Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A scent of gooseberry in my Oolong!

Yiguang shan Oolong plantation
The human nose (and brain) can distinguish up to ten thousand different scents! This makes our sense of smell so important when we taste a tea. Last week, I marveled how my wild Dian Hung reminded me of black currant. Today, I want to introduce you to a tea that brings back memories of gooseberries!

Tea: Luanze (qingxin) Oolong

Origin: Yiguang shan, between Zhushan and Shan Lin Shi, Taiwan

Elevation: 700 meters

Harvested by hand on March 31st, 2013

This is a fresh, unroasted Oolong. (In my selection, I also have a medium roasted version - called Hungshui Oolong - made from leaves from the very same batch).

This tea doesn't qualify as a high mountain Oolong. The elevation must be 1000 meters or more. From the dry leaves, it's not so easy to tell, because at 700 meters, the climate starts to feel mountainous. Even the dry smell of the leaves doesn't indicate this would be a low elevation Oolong.

The brew has a good clarity and lack of turbidity. The taste has a typical Taiwanese Oolong mellow/sweet characteristic. No bitterness. It's just not as powerful as a Shan Lin Shi or Alishan Oolong. (But we can compensate this by using more leaves for our brew.)

This kind of fresh, hand harvested spring Oolong already qualifies as an above average Oolong compared to what we can find on the market nowadays. (Many stores here sell cheap, imported Oolongs from Vietnam... or you may even find artificially scented Oolongs). What makes this Oolong special for me, is that, for the first time, I found a scent of gooseberry in the brewed cup! Scents and memories are always personal, so, here, the smell of this tea reminded me of gooseberries. I used to eat them directly from the bushes in my parents' garden when I was a kid. These bushes have been uprooted some twenty-five or thirty years ago and I haven't had a gooseberry since. But the memory of this fruit is still vivid and this tea brings back this feeling of playing as a child in my garden in summer.
These kinds of personal connections make smell of tea a very personal affair. It's therefore very difficult to judge a tea objectively just by its scent. The pleasantness of a certain smell varies from person to person. The smell characteristics we can argue objectively are the intensity and purity of the scent. If the scent is very strong and barely changing, then we may conclude that it's artificial. This is not the case with this Oolong: the fresh gooseberry scent is due to the almost magical combination of climate, soil, plant, oxidation and drying.

The size and shape of the unfurled leaves give us the best indication of the elevation of this plantation. We can also see the oxidation level by noticing the red color of the edges of the leaves. This Oolong isn't too green and this is also what made it suitable for roasting.
The best way to start brewing this Oolong is to use more leaves (compared to a high mountain Oolong), a 'dancing leaves' first pour and shorter brewing times. It's a good everyday fresh Oolong, or a tea to practice quick brewing. And it's also very insightful to compare this fresh Oolong with its roasted version.

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