Monday, June 05, 2017

The right color of a brew of fresh high mountain Oolong

2016 spring Da Yu Ling brewed in spring 2017
Top Shan Lin Xi Oolong, spring 2017
Now that summer is approaching and that high mountain Oolongs are available, it's the best moment to enjoy these fresh, sweet and powerful teas! Let me give you some advice on how to brew these Oolongs well. Look at the color of the brew!
The color in the cups above would too yellow if this were a 2017 spring high mountain Oolong. But since it's from 2016, this is just shows that the the leaves have a little bit continued to oxidize with time.
The color of your high mountain brew will naturally vary with the oxidation level of your leaves. In general, high mountain Oolongs are very lightly oxidized in order to capture the light aromas of the spring mountains. But there are varying degrees of lightness. If it's too light, there's a risk of being too 'green' (raw), fragrant for only a short period of time and unable to age beyond a few weeks. Only the best meat (fish) can be eaten raw, which is why only the best high mountain leaves are suitable for very light oxidation. (Two of my lightest Oolong this year are from BiLuXi and Da Yu Ling).

A slight additional oxidation adds fruitiness, sweetness and a thickness to the aromas. This is particularly the case for this year's FuSHou Shan. This tea is brilliantly done thanks to the skills of the maker and the quality of this plantation. But most of the good high mountain Oolongs are oxidized somewhere in between these 2 oxidation levels.

The resulting brew color of such an oxidation level is between green and yellow. The color of the brew will also depend on the color of your cup of course. Here is my Shan Lin Xi Oolong poured in 2 light celadon singing cups, an ivory white cup and 2 old qinghua cups.
This should give you an idea of the color we're looking to achieve with fresh high mountain Oolong.
Here are my tricks to obtain the perfect cup:
1. Good pre-heating of your gaiwan/teapot. Tightly rolled Oolong requires a high temperature to open up.

2. Quantity: Tightly rolled high mountain Oolong leaves will unfold and amaze you with their size. The general rule is: the better the quality, the less is required to be enjoyed. When the leaves are super fresh, the taste is most potent. So, I recommend to use just 1 layer of leaves on the bottom of your gaiwan/teapot. (A little bit more or less depending your own taste preference).

3. Good quality water that has just reached its boiling point. Pour on the side of your vessel in order to make the leaves swirl and dance. Cover. Don't rinse.
Why not rinse? Because the lightest aromas come out first and would be wasted. Because if you think that your fresh tea is 'dirty', you shouldn't drink it at all. And the third reason is an appeal to authority: Zhang Tian Fu, the legendary Chinese tea master, didn't rinse his Oolong leaves (according to a question Teaparker asked him once) ; master Zhang passed away yesterday but he managed to reach a remarkable 108 years! 

4. Brewing time: the fewer the leaves, the longer the brew. But I recommend to wait at least 1 minute for the first brew. Tightly rolled high mountain Oolong requires time to unfold and release its aromas. The leaves need to be well opened after the first brew. However, it's also important not to over brew the leaves. The concentration level of the tea should still look rather light, between green and yellow (see picture above).
This is the tough job of the brewer. The same way the tea maker has to find the right balance in terms of oxidation level, the brewer must find the right brewing time for a good balance of aromas. They must be both light, fresh and sweet and deep. Too short and you only have lightness, too long and you have so much power that the finesse is missing.

5. Experience: each time you brew your Oolong, remember if you got it weak, right or too strong and adapt you next brewing accordingly.
6. A good cup is water, technique and good leaves. Now that we've revisited the technique, all you need are top quality spring 2017 leaves selected from Taiwan's famous tea mountains by someone who has done (and shared) his homework and has some of the best connections in the tea world! (Best is to place your order here before I leave for Europe at the end of June. Thanks!).

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