Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Whoaaaaah teas versus Hummmm teas

In the search for tea excellence, I think you can define two paths that people take:

1. The Whoaaaaah teas
These teas are like fireworks mostly in your nose and sometimes in your mouth too. Their fragrance is usually intense and they display very exotic and complex aromas. But, except for puerh, these teas tire rather quickly after a few brews. The way to brew such teas is strong: above average quantity of dry leaves and shorter brewing times to control the astringency and the bitterness.

Such teas are quite straightforward to appretiate. They are like an action movie with lots of explosions and stunts that keep you riveted on your chair. Good examples of such teas on my selection would include the 2004 raw Yunnan Puerh and the 2001 wild raw Yi Wu Puerh from Fuhai. Jinxhuan oolong can also often be classified as such a tea.

Of course, quality can vary greatly in this category, with the lowest quality typically being the scented teas. There are also very good such 'Whoaaaaah' teas, like light oxidized, high grade Tie Guan Yin. It's also a question of mood, setting and preference: if your spirit can't completely focus on the tea, then such teas are very fitting (for instance, when you drink with many friends together or with the kids around).

2. The 'Hummmmm' teas
The very best teas I have drunk didn't excite me, they were soothing. The first sip is like fresh, pure spring water. It just slips down the throat as if this were his home. Then, slowly and tenderly the mouth is filled with a very balanced, long and lingering aftertaste that feels like a long kiss. The fragrance is very pure, rich and deep.

The feeling you get from such an experience is one of calm and quiet bliss. If the above teas are action movies, than these 'Hummmmm' teas are like Somerset Maugham novels: you enter a new world, enjoy every sentence and come out with a better understanding of human life.

Such are the teas I enjoy most and that I try to select. The best example I can give is my 2003 Yi Wu wild raw puerh. Another example is high quality Lung Jing. Very few leaves, brewed for a longer time, will produce exquisitely light, but rich teas.

Here lies a difference between wine and tea. Concentration in wine is often a very good sign of quality: the producer has reduced its yield so as to produce grapes with more flavor. This in turn produces a wine with richer aromas. But with tea, concentration can be increased and influenced with the brewing technique (that's also why tea is so much more interesting than wine: there is only 1 wine in your bottle, but so many different results you can obtain with tea).

What tea and wine have in common though, is that the very best ones are not only characterized by nice flavors, but also but neverending afterastes. They never really disappear, but always stay somewhere in your mouth before entering your memory and heart.


Anonymous said...

Interesting distinction you make between the two types of tea experiences; of course, you are describing what we bring to the tea experience, not the tea itself. Two emotional frames of mind that probably define in no small way the experience at hand -- the tea.

Your first description of an "Hmmmm" tea -- mellow and smooth followed by intense aftertaste ... it occurs to me that the intense aftertaste might well evoke a "Wooaaah" response from someone in a "Wooaah" frame of mind.

The tea as a real physical fact is neutral. It comes alive with your help and tells its story. How you respond. That depends on how you came to the moment ...

I am not saying much different from you, except maybe this: The two paths you've described (I would say they are an infinite number of paths) might have less to do with our relationship to tea (ie, we look for Wooaaah or Hmmmm type teas) and more simply to do with what has brought us to the moment. We are able to experience both types -- and sometimes even with the same one tea. One month, a big old Woaah. Another month, an Hmmmm.

Just a thought.


~ Phyll said...

(that's also why tea is so much more interesting than wine: there is only 1 wine in your bottle, but so many different results you can obtain with tea).

With all due respect, Monsieur, wine keeps evolving in your very glass or in a decanter when it interacts with oxygen. Some wines keep evolving to become more complex for 24, 48 or even 72 hours after opening.

TeaMasters said...

Hi Phyll,
Great site you have. I love it!

As for wine, I don't have much experience about letting the wine evolve. Usually, a bottle doesn't last very long after I've opened it, and I have trouble - I wonder why- to stay focused on the tasting when I near the end of the bottle.
Actually, I don't drink wine as often as I'd like anymore. Taiwan is too hot to enjoy and store reds in summer. But your site definitely made me thirsty and I will share my next wine experience on the blog thinking of you!

~ Phyll said...

Hello Stephane,

Just caught your comment above only now.

Maybe a bottle of Chablis or Vallée de la Loire would be more suited to Taiwan's weather. For red, maybe a chilled Beaujolais. My personal summer favorite are German rieslings from Mosel and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Your blog is WONDERFUL! I envy your position that enables you to study and explore the world of tea at such a high level.


John-Paul said...

This is a really great post. Highly informative, and subtly poetic. I really enjoyed it, thank you Stephane.

One thing I'm curious about is where the majority of your high mountain luanze oolongs would fit into this scheme? You mentioned that you prefer and try to select the 'Hummm' teas, and after trying many of the oolongs from your selection, that is the impression I get as well. But why mention Long Jin as an ideal example of this kind of tea without any mention of light high mountain oolongs?

And what of roasted oolongs - which side of the spectrum do you find these?

TeaMasters said...

Dear John-Paul,
Thanks for taking the time to go through my old articles. And this one has indeed an important value to understand what qualities I'm looking for in tea.
Maybe I didn't mention fresh high mountain Oolongs because many are made and brewed in a Whoaa way. However, nowadays, those I select are of a quality that allows them to be brewed in a Hummmm way!

For roasted Oolongs it's a little bit the same. I'd say I enjoy mine more with longer brews.
An exception to this distinction is maybe when you brew a good roasted Oolong in a Chaoshan style of brewing. Then you can get both the Whaoo and the Hummm effect!

John-Paul said...

Thanks for the response Stephane. I agree that many of your high mountain oolongs are more subtle in their beauty, and I would probably describe them as more a 'Hummm' experience. While reading your description of a 'Whoaaah' tea, on the other hand, I also thought of TGY, and perhaps just mass produced oolongs in general, where the focus seems to be on intense fragrance, and more bold flavours. For me it is the balance, refinement, purity, and spirit of some the oolongs that you offer that I most appreciate. In this way, I like your analogy of comparing loud rock concerts or action movies, to an orchestral ensemble, or a really great novel.

Also, you'll have to fill me in on the meaning of Chaoshan. Or perhaps you can point me in the direction of some good info on what exactly you meant by this?

All the best

TeaMasters said...


Thanks. You'll find more info on Chaoshan (also called Chaozhou) brewing here: