Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Alishan oolong review; related tea discussion

It's been so long since I've had a rolled lighter oolong--hardly any in the last couple of months--that now it's like a change of pace.  This is a sample that May Zest tea sent along with teas that I ordered.  They're a bit different as tea sources go, a higher volume sales oriented vendor in Taiwan, a great place to get a half a kilo of a couple kinds of nice tea, or maybe even more.

The dry scent of the tea is nice, sweet and fresh, with butter and corn scent, maybe more towards popcorn than fresh corn, but sweeter.  The taste is similar, nice, sweet and buttery, with more of a fresh sweet corn flavor.  More floral range is also typical for this type of tea but I've ran across that sweet corn aspect in other lighter oolongs.  More of a mineral element would also be normal, which does become more pronounced on the next infusion.

Over the next infusions the mineral keeps picking up, along with floral elements, and the sweet corn aspect fades.  The flavors aspects are nice and clean, bright, even, with a reasonably full feel and lingering aftertaste.  The general effect is also nice; it all comes together.

There is potential for the tea to have a slightly fuller feel, or even longer aftertaste, the types of aspects that separate exceptionally high quality teas from good teas, but this version is good.  The touch of butteriness is a nice compliment to the other components, bringing it to a good balance.

The tea keeps going in that range, aspects shifting just a little, but brewing a lot of infusions without flavors going off in any way.  A mineral aspect stays pronounced; typical, and positive.  The effect of freshness stands out in the experience; the tea is really bright for having that degree of richness and depth.  To me this is a nice, basic lightly oxidized oolong, a bit better than we tend to experience from teas made in Thailand but probably in the normal range for tea from Taiwan.

Ideas from discussing tea online

With a tea like this it's normal to think of aspects that place it on a scale of quality level, or maybe that's always normal.  Someone commented on a recent post about Bai Hao / OB that they'd tried an exceptional version made by a Taiwanese tea master.  That's a real thing; the quality level and types keep going.  But the "my tea is better than your tea" theme can get old fast, along with input that "you are making it wrong," regardless of the suggestion.  Then again good input about better teas and better brewing can be helpful and interesting, sort of relating to how it is offered, just in that case the implication seemed to be that person had tried much better tea.

Related to concern over quality and levels of teas, turning tasting a tea into a competition could potentially drain the experience of what drinking tea is all about, appreciation and enjoyment.  This was a really nice tea, with no flaws, in one sense, just room for existing aspects to be different.

Someone visited the North of Thailand and mentioned seeing tea labeled for sale as Taiwanese tea, in an outlet for direct sales from Thai plantations, selling Thai tea.  Make sense?  It would have been "fake" Taiwanese oolong, except they were pretty open about the local origin and the mis-labeling.  This tea I reviewed is surely really from Taiwan, but how could one know?  In tasting it I was reminded of some grade-related issues that "reading" the leaves may have cleared up, about when it was harvested (leaves were a bit large), and which leaf / plant type it was, although I'm confident it was Chin-Shin from Taiwan, as it was described.  Not much more to add about all that; not every vendor tells it like it is, and errors (false marketing) could creep in from "upstream" sourcing.

I don't lose sleep over all that.  If I had bought a great Wuyishan tea that was really from outside the park reserve area instead it wouldn't matter so much, although per my understanding they really do control use of chemicals in that area, so that may not make for the best example.  As you continue to get better teas from better sources those sort of trust issues dissipate, to some degree, but never completely end.  Back to the scope of Chinese oolongs, I'd trust Cindy Chen with my kids (my favorite tea maker), so if she says a tea is something it probably is, but then again my own confidence doesn't exactly change the facts of the matter.

A different tangent:  another recent tea group discussion comment about Oriental Beauty / Bai Hao style teas being produced in places other than Taiwan expressed that regions should stick to their own processing styles, and not borrow region-specific versions from other places.  That seems crazy to me.  Taiwan wouldn't be making black tea based on that premise, and probably not oolong, if you trace the history back far enough.  I think the comment might have been a gut reaction to that idea not matching something from a training class, something they'd not really thought through.  Making "fake" Taiwanese OB somewhere else and selling teas as something it's not is something else entirely.  Of course that shouldn't happen, even if they do a good job of matching aspects, or even if a really good counterfeit could potentially be just as good as what the tea is supposed to be.

Maybe I'll get a chance to try that tea from that one "tea master" someday, and I hope I get around to trying a Japanese version of Oriental Beauty as well.

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