Friday, July 11, 2014

Tasting, comparing and learning

Alishan spring 2014 Jinxuan
This week, I had tea with Elie, a French student who has just spent a year in Kunming and a few weeks in Taiwan. In China, he has acquired a taste for tea and wishes to open a tea club when he returns to France.

In Yunnan, he has learned how tricky it is to find good puerh that is what it says. So, he's relying on experts to select his teas. I found his humble attitude very wise (know what you don't know) and agreed to let him taste some of my good Oolongs on a nearby mountain.
There, Elie told me he has biked around Taiwan for a couple of weeks and visited approximately 10 tea farms. However, he didn't really like any of the teas he tasted on his tour. He tried to lower his expectations, but the teas even failed that low bar.
Fortunately, Elie seemed quite happy with the teas we had together. The Alishan Jinxuan, brewed in a gaiwan, tasted very powerful and refined. The milky aromas were light and natural.

The added value of an expert isn't just the sourcing of the quality leaves, but also the teaching about how best to brew the tea.

For this High Mountain Jinxuan, I let Elie prepare a couple of brews and gave him some advice to improve his technique.

Elie took good note of what he was learning.
The lesson continued with a tasting of a similar Oolong from a different cultivar from the same mountain and season. After Jinxuan, I prepared this Qingxin Oolong with the same accessories:
Alishan spring 2014 Qingxin Oolong
The major change is a much stronger taste, mouthfeel with qingxin Oolong than with Jinxuan. The aftertaste is also longer. A great example of top quality High Mountain Oolong.
Than, we made a brewing experience. I used this silver teapot to prepare the same Alishan qingxin Oolong again. This lets us compare the impact of the silver teapot compared to the porcelain gaiwan.
The taste felt lighter and the fragrances had more power and higher notes. In general, the tea had a sharper and brighter feel. Also, the temperature of the brew was much higher than when brewed with the gaiwan.
The concentration of the tea was very similar, but I had used much fewer leaves with the silver teapot than with the gaiwan (see above). A silver teapot is an investment: it only suits the best (fresh) teas, but it helps to reduce the quantity of leaves per session.
This second-hand silver teapot was made in southern Taiwan some 20 years ago. The  dragon and phoenix (= emperor and empress) patterns are nicely done.
Its volume is 14 cl and is smaller than my other silver teapot.
On this bright day, the silver teapot added not just its shine to the beauty of the tea, but it made the aromas brighter, hotter and more powerful.


Marilyn said...

I enjoyed this post. I found when I traveled in Taiwan I often didn't like the tea the farmer brewed, but liked it when I got home and brewed it. I felt they used too hot of water and were really forcing the tea to blossom instead of brewing calmly.

Stephane said...

Using boiling water to brew tea is the best way to test it and push it to its limits. This is the 'honest' way of testing tea. However, I agree that tea farmers don't necessarily know how to brew their teas in a refined way.