Welcome to the festive December 2022 edition of the Curious Tea subscription! Here’s a closer look at the four exciting new teas that we are sharing with our subscribers this month.
The first light tea this month is a buttery and floral high mountain oolong from Meishan in Taiwan.
The second light tea is a green tea from a more unusual terroir – Darjeeling – where the Rohini Summer Green Wonder is crafted from specially selected tea plants.
For the dark side of the selection we have a comforting Hong Shui Oolong that undergoes complex roasting, also from Meishan in Taiwan.
Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is a fruity Nepali black tea that comes from a small family-run garden in the foothills of the mighty Machapuchare mountain.
Let’s get into further detail on these teas featured in our December tea subscription boxes.
Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong
Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong (高山青心烏龍茶) is a Green Heart oolong tea grown in Chiayi County of Taiwan. This tea was hand picked in April 2022 from Green Heart or Qing Xin (青心) cultivar plants. It follows the trend for low oxidation processing of high mountain teas as this allows the cultivar to keep the green fresh flavours and highlight the floral taste aspects.
Green Heart or Qing Xin (青心) refers to the cultivar used for this Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong. Some say it is the same as Ruan Zhi (軟枝 ‘Soft Stem’) and was brought from Fujian to Taiwan by the Japanese. Typically it has green, floral notes with subtle hints of mountain flowers, sometimes described as orchid. There is also a characterful sweetness and creaminess, reminiscent of buttered green beans.
This high mountain Green Heart oolong is from Meishan Township, located between the famous Shanlinxi and Alishan tea growing areas. Meishan was one of the first areas in Taiwan to grow high altitude Gao Shan (高山) teas, even before the famous neighbouring areas. Teas grown around Meishan are very similar in character to those from the more famous Alishan and are sometimes marketed as Alishan grown teas due to the proximity to and fame of the latter.
This Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong has large but tightly rolled dark and light leaves common to high mountain Taiwanese oolongs. When brewed it produces a bright, golden yellow coloured liquor with a green tint. Its aroma is a lovely warm floral scent with a buttery undertone. Still, its flavour is wonderfully clean and crisp with a sweet, almost milky aftertaste. We can liken it to a Four Seasons Oolong but with a creamier edge and a more full-bodied and complex flavour; yet not as milky as Milk Oolong as it is still lighter and floral. All in all very drinkable and comforting; the floral aspects give way to a creamier and nuttier flavour on later brews.
We suggest brewing this Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste. Like all top grade high mountain oolongs, it can sustain multiple brews very well – brew up to 5 times or more depending on steeping time, water temperature and personal taste. You can enjoy substantially more brews and the changing flavours of each brew when using the traditional gong fu brewing method.
You can also buy this Gao Shan Qing Xin Oolong tea in our online shop.
Darjeeling Rohini Summer Green Wonder
Darjeeling Rohini Summer Green Wonder is a lovely smooth green tea from the Rohini Tea Estate. Made from specially selected tea plants, it has a light character with a fruity and savoury profile. It consists of select fine leaves, mostly comprising of two leaves and a bud. Like all our Rohini and Gopaldhara teas, we source it directly from Rishi Saria, the owner and director of Gopaldhara and Rohini Tea Estates. This lot is from the June 2022 summer harvest.
Rohini Tea Estate is located along the route that connects the towns of Siliguri and Kurseong. Surrounded by beautiful natural environment this estate produces tea from relatively young trees. The estate has had a chequered past, not actually producing any tea for a long period of time. Recently it has been replanted with young tea trees, so sometimes it is referred to as the youngest tea estate in Darjeeling. It is now going from strength to strength and is producing more and more interesting and quality teas. This green tea is a great example of what these new tea trees are capable of.
It is particularly worth noting that this tea is made from green tea clones that have been specifically selected to have much lower tannin content. This is immediately evident when comparing it to other Darjeeling green teas. Most of these green teas tend to exhibit a character that has a degree of astringency present and often have a savoury, smoky edge. By contrast this tea has very little astringency and instead features a light yet complex character full of fruity and lightly vegetal notes.
This smooth Darjeeling Rohini Summer Green Wonder has wiry tippy leaves consisting of one bud plus 1-2 leaves. Once brewed, it is possible to see the fine standard of picking in the young green leaves. The liquor produced is bright, with a light colour and a light fruity aroma. While being light and smooth, it still produces a full taste with a full mouthfeel. The savoury profile has vegetal and lightly fruity notes while the umami taste contributes to the fullness of the flavours. There is a slightly chalky note in the middle of the taste, while the creamy aftertaste is long and has a lovely mouthwatering quality. It is very soft for a green tea with minimal astringency and zero tannins. The fruity aspect almost makes it closer to a white tea in flavour!
This Darjeeling Rohini Summer Green Wonder is best brewed at 80°C for 2-3 minutes and can be brewed multiple times. When experimenting with repeated steepings, you can gradually increase the water temperate and steep time to extract fuller flavour.
You can also buy Darjeeling Rohini Summer Green Wonder tea in our online shop.
Meishan Hong Shui Oolong
Meishan Hong Shui Red Water Oolong (梅山紅水烏龍) is a rather lovely high mountain floral oolong that has a captivating character and a complex floral profile. It hails from Meishan Township and is grown at an altitude of 600-800m. This Hong Shui (or Red Water) Oolong is from October 2021 harvest, last baked in March 2022.
Very much like our traditional Dong Ding Oolong, this Meishan Hong Shui Oolong undergoes multiple baking or roasting stages. The resulting tea is completely in the middle of the oolong spectrum. Some consider Hong Shui Oolong to be the original Dong Ding Oolong as they also used to be more heavily roasted. However, with changing tastes over time, lighter and more floral oolongs became fashionable. It seems that the original Dong Ding Oolong recipe changed to adapt to tea drinkers’ new preferences. Whether Hong Shui Oolong really is the old style Dong Ding, it is not entirely clear, but it is certainly closer to it than to the modern light floral oolongs that are dominant in Taiwan. After all, a lighter green style of oolong is a popular choice amongst producers, as it is a lot less skill intensive and time consuming to produce while being popular with tea drinkers.
Meishan Hong Shui Red Water Oolong is made from a Jin Xuan ‘Golden Daylily’ (金萱) TRES #12 tea plant cultivar. As this oolong undergoes extensive baking, it also exhibits some of the darker oolong qualities, such as comforting roasted flavours, while retaining the dominant floral notes. To achieve this balance, the tea has to undergo multiple baking sessions with time of rest in between. The skill of the tea master is paramount in achieving a fine balance between the floral and the roasted aspects of this tea, as neither should overpower.
This Meishan Hong Shui Red Water Oolong comes in tightly rolled dark leaves. These open up when brewed to produce a fragrant amber liquor with a pronounced floral aroma that is slightly toasty and spicy. The baking of this tea results in a very comforting profile, with a character that is floral, yet toasty. The complex flavours develop and change with each steep. The taste has notes of caramel and sugared fruits, while the aftertaste is a little savoury and tangy. This beautifully crafted tea should be enjoyed over repeated steeps, taking time to appreciate the changing and developing complex taste.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes and should be brewed multiple times.
You can also buy Meishan Hong Shui Oolong tea in our online shop.
Machapuchare First Flush
Machapuchare First Flush is a highly oxidised First Flush tea from a small tea garden located in the foothills of the towering Machapuchare mountain. The garden is located at an altitude of around 1,500m near Pokhara in Gandaki Province of Nepal. The garden was planted with various clonal trees about 10 years ago and the family produces less than 200kg of tea a year. This lot is from the Spring 2022 First Flush. Unlike typical First Flush teas, this one is more oxidised and is closer to a classic black tea than a lightly oxidised Darjeeling.
We source this tea via a small specialist wholesaler partner who specialises in working with smaller estates and farmers in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. The main tea growing regions in Nepal are concentrated in the east of the country, where in 1982 five districts (Jhapa, Ilam, Panchthar, Dhankuta and Terhathum – all located within Province No. 1) were declared the Tea Zones of Nepal by a royal decree. Other areas, such as Pokhara in Gandaki Province are much more recent additions to the tea producing regions of the country. With many more areas growing tea in Nepal, it is starting to become a more intriguing location as various terroirs bring along interesting differences in flavours and style of processing.
Nepali tea was always more along the lines of lightly oxidised First Flush Darjeeling teas. The demand for Darjeeling tea meant that there was a demand for Nepali tea that was very similar in style in nature as it was being sold as Darjeeling instead. While some would name the tea as Darjeeling (origin Nepal) others would simply sell Nepali tea (that was reasonably unknown at the time) as the much more expensive and famous Darjeeling. More recently, as people are becoming more aware of origin and terroir, Nepali tea is gaining good traction with some estates gaining recognition similar to that of the famous Darjeeling ones. As always, this can only be a good thing as this means better price for the tea makers and better wages and living conditions for those working in the tea industry.
This Machapuchare First Flush is a spring black tea. But rather than following the fashion of lightly oxidised First Flush teas, this one has its own unique character as it undergoes higher levels of oxidation. It consists of darker leaves that are quite tippy. It produces a dark amber liquor with a fruity profile and a balanced taste. The flavours are light and have notes that are a touch smoky, woody, lightly earthy and stony. There is a malty and sugared aspect that nicely evens out the flavours. The aftertaste is clean and this tea delivers little in terms of astringency or tannins. This is definitely an unusual tea that will appeal to fans of bolder Darjeeling teas or even lighter Assam types.
Machapuchare First Flush is best brewed at 90°C for around 3-4 minutes and can be brewed 2+ times. This is definitely one of the teas from the region that we would encourage you to experimenting with gong fu brewing.
You can also buy Machapuchare First Flush black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy this tea selection for the festive season and are looking forward to the selection in our next box. Our first box of 2023 will feature a classic Kukicha ‘twig tea’ from Japan and a high end early spring Cloud and Mist green tea from China. For the darker side of the selection we chose an Orange Pekoe Ceylon black tea from Blackwood and an unusual ‘Spicy Black’ Darjeeling from Rohini that is crafted from tea plants of unknown origin.
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Happy tea discoveries!