You know the rest. Another very cold day here. The Rivendell Road has functioning brakes and is ready to ride, but I am not. What’s a boy with a new bike (that he won’t ride) to do on a very cold day? I drove to Schenectady to buy some tea from Divinitea. It is a wonderful shop with some very special tea. Three warm cups are just what I needed.
Having recently watched the documentary All in this Tea, I wanted to try an Oolong. I was helped by co-owner Cary Berliner and enjoyed getting to know him as we worked together to select a tea. Turns out his parter, Linda Smith, grew up three doors down from where I live and I know her father! Small world.
Cary’s recommendation was to take home two or three free samples, brew and taste each, and then buy a quantity of the one I liked best. Obviously the right approach and much appreciated (why doesn’t everyone do business this way?), but I didn’t want to drive back in a day or two. Instead, I bought a little more than a half-pound of Tiequanyin Gold Jade Oolong from Taiwan. Organic. Single estate. A half pound is a lot of tea! You know me–just overdoing it. I should mention that all teas sold at Divinitea are organic.
This Oolong has a beautiful appearance. If I remember what I learned from the documentary, whole leaves are curled by agitating the leaves as they dry in cloth sheets. Maybe machines are used in larger operations.
A few twigs in my bag, but I was able to lay out mostly whole leaves after brewing. Some of the bits are surely a result of handling the tea, brewing and my ham- fisted effort to open and lay out leaves.
In any event, I trust that the owners have selected a grade that gives a good cup for a price their customers are willing to pay. I am guessing that the price increase to step up a grade or two, like so many things as you near the top in quality, is not worth the improvement on the palette of the average tea drinker. Fine with me. I have some work to do before I can consider myself average.
I’ve brewed and tasted three cups of this Oolong reusing the same leaves for cups two and three. As suggested on the label, the leaves can be reused for a second infusion. I read here that good Oolong teas can be reused up to five times, and some consider the third and fourth infusions to be the best. I have to agree with Cary here. I enjoyed best the second infusion. All three were enjoyable, but it seems that with this Oolong the second infusion was rounder and more open, but the third was perhaps past its prime with floral notes receding some. Or it could be that my palette was tiring out, paired with the power of suggestion. Whatever. It was fun to reusing a tea (something I haven’t done since I was a student and would reuse tea bags to be thrifty).
Divinitea prints brewing instructions on each tea which are seemingly tailored specifically to the particular tea you buy (as opposed to a generalized instruction for a variety of tea). The tea I bought is to be steeped in 185 degree water for one to two minutes. Cary gave me a sample of Wuyi Oolong with instructions to use boiling water and steep for two to nine minutes. Big difference! He also gave me a sample of Jade Oolong with insrtructions to use 185 degree water and steep for one to three minutes. I’ll have to try the two samples later or even another day. Three cups is a lot for me.
I steeped my Oolong for one and a half minutes (the middle of the recommendation). Not long. The tea is pale, but it seems to me that the nose and flavor are all there. I’ll send this page to Cary and see if he thinks my infusion looks good. Pretty sure I did things right. I used a thermometer when heating the water, brewed in a basket in a preheated 5 ounce cup (which means I could have used slightly less tea, as the directions called for a teaspoon of tea per cup of water (which would have eight ounces)) and my teaspoon measure resulted in two grams (which I have seen recommended on some sites when the measure is expressed in grams rather than teaspoons).
The brewed tea would surely appear darker if there was more of it–the picture above shows the tea in an espresso glass (a small quantity). In any event, I waited ten minutes between tasting cups one and two and it has been a good thirty minutes since I finished cup three and the flavor is lingering in my mouth, so I can’t be far off course. Enough with questions about brewing. The important thing is that I liked the cups of tea, which I did very much.
Tasting notes? This tea presents floral tones most prominently. I read that the degree of fermentation for Oolongs can vary from 8 to 83 percent. I will guess, based on nothing whatsoever (or maybe the fact that this tea is still pretty green) that this tea is on the low end of that scale. The Wuyi sample is much darker and I will guess that means it was fermented longer . The other tastes one might encounter with Oolong teas are sweet and fruity or woody and roasted. I will guess, again based on nothing whatsoever, that an Oolong fermented to the middle of the range might present the sweet fruit and at the long end of the range woody roasted flavors show up. A quick look around the net suggests things aren’t so simple. Makes sense that nose and flavor depend on much more than fermentation time. Surely variety, location, weather, harvest time, handling, age and grade all play a part. Probably much more! Update: Information on the processing of Tiequanyin Oolong teas can be found here. Looks like roasting and length of roasting matters (as well as time of harvest), and that Jade Oolongs are lightly roasted. Originally the roasting would be heavier, but today lightly baked and moderately baked Oolongs are in favor.
Anyway, it is fun to guess but better to learn. Linda Smith from Divinitea hosts a tea club the third Monday of each month at Professor Java. Read about it here. I should go. I have a lot to learn! I hope you are inspired to get to Divinitea (they sell online, too), the tea club at Professor Java or at least buy some new to you tea to enjoy. It is all good!