Although I consider myself a tea junkie, I still don’t know a lot about oolong. My first few experiences with oolongs were positive, but didn’t really sell me on the whole thing. (Of course, I am learning to change my mind.) So I’m glad that the White2Tea August 2015 box is making me expand my palate a bit.
This month’s selection promises to veer quite off the beaten path. W2T includes a little paper in each box describing the month’s teas; since none of these ones are on the website yet (as far as I can tell), I’ve transcribed them for you.
Fresh Da Hong Pao
A special tea for the August White2Tea box. We recommend drinking this sample first out of this month’s 3 teas. Normally, vendors wait much longer to sell freshly roasted Yancha oolongs. This will likely not be a crowd favourite, though some may love it. It will be harsh and sharp with the flavour of the roast… You might notice the difference between the thrashing youth and the mellow age of the Aged DHP. This tea is for learning purposes; White2Tea does not intend to offer such a freshly roasted young DHP on our site.
I was feeling contradictory and drank the Clover Patch oolong first (see below). However, I am intrigued by the idea of doing a side-by-side comparison of two teas based on age. Let’s begin!
The Fresh DHP is made of black, gnarled nuggets of tea leaf. Dry, they smell of paper; there’s also a skunky sort of smell that reminds me of weed, unfortunately. I took about 3.8 grams of dry leaf and put them in a gaiwan. After rinsing them in 90°C water for 5 seconds, the smell deepened and the whole thing smelled fresh and wet with notes of graham cracker, blackened sugar, and burnt pie crust. The first steep was 10 seconds; the second, third, fourth, and fifth were 15, 20, 25, and 50 seconds respectively.
This didn’t taste as harsh as I was expecting. There was an orchid note there along with the note I’m learning to associate with roasted oolongs: green, wet, and sticky, like someone’s just cut into the heart of a plant and the wound is now welling with sap. There was a surprisingly soft aftertaste here like grass and orchids, along with that burnt sugar/pie crust note.
The second steep tasted pretty similar to the first, and the liquor was a nice amber colour. The third steep was also surprisingly smooth. However, there were signs of the tea weakening by the fourth steep — it became much lighter in colour and those burnt notes nearly disappeared. It was somewhat floral and sweet, but not enough to make for the flavours that went missing.
The fifth steep was similarly uninspiring. After that, I let it go, since it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of staying power. The spent leaves at the end hadn’t completely unfurled, but they were still a glossy black, like licorice candies.
Aged Da Hong Pao
This tea has calmed over the course of the last 8 years. The tea is somewhat fragmented, and the fine flavours have subsided to leave a mellow mineral tea behind. Thick body, deep content, and flowing smoothness. Retail vendors in China often sell this exact tea as 15 years according to the farmer.
The Aged DHP was a lot smoother overall than the fresh. The dry leaves were long, dark, and spindly, and they smelled like wood, cigarettes, and roastedness. I also smelled a hint of something salty at the back of my nose, like soy sauce.
After a 5-second rinse with 90°C water, the smell of the leaves deepened into cigars and charred wood, but I didn’t get the burnt sugar/burnt pie crust sensation that I got from the Fresh DHP. The first steep was 10 seconds, with subsequent steeps of 15, 20, 25, 30 and 60 seconds.
The first steep resulted in tea that was an ochre colour — much redder than the Fresh DHP. The fragrance was light, but sharper and woodier than the fresh stuff. Again, I couldn’t sense any burnt notes. This tea was definitely smoother, but there was a more alkaline aftertaste, especially on the backs and sides of my tongue.
The second steep produced a more orange-y tea with a grassier aftertaste, but the flavour was neutral/floral overall. On the third steep I noticed fabric/linen notes.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth steeps were much like the Fresh DHP in that they were noticeably paler in both colour and flavour. The “fabric” note turned into something that reminded me of sandalwood. I kind of botched the sixth steep because I was folding some laundry — by the time I got back the water had cooled off a lot and I didn’t feel like reheating it.
What I find interesting is that White2Tea described this tea as “mineral.” I can see that, though I think what they consider “mineral” was what I was describing as flowers/sandalwood.
Another Wuyi oolong, meant as an illustration of how different processing and varietals can yield wildly different teas. This tea is from older bushes, but is a modern expression from the same farmer as the DHP teas above. The tea is of a comparatively smaller and more experimental production. We purchased the remainder of this tea from the farmer and and we find it to be a very innovative tea with a fragrance that is knock you on your ass strong. (If you have ever wondered why I say Puer can not compete with the fragrance of oolong, here is your textbook example.) This tea is from early spring 2015.
Man, this tea is weird. It looks like your typical dark roasted oolong — long, spindly twists of black leaf — and it even kind of smells like it too, with a sweet, strong smell of buckwheat and burnt sugar.
I measured out 4.75 g of leaf (about half of what I had left after I shared it with my tea subscription buddy) and brewed it in a gaiwan with water starting out at 90°C. Since it was a lovely day out, I did it on the backyard porch, which probably affected the temperature of the water as the steeps continued.
First I did a 5-second rinse followed by a 10-second steep, then added 5 seconds to each subsequent steep.
The smell of the tea and the wet tea leaves was roasty and sweet like buckwheat or honey. But the taste was completely unexpected!
The first sensation was of something extremely alkaline on my tongue, like I splashed some sort of industrial chemical on it. On the back and sides of my tongue the taste became more floral, like honeysuckle or lilies, with an aftertaste like rose or osmanthus. The colour of the tea was amber like beer.
Over subsequent steeps I felt that the texture and taste on my tongue was like that of fabric: cotton, denim, linen, thickness covering my tongue. The floral honeysuckle/lily flavour was also there — there was none of the juicy, grassy sweetness that the smell of this tea promised.
Then it hit me. Industrial chemicals? Flowers? Fabric?
It tasted like the tea embodiment of a dryer sheet.
You know, those little wisps of perfumed, polymerized fabric you put into the dryer with freshly washed clothes to make them soft and non-static-cling-y.
What the fuck? I’m mystified, but also kind of horribly fascinated.
As I drank continuous steeps, I felt an astringent puckeriness not on my tongue, but on my lips, like the skin of my lips was tightening up and threatening to crack and expose the flesh underneath.
White2Tea was right when they called it “innovative” and “experimental.” And, as I said at the top, I want to expand my palate by drinking unfamiliar types of tea. But I also want my tea to taste, you know, edible — not like something I would put in with my laundry.
Weird. **shakes head**
This set of oolongs was educational, but I don’t think I had a favourite here. However, that’s the whole point of boxes like this: to find out what you like and don’t like by trying out some tea without having a huge pile of stuff you might not want to drink afterwards. If this batch is anything to go by, I think I like Dan Cong oolongs over Da Hong Pao ones.