Thursday, March 14, 2019

Can Taiwan Oolongs compete?

 Taiwan is an advanced economy where the living standards are quite high and similar to many European countries. It's not a country with very low wages and labor intensive industries have long migrated to China and South-East Asia. That's why it's quite normal that Taiwan Oolongs face competition from Asian countries where similar teas can be made at lower costs. Price remains a very important factor when consumers purchase their tea. This tea class aims to find out if Taiwan's Oolongs can compete against their foreign copies. 

1. Oriental Beauties
 From left to right:
- Overseas OB from 2018 (reviewed here before),
- 10 years old top grade OB from Hsin Chu,
- OB tradtion from Hsin Chu.
 1. The overseas OB doesn't exhibit much character. It seems like watered down compared to the other 2. Its brew has the lightest hue.
2. This aged OB wasn't roasted (unlike my OB tradition), but the leaves contain lots of buds and exhibit a very thorough oxidation. Its scents are amazing, like perfume. The taste, though, is a little sour.
3. This OB tradtion differs from the other 2, because it has been well roasted. That's the reason why, despite bigger leaves and a lower oxidation, it has a very deep and sweet taste that was very enjoyable.
I should also mention that we did all our comparisons with 3 grams of tea brewed for 6 minutes with boiling water. We pushed the leaves to their limits with these Dong Ding Oolong competition parameters. It's possible to get better tasting tea from these leaves, but our purpose was to find their weaknesses in order to evaluate their quality.

2. High mountain Oolong
 From left to right:
- Spring 2018 Alishan Qingxin Oolong,
- Overseas Qingxin Oolong (reviewed here before),
- Spring 2018 Alishan Jinxuan Oolong.
- The Alishan Qingxin has the smallest and greenest leaves. The shine of its brew is the best, but the hue difference with the other 2 teas isn't that big. The fragrances are flowery, delicate and powerful. The taste is smooth, coating and lacking bitterness.
- The overseas Qingxin has the largest leaves. The brew doesn't have have much of a fresh or spring like scent. The taste is rather coarse, not bad, still drinkable, but not particularly good.
- The Alishan Jinxuan is just slightly more expensive than the overseas Qingxin, but my student Antonio and I both felt that it tasted much better, more refined and with a fresher high mountain character.
It was interesting to conduct these 2 comparisons in the company of my Spanish tea student. I didn't tell him which tea was which, and he was able to spot the overseas teas in both instances. Having a second, less biased opinion than mine, was helpful to evaluate the quality of these 6 teas. Taiwanese Oolongs may not always be able to compete on price, but in terms of quality they are indeed superior and worth it, in our opinion.
Antonio suggested that one reason was that I had done a good selection of my Taiwanese Oolongs! Maybe this comparison is a little bit biased, because the overseas teas didn't go through my selection process and I chose what was easily available?... I believe it' always possible to find better teas overseas, but these 2 are still relevant, because they should be quite typical of what you get when you're aiming for a low price instead of quality.

The verdict is that these overseas Oolongs are not horrible to drink and require some experience or such a comparison to figure out that they are not Taiwanese. Especially the dry leaves are very similar and easy to fool us. However, (well selected!) Taiwanese Oolongs provide superior aromas and a much more enjoyable tasting experience. And Jinxuan Oolong from Alishan is a very good alternative for those who want a high mountain Oolong at a very attractive price level!

3. 3 tea moutains comparison
 From left to right:
Da Yu Ling 90K, Spring 2017,
- Alishan Changshuhu, Spring 2018,
- Long Feng Xia (Shan Lin Xi), Spring 2017
We concluded the class with this comparison of 3 high mountain Oolongs. The Da Yu Ling was naturally the best and most powerful, but the Alishan was surprisingly close and similar. Excellent value! The most delicate, however, was the Shan Lin Xi. In the previous comparison, the Alishan was the most delicate, while now it tasted energetic and strong. This reminds us that the attributes of a tea are relative and depend to what you compare it to! Comparisons help to broaden your horizon and find the light in the dark!
Reminder: in order to give you the opportunity to make similar comparisons,
1. I offer a 5 gr sample of overseas OB for any order including at least 30 USD of OB or aged OB. (1 sample per order as long as my inventory lasts).
2. I offer a 5 gr sample of overseas Qingxin Oolong for any order including at least 30 USD of high mountain Oolong. (1 sample per order as long as my inventory lasts).


toni3d said...

It's a luxury being able to drink these teas and having this instructive class. It gave me a lot to think about and made me felt proud of Taiwanese producers and Stéphane's selection:

- Overseas teas flavours were dull in comparison to the Taiwanese ones, no charisma, like a lack of soul...
- Taiwanese teas will need half the amount of the tea in order to brew an excellent cup. I could verify firsthand that the price difference, pays.
- I reconfirmed how necessary is to buy your tea from a trustworthy source like Stéphane. Overseas Oolongs are even sold under Taiwanese label!!!

It was a great experience :)

TeaMasters said...

Thank you for sharing your experience of this class, Antonio!