Thursday, April 15, 2010

That fresh tea is too fresh!

Experimenting with tea is a great, fun way to learn while enjoying its pleasures. This week, during tea class, Teaparker made this even more obvious: he played an April Fool tea joke on us, his students.
Our lesson focused on how to taste a fresh Oolong, what characteristics it should have...

Teaparker opens a vacuum sealed plastic foil and gives me some leaves to brew in a porcelain competition set. Since we are in 'testing mode', I use few leaves and a long infusion. Then, I fill everybody's cup with the tea. We smell the tea spoon, look at the brew and then drink the tea. All Teaparker tells us is that this Oolong is from this spring's harvest.
We find the tea very pure, but the fragrances are muted and there's something a tad uncomfortable and bitter that lingers on the mouth before vanishing into sweetness. My second brew is shorter and sweeter. We prefer it to the first brew.

For the second sample, Teaparker took some Oolong leaves from a small celadon glazed jar. Again, it was up to me to brew the leaves in the competition set. I tried my best to use the same amount, pouring strength and time. This time, we were all thrilled. This Oolong tastes wonderful: it has the exuberance of spring and the stamina of the high mountain. The aftertaste seems never ending. The tip of the tongue keeps on releasing saliva and sweetness in the mouth. "It's like a flower that has opened up", I commented. "Exactly how I like my Oolong", said another student.
These two teas tasted so differently! The first was muted with a bitter touch, the second exhilarating and smooth. While we guessed correctly that both were High Mountain Oolongs from this spring, we were greatly astonished when Teaparker told us this: "These two samples are one and the same batch of High Mountain Oolong!"

The first sample came from a just opened sealed foil. It hadn't have time to 'balance its moisture' (Hui Chao) as it was still very dry from being processed just 10 days ago. That's why it would still taste dry and a little bit uncomfortable. The second sample had spent several hours in a small closed jar and had had more contact with air. This showed us that a fresh Oolong could be too fresh and that we should be very careful in judging it. A good length and some bitterness that turns into sweetness is a good sign. What is important is a long aftertaste where the sweetness wins and replaces the bitter.
Let the fresh Oolongs 'open up' before brewing!


jay said...

This is a really great post. I've heard of the importance of aerating older pu-erh teas ("xing cha"), but never thought the same would be true with very young teas. Thanks for sharing this knowledge with us!

TeaMasters said...

I thought you might need to know this very soon!!
Puerh can be aired on a simple plate. However, fresh Oolong is more fragile and it's better to use a jar to avoid venting the leaves.

jay said...

Very good to know; thank you Stephane! Your wisdom and dedication to your teas is very much appreciated.

Brandon said...

Hi Stephane,
Some of us are also of the mind that Yancha should be aired out overnight before brewing ... not just newly made, any yancha should be removed from sealed storage and acclimate overnight for best results.

Evan Meagher said...

I've noticed a habit among some tea friends where they lightly shake the closed gaiwan before pouring water in. It seems to be a great trick for getting a solid aroma out of the fresh leaves. Is this level of aeration sufficient to bring out the "bitterness that turns into sweetness," or is more prolonged exposure to air required?

TeaMasters said...

In humid Taiwan, I feel that airing Oolong, even roated Yancha, on a plate may not be so good for the leaves. The day before, I would rather put the few leaves one intends to brew in a empty unglazed pot them more air contact, but still a minimum of protection. I haven't done any tests to compare both methods, though.

With roasted tea, what you describe is close to the Sao-An method.

With fresh, unroasted Oolong, I would not recommend this method, because it would disturb the way you have let the leaves fall in the gaiwan. (An even distribution, with a slight concentration in the middle is best).

Different teas may require different treatments and different levels of aeration. I raise this point so that you pay attention to this detail and monitor how your tea evolves after you open it and depending on how you store it.

Petr Novák said...

Hi Stephane,

Interesting topic as usually. I am going to ask you what you probably already answered in your last paragraph of your last comment. But, I was wondering if we (here in Europe for example) have such fresh teas at all. I mean that it trevel from producer to my teapot for few weeks minimum. Does not take its "air" although it is saeled? Thanks.


misomoo said...

wow very interesting :) i'm just a casual tea drinker, so im not into tea tasting so to speak, but it certainly is quite interesting and educational to read about the art of making tea. great post, thank you.

TeaMasters said...

No, if the pack is still sealed, then no air got inside and it's the same level of freshness at 99% as in Taiwan, even after several weeks. Even a year doesn't reduce freshness significantly, thanks to the vacuum seal. What could impact freshness is if the leaves had been stored in a hot place (summer can be dangerous) or if the package was exposed to a lot of light (most foils let the light through).

Thank you Misomoo for your kind words and interest. Maybe this can be the spark for you to go further with tea!

Anonymous said...

Does it mean that it is better to use (porcelain) jars for our teas (wulong, puerh, green, etc.) instead of keeping them in their original bag?


TeaMasters said...

It depends on when you intend to drink your tea. A vacuum sealed plastic bag is a safe (and cheap) option. The tea won't change much.

With jars, there is an opportunity for improvement, but also some risks that the tea will go stale. While porcelain is a good choice for Oolong in general, not all porcelain jars are equal. Also some teas are better candidates than others to be stored in a jar. It also requires a better understanding of your tea and how you want to have it evolve.

Anonymous said...

C'est une leçon que j'ai aussi apprise cette année en recevant un Da ye Ling 2010 que j'ai trouvé "mauvais" (trop amer) en ouvrant le paquet scellé.
C'est, une dizaine de jours plus tard, décidant de lui donner une seconde chance, que j'ai réalisé qu'il avait totalement changé de goût et méritait d'être dégusté :-)