Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Toba Wangi Indonesian black tea

Back story

I reviewed a great Indonesian black tea from Harendong estate last year, and visited Indonesia last December, so I have been looking forward to trying others.  I did try some teas on that trip, really nothing quite on that level, just some teas that were better than grocery-store tea, and some interesting grocery-store teas.  Per online discussion I'd ran across some good leads so it was just a matter of time, and it all finally came together.

This black tea is interesting, and unique, a very good tea, the kind of black tea more people should know exists.  I also received some other amazing looking teas from the Toba Wangi plantation, a novel oolong, an interesting green tea, a great looking white tea (in a unique style, a variation of Bai Mu Dan style), and a silver needle-type variation, so I'm just getting started with this review.  Per a friend in Indonesia that just tried many of these same teas this black tea is good but the others are amazing, so I'll try to not slack too much on the reviewing pace.

Related to that Indonesian Harendong black tea I'd mentioned, at that time I did try a really nice Ceylon from the same source, the Tea Journeyman shop, definitely another high quality tea.  But in spite of exhibiting some very refined positive aspects it still retained a familiar standard Ceylon flavor range and "briskness" (astringency).  This black tea is on it's own page, not exactly like any other teas I've tried.  I reviewed "wild" Assamica black teas from Thailand not so long ago but this is really something else (along with a Jin Xuan based black tea from Tea Side in this post, and another local wild tea from the Monsoon shop in this post).  It almost leads one to drift off into thoughts of terroir versus processing inputs, asking questions that probably can never be answered, but on another level it's best to just enjoy the tea.

long, twisted leaves

Review part

This really is an excellent example of a black tea.  At first I thought I'd talked to this plantation owner about plant types and this was going to be from Si Ji Chun, the Four Seasons var. Sinensis plant type from Taiwan, but this is definitely var. Assamica.  That distinctive earthiness from black teas of this general type is unmistakable, although the expression of flavors is very "clean" in this tea, not always the case for such teas.  I don't mean that it reminds me of a standard Assam or Ceylon, but although I've had some pretty good teas of those types and from those regions nothing quite like this.  Of course it's possible that's just a gap in what I've sampled.  Some other tea types from this source are based on that cultivar / plant type from Taiwan, confirmed by more discussion, so it will be interesting to see what type of character results from that.

The dry tea smell is straight chocolate covered malted milk balls, maybe with a nice floral sweetness.  If I were back in the US I'd buy that candy and do a direct smell comparison.

The taste is clean, earthy, and sweet, with just a hint of mustiness that can relate basis in that plant type, just a very light, pleasant version of it, and not "muddled" as they can be.  I usually prefer the way really good var. Sinensis based blacks come across that little bit more, the way they can emphasize fruits, with an unusually bright character for black teas, but this tea really works.  At first it just seems very nice, complex and interesting, but the tea goes through some interesting changes across infusions that makes it all the more unique.

The first infusion brings across some nice malt aspects, like malted-milk malt, not that earthier, drier range, with cocoa, black cherry, and natural sweetness.

In the second infusion a hint of spice shows up, a distinctive clove element, which is really nice along with the normal taste range.  This transition is a bit unusual, given that I was using a Western brewing style, for a black tea to not just hang in there but to evolve flavors, kind of even improve.

As a bit of an aside, even though I almost exclusively drink plain teas I've tried to get that "clove" taste element to combine in with spice blends in making masala chai and a Christmas-themed blend this year, of course achieved by adding clove.  Even in a mixed spice and tea blend it's hard to balance, to keep the clove taste but not overwhelm the tea, or make it peppery, but here it just naturally shows up, subtle but well integrated, pleasant to experience.

still-twisted brewed leaves

The feel and general effect of the tea is great, with nice clean flavors, and a soft feel, limited astringency, with just enough to give it some body.  I'm reminded of another tea reviewer-- Kevin Craig--saying another Indonesian black tea was "juicy," which seems to apply here too.  The sweetness balances well with the other tastes, perfect for me since I like a slightly sweet black tea.

What's next

There are a lot of other tea type reviews from this source coming, as I mentioned, including a golden needle type black tea, that one a Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis.

their picture, and it really does have an unusual look like this

The processing style of this particular tea seems a bit unique, especially related to the twisting shaping used, in terms of appearance, and also related to the final outcome.  I think there is more story to be told about that relating to the owner of the plantation, related to that unique processing.  He is nice, and very approachable, but I'll hold off on citing some of the input he's provided directly for later posts.

He's definitely a tea enthusiast himself.  Anyone that operates a tea plantation would be, on some level, but they wouldn't necessarily push the boundaries in terms of plant types used, processing techniques, and developing new styles not used before in a region, drawing on processing used from different other areas.

I get the impression that making a half dozen great Indonesian teas is really just the start.  Of course I really do need to circle back to trying more Harendong teas but I'll be reporting back about those others from this source first.  The one white tea, pictured here, looks especially amazing, a Bai Mu Dan style based on including a lot of buds, but then so does another oolong, prepared in a twisted style reminiscent of Wuyi Yancha.

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