3 of my tea students from the Tea Institute at Penn State University are visiting Taiwan right now. What would be a good place for them to fully enjoy and appreciate a High Mountain Oolong? Well, on a warm day in May, that would be a spot in a Taiwanese mountain, overlooking tea fields and bamboos. And that's the place where we went this Tuesday!
Outdoors, the heavy and sweet flower smells of the forest permeate the air. It's hot and we are longing for a cooling tea. This makes high mountain Oolong a perfect match for this occasion. We brewed Oolongs from 3 different mountains to taste and compare these mountains.
We used charcoal to boil the water in the silver kettle. This made our water very precious, because the Nilu only produced a limited amount. But less is often more in tea: it made us more careful in our movements and focused on the teas we brewed.
Everybody loved the Qilai and felt it had a very creamy, buttery taste with lots of freshness and sweetness. There's also dry, rocky feeling which creates a very pleasant aftertaste. It's only after the first brew that I told them that it's from 2013. Nobody had found any sign of it being old. They all felt it had the freshness they are looking for in High Mountain Oolong.
Next, Ryan brewed the Lushan Oolong. The package mentions Da Yu Ling, but this is a kind reminder that you can't trust a tea package. It's all too common for teas to be 'upgraded' by the farmers, because the famous names sell better than some obscure mountain that is just starting to be developed.
The reason for selecting this Lushan is that it has indeed certain qualities that make it very similar to a Da Yu Ling Oolong, even though it comes from an elevation at 1600 meters (only). The leaves are particularly thick and rich, because the plantation is new and the soil very rocky.
This Lushan Oolong tasted differently than the Qilai. I think the main difference was in the energy level felt in the aftertaste. This felt more powerful and direct. But it shared the same freshness and clean taste in the mouth. And that's despite the fact that we used relatively more leaves, because we're brewing outdoors where we are more easily distracted. This is a character of great quality teas: they feel stronger and more powerful, but at the same time, there's a lightness and clean feeling in the mouth.
The third tea is from Lishan, because I want to let them experience this famous mountain and a plantation above 2000 meters elevation. It's Merv's turn to brew:
The concentration and steady hand of these students is impressive and an example to follow. While brewing, they only have eyes for the teapot. Their brews were very successful and they always managed to open up the tightly rolled leaves well.
The Lishan Oolong has a little bit longer leaves than the Qilai and Lushan. But in terms of concentration of flavors, it's pretty similar. The overall feeling was almost lighter, more subtle and elegant.
Jeff continued to brew the enduring Lishan Oolong:
He's using an 80s zhuni teapot. Its hard clay is a great match with fragrant Oolongs. There's very little rounding of edges, but an added intensity due to the very high heat retention of this teapot rich in iron.
Tasting 3 different high mountain Oolongs back to back in this luscious forest with changing weather was a great experience for all of us. Ryan, Merv and Jeff have accumulated a whole new set of tasting data and taken detailed notes. For the future, they have now high and clear standards.
Merv agrees that it's been a tasting he won't forget so soon:
My name is Stéphane Erler. I live in Taiwan since 1996 and have been studying tea with Teaparker. He's a worldwide tea expert and author of over 30 tea books. The study of tea isn't just theoretical, but it's also rooted in daily practice. It's a path of continuous improvement. As my brewing technique improves I get access to better teas and better accessories. These things go hand in hand. My blog documents my learning since 2004. And I have set up an online tea boutique with my selection of top quality teas, accessories and tea culture.