Monday, February 20, 2017

Doi Inthanon Thai oolong review, and re-roasting experiment

I'm trying a Doi Inthanon oolong, from the Doi Inthanon Tea Partnership.  It's described as a #12 oolong, Yun Bi, with that number of course matching the main Taiwanese TRES cultivar made in Thailand, Jin Xuan.  A co-worker bought the tea for me on a trip up North.  I do tend to keep buying and trying Thai teas even though a very small number of those prove interesting, as this one did.

There isn't much in their website about the tea, beyond this description of who they are:

The Doi Inthanon Tea Limited Partnership is a small family business located on Thailand’s highest mountain just below the peak and at the foot of Pha Ngaem rock formation. We have chosen the name of the mountain as our business name due to us being the first cultivators of tea in the area...   Thailand’s highest known cultivated tea. We are located in Bahn Khun Wang, Tambon Mae Win, Amphoe Mae Wang, Chiang Mai Province.

The generality is that most oolong is made around the Chiang Rai area, and black tea in the Chiang Mai area, with older tea production in the remote parts of the far North, including pu'er-like teas.  In the "history" page it says the cultivation occurs at 1500 meters.  I ran across an interesting Tea Journeyman review of the same tea, from a couple years ago, but it didn't shed much light on that type name.  The review sounded a little like I experienced it, but then I reviewed the same tea twice and the experience varied some between those.

First tasting notes

It's good, different.  The flavors are a little earthy, not as refined as some finished teas, but it really does work.  It's clearly oolong but not in a conventional style.  The leaves are twisted and brown, so not unlike lots of types.  Wuyi Yancha and oriental beauty fit that general description,  it's just different than those.  It looks a little like a Bi Luo Chun preparation (a Chinese green tea), with leaves twisted in circles, it's just not finished to complete that effect as much.

I'll go flavor by flavor; that's one way to go with description.  An earthiness stands out, a light woodiness, clean but still towards autumn forest floor range.  It's floral, and as usual the sweetness probably could also be interpreted as fruit, but to me more floral.  That range really does work in this case.

stronger infused version; yellow-gold when brewed lighter

It's not completely unrelated to spice tones, to the way nutmeg is warm in the same sense.  It's definitely not astringent but it has a bit of body similar to how building lumber comes across (so that would be pine, but the wood tone might be closer to a hardwood, maybe cherry).  Or it sounds like I'm probably just daydreaming that part, doesn't it?  Maybe.

I've had local Thai teas made in unconventional styles that were interesting, that sort of worked, but this being marginally better than those makes a difference.   Add a touch of cinnamon aspect to this tea and it would really be something; add a little tree fungus aspect instead and it would be terrible.  It's in the middle to start, and the novel character depends on the final balance to work.

A second infusion is still plenty woody, and still floral, not easy to pin down related to flower type, but might drift a little into spice.  It's not so clearly a spice that it's easy to pick one, still more towards nutmeg, but not exactly nutmeg.

It's interesting to compare to other standard tea types since it's not all that close.  It seems possible it's just not roasted (baked) or the result could be more like a familiar oolong. I'll try that, roasting it.  It's definitely on the lighter half of the oxidation scale but not that close to a green tea.

Roasting experiment, comparison tasting

A friend re-roasted a rolled oolong in Indonesia last year and the results sounded interesting.  I've read of people trying out re-roasting finished teas before but the process isn't familiar, so I just guessed it out.  I tried out baking the tea at 100 C for half an hour, checked the status, and then 120 for a second half an hour.  I'm not claiming that's an ideal approach, it's just what I tried.  It would seem much better to enclose the tea in something very suitable for being heated, something that seals a little but not enough to function as a bomb, to offset all the volatile components evaporating off.  But I didn't.  We have metal food containers that might have worked, which look to be stainless steel, but it could quite easily impart a metallic taste to the tea.

Of course the idea is to taste-test the original version against that baked version.  They look about the same, maybe just more stems in the roasted version due to some accidental sorting, and it's slightly darker.

The original version is even more floral than I remember.  I'm making the tea in a style closer to gongfu (modified, seems to typically be a light-proportion version of that), after using a relatively standard Western style preparation in that first tasting.  I'm noticing less spice and it's quite floral, a heavy and sweet version of floral at that, more lavender than rose.  Fruit is a little heavier, peach, or close to that, but that's a very minor aspect compared to the floral range.  It's much better prepared gongfu style, or maybe I'm just picking up more for whatever other reasons.

It's not quite as soft, not really astringent but with a bit of an edge, like a light version of how Dan Congs can be (with that effect varying a lot in those too).  It's a bit sweet, but not in exactly the same way as I usually mean by that.  I guess it comes across as closer to a green tea.  Of course the shape always had been a bit unconventional, and the colors were different than I would have expected, darker, compared to how it comes across, so some of the typical clues to the style matching a conventional version didn't work.

The roasted version isn't too far off, a little richer, shifted just a little into a light toffee.  The sweetness backs off just a little, giving way to a richer tone.  It changed a little, not a lot though, still essentially the same tea, the same aspects presented only slightly differently.  Better?  Maybe.

initially only slightly different colors

It's an odd tea to begin with.  It's not exactly like a conventional oolong.  It's floral, but not like other oolongs tend to be, sweeter and heavier, a bit of a different range.  Thai oolongs don't taste anything like that, so odd.

The next infusion (third) improves, perhaps as much from not screwing up preparation as an actual transition (I brewed it a little lighter).  The floral eases up in the character and a more pleasant balance of softer tones comes out, finally some of that wood and spice range I'd been going on about.  The astringency eases up, although it hadn't been pronounced, not really in green-tea range.

The warmth and caramel / light toffee sweetness of the roasted version works well, I'm just not as sure about the rest of the balance.  I like it better.  It gives up a lot of floral range for making that transition.  It still seems like a pretty light roast, like it would have changed a good bit more with more cooking.  The main shift was giving up floral aspects to transition to caramel / light toffee sweetness and move towards fruit, in the range of peach or apricot, a little harder to separate out for still including plenty of floral scope.

later infusion; the color shifts

Across another infusion the color difference in the two teas becomes more pronounced, with the roasted version moving to a peach colored versus the bright yellow of the original, with flavors not changing much.

Both teas drink better prepared relatively lightly; some teas are like that.  The flavors are intense enough that brewed as what might be "normal" for some oolongs or black teas it's too much.  Of course that's all down to preference, and some people might tend to drink every tea so wispy light that only hints of the flavors emerge, and someone else might like strong tea.

roasted brewed leaves left, a good bit darker

From there I'll leave off chasing the last couple of tastes in a transition series; the general point is mapped out.  For whatever reason this tea brewed a lot of infusions, just kept going, which seems to relate to the general character of more lightly oxidized oolongs.  The brewing experiment seemed a success, since the tea changed, and per my preference improved.  There would seem to be potential for the producer to use a more controlled and professionally applied roasting step to adjust the tea style with better results than I achieved in an oven.

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