Friday, September 14, 2012

The Quest for Oriental Beauty (Part 1)

2 summers ago, I had trouble finding a good Oriental Beauty (in Hsinchu county). So, I expanded my search to the Wenshan area. The specialty there is mainly Baozhong tea. However, this region extending from Nangang to Shiding and Pinglin is home to some of the earliest tea farms on Taiwan. In summer, they also produce Oriental Beauty when the high temperatures call for higher oxidation.

As I spent time searching for a good batch, I was fortunate to meet a farmer who had been collecting various Oriental Beauty samples to educate his son (to take over his tea business one day). He noticed my interest for this tea and shared this collection with me! Each sample is a Wenshan Oriental Beauty made in the summer of 2010. But each sample is made with a different tea cultivar (and comes from a single batch).

White cultivar (Bai zhong)
Oriental Beauty Oolong has a great potential for aging if it is dried/roasted well. Highly oxidized leaves are less fragile during roasting. After 2 years in their air sealed foils, I am curious to taste these samples and find out which cultivar makes the best Oriental Beauty!

1. White cultivar (due to its white appearance)

The scents are light, even weak. Dry grass. The leaves seem a little humid. The leaves show many small white tips.
The brew is a little cloudy.
The taste is simple, fruity, but flat overall. No major defect, but no aftertaste.

Da Yeh Oolong
2. Da Yeh Oolong (big leaf Oolong).

Note: you will remember this cultivar used on the East Coast of Taiwan to produce red tea.

The dry smell is intoxicating and perfume like. The brew's scents are not as pleasing as the dry leaves, though. The taste has a slight defect. It's like there's something that is hard to swallow. A strange astringency, maybe. But the overall taste has more full body.

The open leaves of the white cultivar (right) are clearly smaller, more tippy than the Da Yeh Oolong leaves (right).
In a duel between these 2 cultivars, the Da Yeh Oolong wins on points thanks to its great scent and better taste. However, the white cultivar dry leaves appear higher grade at first sight, thanks to their small size and generous white fur. (Another name for Oriental Beauty is Bai Hao oolong, white hair Oolong!) This is why this white cultivar remains popular here: farmers can blend it with other cultivars to improve the overall appearance.
Chinese Moon Festival is approaching. That's why you can see some moon cakes as part of the decoration of my Cha Xi. As for the jar, since I am tasting two Oolongs at a time, I chose my Double Happiness qinghua jar!
For this contest, I use 2 white porcelain competition sets. 3 grams of tea brewed for 6 minutes.

Let's have another contest between 2 cultivars:

Bailu (left)
3. Bailu:
Readers of my blog might remember this cultivar. In spring 2008, I had a green tea from Wenshan made with such leaves. This cultivar is also known as Taiwan No 17. The Taiwan Tea Research Institute invented it in 1983. And, according to the Institute, this tea is particularly well suited for... Oriental Beauty! Let's see:

The visual aspect is very pleasant. Different vivid colors appear. The white hairy buds look very 'fat', thick.

The dry fragrance is very refined and has this almost alcoholic fragrance that aged Oriental Beauties project.
The brew has a wonderful transparency and color. It smells like fine lychee juice! The tastes is a little bit on the light side. There were no defects. And once I had well tasted the first cup, I drank the rest quickly and happily!

Jinxuan (right)
4. Jinxuan
The jinxuan cultivar is also a creation by the Taiwan's Tea Research Institute. Created in 1981, it has the number 12. You regularly find a couple Jinxuan cultivars in my selection. Right now, there is the Jinxuan Oolong from Zhu Shan and a spring 2012 Baozhong. Jinxuan cultivar is generally used to make low oxidized tea.

For this high oxidized Oriental Beauty, the dry fragrance also displays the 'alcoholic' scent, but, compared with the Bailu, the scent feels more fuzzy or rough.
 The dry leaves are long and thin.

The brew has a good clarity and is darker than the Bailu's. But the scents are weaker and very common. There is no elegance, purity here. And it leaves an unpleasant bitterness in the mouth.
The open leaves of the Bailu are much smaller than the Jinxuan's. This time, the harvesting of buds has paid off in terms of quality of the tea. For the white cultivar, the small buds were not sufficient to be beat the Da Yeh Oolong. This shows the importance of the cultivar of a tea. That's the reason why you see me mentioning it so systematically.


After these contests, we have made great progress on our quest for an elegant and pure Oriental Beauty. Miss Bailu is the current champion.

It feels almost like a medieval tournament where knights fought one on one! (Ancient Chinese compared buds to spears!) So, after the fight, now would be the time to feast with delicious food... This traditional moon cake looks like it would pair perfectly with these Beauties.

This is also a Double Happiness: tea and moon cake! 
(More reviews will follow.)


Mr Pomme said...

Wonderfull article, I'm just in the search for the best oriental beauty because from now the best I got is from you (the 2011 (summer) - Oriental beauty from Miaoli) and it s really a tea I'm fond about. More as the winter is knowcking at door in the coming weeks, it's one of those tea that warm up body and heart.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks Mr Pomme. I'm looking forward comparing the best sample with the OB in my selection!

Rist Van de Weyer said...

Extremely interesting blog, it really gives us a deeper understanding into the different cultivars and their own unique taste. I hope to see more soon!

Marilyn Miller said...

The moon cake looks delicious!
Thank you for the explanation of the different Oriental Beauty teas. The differences in cultivars is something I am just beginning to learn. I am surprised you can age Oriental Beauty, as my regular tea supplier has told me Oriental Beauty doesn't age well. Interesting!

TeaMasters said...

Thanks Marilyn,
Well, not all Oriental Beauties age well. Right now, there is a trend to make OB with little roasting, so that the fragrances are more fresh and vivid. But this freshness only lasts for a while, because the higher moisture content in the leaves means a faster oxidation.

With well roasted OB, on the other hand, the tea can age very well.