Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Organic Red Tea made with Luanze Oolong

Taiwan is mostly home to Oolong, semi-oxidized tea. It is famous for its High mountain Oolongs, which are particularly low oxidized. However, in recent years, there is a trend (a diversification) towards highly or completely oxidized teas. The Guei Fei Cha I wrote about in my last post is an example of this trend. Another good example is the Red tea based on Da Yeh Oolong from the East Coast. And Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station is fueling these innovations with R&D on new tea cultivars designed for red tea production: Their last 5 new tea cultivars (No 18 to 22) are all designed to make red tea.

The new red tea I'm about to introduce is not made with a new cultivar. On the contrary, it is made with the most traditional Taiwan tea tree: the luanze (Qingxin) Oolong. It is made with organically leaves grown in Nantou in Spring 2007. They have been fully oxidized AND then roasted four times!
View: the dry leaves are small, losely rolled (like Oolong!) and a little broken (due to the oxidation process). They unfold well: the roasting hasn't been too strong.

Smell: A little cinammon, ripe mellon and dried fruits. The smells are mellow, warm and sweet, but they are not jumping to your nose. Very pure, but discreet and restrained. (Quite the contrary of the red tea made from Da Ye Oolong, which is so intensely aromatic.)

Taste: The strength of the luanze Oolong cultivar is clearly on display. The taste is so sweet and round. Hummmmmm. I still tasted a 'minty' freshness here too. And the roasting has added a dryness that comes with more sweetness during the long aftertaste. It's almost like candy.

Conclusion: This red tea is so round and lacking astringency that it is probably best drunk in gongfu cha fashion without sugar and milk. Few leaves and long brewing times will bring the extra long aftertaste to shine. The ripe, sweet fragrances are a very good fit to Christmas cookies and sweets.

This innovation is so new that the farmer hasn't found a name to describe this tea, yet. He has asked for my readers' help. If anybody has a suggestion after tasting it, please let me know (by e-mail). The 3 best entries will receive prizes. The first prize is this RED clay Yixing Shui Ping teapot. And, who knows, maybe one of you will write tea history and become the inventor of this tea's name!

Remark: Tea in 75 gram pack at the same price as the Organic Red tea from the East coast.


John Naruwan said...

I've been meaning to ask you about Taiwan's organic teas, or more specifically about the non-organic stuff. How heavily sprayed are the tea crops? And do you know if it is possible to remove all or most of the residues by briefly rinsing the leaves with hot water? Also, how on earth do organic tea growers stop bugs decimating their crops without the use of chemicals? Do you think they may be tempted to cheat? Sorry for so many questions!

TeaMasters said...

I'm not a tea farmer, so I can't answer with exact figures. As for everything, it depends on several factors. Let's try to be logical: when is the pesticide most necessary? When the weather is hot and there are a lot of insects. That means that low altitude teas and warm season harvests are more likely to be sprayed heavily than high mountain plantation (where climate is cooler) or early spring and late winter crops.

Then, there is the exception for Oriental Beauty, Guei Fei, some red teas (low altitude, summer) where insect bites are welcome, because the leaves are destined to be oxidized strongly anyway. This is why it makes sense to make organic reds and heavily oxidized Oolongs.

I let you fill the gap of which kind of tea is most sprayed. (Hint: you don't find those in my selection)

Tea is very fragile and easily absorbs the smells of its environment. This makes its beauty and also makes it possible to tell if bad things were sprayed on it. It just tastes different then. So, to make high grade teas, farmers also know they have to use as little as possible. Otherwise, their tea won't taste right and won't sell at a premium price. Therefore, once I pick fresh teas that are great, I don't worry about residues anymore. For me, these leaves are as clean and safe as can be (they have been subject to very high temperatures during their process). I wouldn't want to loose a drop. To think that they need rinsing would not be the right state of mind towards those leaves, I think.

Another remark: for organic teas, farmers will also have their teas tested by an independent laboratory to confirm that they meet the standards. Of course, cheating is still possible. That's why confidence and longterm partnerships are important. (As are double checks).

Anonymous said...

Hm Steph,

This inevitably looks like a fine red tea. The price difference is fairly high between this and pedigreed Darjeeling tea. Is this a formidable match to or good value alternative to Darjeeling tea ?

TeaMasters said...

The organic red tea from the East Coast would be better to compare with Darjeeling teas. It is at least as fragrant, but it doesn't have the high level of astringency I often taste from even top grade Darjeelings. If you drink red tea with tea and/or sugar, Darjeelings will do fine. But to drink red tea alone, then the Taiwanese are more mellow.

The roasted red tea made with luanze Oolong is better compared to roasted Guei Fei Cha or roasted Oolong. Thanks to its full oxidation, I find it rounder and fruitier than roasted Oolong. Maybe a good way to start with roasted teas.

Anonymous said...

Does that mean you don't recommend rinsing any of the high mountain oolongs that you carry?

TeaMasters said...

Correct. I don't even rinse my Mingjian Si Ji Chun oolong!

Nada said...

Yesterday I received a parcel from Stéphane. Included in it was a sample of this wonderful tea.

I brewed this in a 100ml gaiwan, using just under 3gms.

I was surprised by the surprisingly light coloured soup for a red tea - an amber colour rather than the darker red I expected.
Beautiful, unmistakably oolong fragrance - light and pure

And as for the taste... one word came to my mind again and again - round. This tea is full in the mouth, a world away from the many light oolongs that pervade the market.
I detected hints of mint and cinammon, and wasn't surprised to reread Stéphane's notes and find that these characteristics were mentioned by him too.
It feels quite oily when drinking, but perhaps this is not a bad thing, the tea coats the mouth with a flavour that lingers beautifully, transforming slowly into the slight dryness which Stéphane also mentions.
In the later infusions there was a sweetness I hadn't detected so much before. Perhaps this had been there earlier and masked by other flavours, but at the stage where many other oolongs would have been dying out there came this beautiful sweetness which both surprised and delighted me.

Some teas promise alot, give beautiful fragrances and maybe a couple of good infusions, but then die out quickly... like a brief fickle affair they give some excitement, but no lasting satisfaction. This feels like an honest tea, it gives full round, beautiful fragrances and flavours and brews again and again. I drank about 10 very satisfying infusions from this tea, and it seemed that I could have easily gone on drinking if I hadn't had other things to do but sit around drinking tea.

I feel that I could drink this tea often and never tire of it.

I guess the conclusion is summed up by the question I had to ask myself - 'Would I buy this tea?' After some consideration, imagining how it would be once my sample of this had run out, the answer was 'Definately yes'... and with my next order I think I will.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit confused - I also got this tea from Stephane, and am about to taste it. But - what does it mean red tea made from oolong? Oolong means the tea is semi-oxidized, red tea is fully... so I am a bit confused about the terminology... Does it mean it's made from a cultivar usually used for oolong? Or is "luanze oolong" the name of the cultivar? It's a bit confusing to use the name "oolong" in the name of a red tea though?

TeaMasters said...


Yes, 'luanze Oolong' is the name of the cultivar (the tea tree). And that cultivar is very common for Oolong in Taiwan. Another name for it is Chingxin Oolong.

And because it can be confusing, I have proposed to find a name for this tea. I hope that it will inspire you.

Anonymous said...

we now tasted it, great tea, and watch your mailbox:)