This post reviews an interesting type of tea, the May Zest "grade A" Ruby black tea, a premium level tea from Taiwan.
This cultivar is a hybrid developed by the Tea Research and Extension Station of Taiwan, also referred to as the TRES, # 18 in an ongoing series of newly developed plant strains. As background, not so long ago I'd read more information on hybrid strain development in Taiwan in a Tea for Me guest post by Kevin Craig, and I'd previously reviewed May Zest's GABA teas in this post. Kevin pointed out the tea type also goes by the name Red Jade.
This cultivar and tea preparation are just what I prefer these days: more oxidized, towards malt flavors, with interesting complexity.
Predominant flavors were cocoa and malt, which I've also come to love in more roasted oolongs, but the taste wasn't presented as one or two main elements. The other flavors were complex, very clean, and with a bit of natural sweetness.
Mint, a hint of orange citrus and faint spice undertones gave way to a slight woody taste and even a hint of grape flavor component in the third infusion as the mint and cocoa subsided.
It reminded me a little of one of my earlier favorite teas, a grand China oolong, reviewed here, although only some of the taste components were common.
The most interesting flavor was mint. This showed up as a soft taste element, more the subtle earthy part of spearmint than the spicy and sharper bite of peppermint. This unusual taste combined well with the other flavors while tasting the tea, but where the others dropped out after swallowing the sip the mint remained strong, giving the effect of a minty finish.
This was the kind of unique tea that had a lot going on so a lot of separate brewing experimentation and tasting would be in order to really map it out.
Although there was some natural sweetness and no astringency to contend with I tried the last infusion with a little sugar to check the effect. The small change seemed to highlight the woodiness, shifting it towards the impression of a caramel taste.
Other May Zest teas:
Some versions make for great everyday teas, very drinkable, smooth flavored, rich, with creamy, nutty, or floral elements, and distinct characters. In many cases these can be great tea for modest prices. I've tried the same cultivars from Taiwan and Thailand in versions that didn't work so well from other suppliers, with unusual or unpleasant taste elements that might have resulted from a storage issues or production problems. Better variations start to show interesting subtlety, more distinct floral tones or complimentary earthy elements, teas that deserve to be enjoyed separately from the daily rush.
May Zest also sells Tie Kuan Yin oolong teas made in Taiwan, a strain imported from original production in China. To me this is another example of a tea type that can work well at different grade levels. Even lower grade versions can show good body and nice vegetal taste components, and more refined variations exhibit floral elements, an unusually full body and long finish, or unique natural sweetness. These are great options to drinking commercial blended teas on a daily basis that don't involve a lot of tea budget, all the better to save that expense for sampling other more rare and interesting teas.
May Zest sells the full range of types (different grades and types from different regions, some organic, GABA variations, etc.). This supplier is set up for higher volume sales (wholesale level), so they don't sell samples or 50 to 100 grams at a time.