or not). It's actually possible and common to make worse brews than the competition benchmark. But this is the road to improvement, because you then know that it's not the tea that needs an upgrade, but your technique.

Each tea is different. Thanks to our new understanding of the tea,  with adapt our technique. In this case, I decided to let the tea rest a few moments in my Anping jar. This usually helps to refine roasted Oolongs. I opted for a gaiwan instead of a teapot, because I still wanted a neutral take, an unbiased approach on this tea.

I added a little bit more leaves this time (around 5 grams). I poured water with just enough strength to make the leaves dance in the gaiwan. And I cut down the time of my first brew to a minute or 2. (I don't use a timer, but observe the water around the lid).

The result shows that the leaves have opened up well and fill the entire gaiwan.

The fragrances appear with more clarity. The taste has mellowed considerably! And there's a joyful sense of achievement of beating the benchmark!
This makes it a good Oolong to play around and practice. It has the potential to make a wonderful cup, but only if learn to master it.
It starts to feel like autumn...
This Cha Xi bids farewell to summer.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this very informative post Stephane. I've seen this competition brewing technique mentioned quite a bit on your site; it's great to have a full explanation of how and why it is done. I am always questioning how much of an impact my novice preparation skills have on the teas I drink. I believe it will become even more relevant as I begin to drink lighter, fresher Oolongs. I try to find balance and consistency in my brewing practices, without being too exacting or scientific, so that I can both enjoy the experience, while learning about the differences present in the teas. I’m not certain if I’m successful or not, but as you say, this is the “road to improvement”!

Tea Thoughts Undefined said...

This was my first visit to your blog. Was always interested to know about Oolongs and the way you've mentioned the tests are quite interesting.
I too happen to blog from www.darjeelingteaboutique.com/blog which specialises on Darjeeling Tea.
A question.
Can the same test be applied to green teas of Darjeeling? I've been drinking green for quite sometime now. Hope to try Oolongs one day. Which are the best Oolongs producers.

Fabulous Blog, Thanks for the post.

Niranjan Naulakha

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your comment, Justin.

Yes, the competition set is a standard accessory that is also used in India, I've seen. The design is slightly different at the rim. The hole that lets drip the brew is smaller and shaped in 'ww' to retain the broken leaves.

Currently, the best Oolongs come from the high mountains in Taiwan (Da Yu Ling, Lishan, Alishan, Shan Lin Shi...)

Thanks for your visit to my blog!