A very nice tea, this region-specific Lishan (Taiwan) oolong from May Zest tea.
Flavors are very clean, good brightness, natural sweetness, initial buttery / creamy flavor, although the creaminess was most pronounced in the first infusions. Brewed color is yellow gold.
There is a distinctive flavor profile that reminds me of tea I’ve had from Taiwan, perhaps terroir related, or maybe I’m just making it up.
A floral component is subtle and well integrated, towards a mild chrysanthemum but more fragrant, but then I'm really not good at identifying floral component tastes or cataloging such scents (so maybe orchid?). Vegetal tones are harder to separate but contribute well to overall profile, a bit towards fresh hay, but that's not it. The scent reminds me of the smell of trees in the spring when it's cool and wet and the trees are budding. So tastes like tree buds? Maybe not.
|dry tea; a bit dark, but related to lighting issues|
|The May Zest tea photo|
This was one of those teas that has a unique taste element that’s hard to put your finger on, something you don’t ordinarily taste in tea, a predominant flavor, so clearly there but not easy to define.
Later on I got it: pear. After recognizing it the tea just tasted like a very fresh, sweet pear.
In fact I’m reminded of the time my parents bought me some expensive pears in a mail-order gift set that made me feel as if I’d never actually tasted a pear before. Like that; not just pear, but better.
I’m getting off topic, but I think it might have been these pears, a steal at $3 per pear sold as a set of nine half-pound pears. Of course my wife would go crazy if I told her I wanted to buy a piece of fruit for 100 baht, but if the street vendors in Bangkok sold those pears I’d eat them every day for sure.
The feel of the tea is also nice, full and round, with a long clean, sweet finish.
A second infusion was consistent. I brewed the tea in a way that combines standard "teapot" or Western brewing with typical gaiwan brewing elements; higher ratio of tea to water, slightly shorter times, around 2 1/2 minutes (using a french press, for what that's worth).
A little of the sweetness was replaced by slightly more earthiness, starting in towards a pleasant subtle flintiness, and a light trace of wood (so maybe that was tree bud), and the same clean and bright overall impression remained.
It sort of goes without saying there was no astringency to speak of, but then I couldn’t imagine it from a lightly oxidized oolong from Taiwan. It takes the pressure off when brewing because if you leave it too long the flavor is still great (I didn’t this time—that would be disrespectful to this tea), but it's better to keep the infusion time shorter and flavors lighter so they somehow emerge more clearly for being more subtle.
|brewed leaves (a bit of stem, maybe a good thing)|
Third infusion: still very nice. This is a sign of a good quality tea, isn't it, clean and distinct flavors over multiple infusions. Fourth infusion: still very nice.
And I wasn’t using gaiwan-style 30 second infusions; these were full cups at full strength, so this tea really kept on making tea. The fifth infusion was still much better than most of the tea I’ve been drinking recently, and the sixth infusion still nice, although the flavor was definitely fading (I was at work; so why not just keep drinking the tea).
Evaluating tea grade
I'd mentioned that the tea seemed to be a high quality tea based on a few related indicators: clean flavors (distinct and pleasant individual taste elements), generally nice taste, natural sweetness, distinctive character, consistent brewing results across a high number of infusions, with no unpleasant flavor elements developing throughout.
But just how superior is this tea related to other typical teas of this type? Is it simply a good tea, or as exceptional as higher forms of marketing content praise sometimes indicates (see following section)?
Maybe I'm really not the right person to say based on previous experience. I've tried a lot of different lightly oxidized oolongs in similar styles from Taiwan, China, and Thailand and this was one of the better versions, certainly a quality tea, surely with a distinctive character. But then there is always the tea-expert myth of tasters that have tried countless versions of everything, along with years of serving under a recognized tea Master--which isn't me.
I would compare this in quality to the better tiekuanyin versions I've tried, although the character was a bit different. Maybe I've not tried enough different Thai oolongs to get the whole picture (only a couple dozen, and those likely only mid-grade) but none would compare to this tea, period.
Related Lishan tea references
Tea is really about how it tastes, so research is a bit irrelevant, but given the interesting distinctiveness I did some reading. To me it was interesting to catch bits of information but these really aren't even supposed to be standard reviews, descriptions of the taste of similar teas, instead just marketing overviews.
Of course I have no idea if the tea I reviewed is the same, better, or worse than these teas, but just from the reviews it sounds quite similar (except in general they don't mention flavor elements, so who knows about that). My understanding is that ever-escalating grades of higher and higher quality rare teas really isn't a myth, it's like that, and you don't need to have a degree in tea to taste it, so there really could be a lot of range within "very good tea."
The following are their words, and I've only tried the first tea, so who knows. Either way they all make some interesting points, not necessarily any less true because they are selling.
It seems fair to mention that May Zest is typically selling tea in higher quantity, perhaps not even generally focusing on retail level sales, so the typical purchase quantity would be a good bit higher and pricing level a lot lower. But that's normal.
May Zest tea description on their site (this tea): http://www.potterytea.com/tea10.html
Lishan Oolong tea is high-mountain oolong tea, harvested from the tea plantations of Lishan, located in altitude of 1,600 to 2,600 meters. Lishan is in the county of Nantou between Hualien and Taichung counties.
Li Shan translates to "Pear Mountain". Our Li Shan tea farm is located at an altitude of 8,600 ft (2,600 m). At such a high altitude, our tea farm is constantly emerged in low clouds and fog. This provides considerable moisture to the tea plants. The temperature difference between day time and night time can be as much as 35 degrees F (20 degrees C), which provides warm and cool air to the tea plants. This causes the tea to grow slowly and produces plants with leaves that are robust, thick, and soft.
Our Li Shan Oolong tea is fragrant because the tea leaves are harvested when the essential oils of the tea are the strongest. Its taste is mellower than green tea due to its oxidation. Its flavor is refreshing and rich. It provides a strong taste in the beginning with a lingering hint of sweet finish in your mouth and throat in the end.
Tea liquid looks transparent in golden yellow color. It tastes full and mellow, with long-lasting sweetness and fresh fragrance in the mouth. The floral aroma and smooth flavor still stays after ten or more steeps. As it cooled, its fragrance and sweetness retains in your cup. This is a special characteristic which only can be found on high grade teas.
Another characteristic of Li Shan High-Mountain Oolong Tea is the natural fruity scent. It is a result of the high mountain and low temperature condition. Unique climate and fertile soil bear the tea trees that are grown with the natural fragrance.