Friday, October 15, 2010


It's taken three and half weeks to shake this cold but I think my taste buddys are finally back in order -- so I'm diving in to some tastings today. 

I've been looking forward to trying the sample of Thousand Arrows oolong I got at the Coffee and Tea show in late September and decided it would be helpful for my ongoing oolong education to taste it against some others.  Remembering my lesson from mister Marsland, you see.  So I hauled out two other oolongs I had in the drawer, both from my local tea shop,Tealish -- a Formosa Tung Ting Jade and a Ti Kuan Yin.  Interestingly there is no origin noted on the latter, although it's traditionally a Chinese oolong.  Since I tasted a steamed sencha-type tea that turned out to be from Bolivia last spring though (courtesy of that same Mr. Marsland), I realise this Ti Kuan Yin could be from anywhere.

This sample came from Shanti Tea Importers based in Ottawa which deals in fair trade, organic and biodynamic teas.  Thousand Arrows is an oolong from the organic and fair trade Idulgashinna Tea Estate in Sri Lanka's Uva region -- speaking of everyone everywhere making everything these days, no?  The estate is owned by Stassen, "one of Sri Lanka's premier corporate conglomerates, with diverse business interests in exports/imports, manufacturing, banking, hotels, plantations and insurance sectors" and its elevation ranges from 1000 to 1900 metres (3200 to 6200 feet), so the tea is considered 'high grown.'   (More info on the major Sri Lankan tea regions.)  Stassen also owns the organic Venture Tea Garden, whose black tea I tasted earlier.

Thousand Arrows oolong sample in a nice
single-serving airtight package.

This is an incredibly handsome, hand-made-looking tea with its large rolled spears of leaves.  The spears are beautifully uniform in size and twist and very satisfying to hold in your hand too, I must say.  Under the magnifying loop the twist and the glimpses of leaf-bud fuzz is gorgeous, and when I shake out the pack there is lots of fuzz (ie: pekoe) on the inside of the packet and fluttering into the teamaker.  
Thousand Arrows oolong -- the leaves danced
during their infusion.  Typical of needle-shaped tea,
I think.

The sample's directions suggest 1tsp of leaf per cup (I'll guess that's 5 oz), bringing water to a boil but letting it cool for a minute before steeping the tea 2 to 3 minutes, with re-infusions.  I'm not sure how you'd measure a teaspoon of this stuff without breaking up those gorgeous spears though so I opt to use the whole sample pack, about 3 grams and about 6.5 ozs of water.  I don't let the water cool for a full minute since these are tightly rolled leaves and will need some good heat in the water to unfurl them, at least on their first infusion. 

I use 88C at 1 minute and 10 seconds steep and get a strong golden colour liquor.  The liquor's colour and the wet leaves's colour indicate this is a medium oxidised oolong.  The fairly large-sized wet leaves, partially or fully unfurled show a uniform, classic bud and two leaves pluck -- really lovely to look at.  The leaves are a soft coppery brown mixed with a bright green.  As I sit tasting and writing I notice that a lot of the green is changing to brown as they oxidise while sitting.

Thousand Arrows wet leaf showing a classic two-leaves-
and-a-bud pluck, next to the tightly twisted spear of dry tea.

The leaves give off a light toasty sweet and vegetal scent with floral and sweet applesauce notes.  The liquor has a refreshing light to medium body with very light astringency and its flavour follows the leaf's aroma.  It has a pleasing sweet fruity taste-note of applesauce, with a toasty finish.  On the second steep there is a more forward flavour note of sweet dried fruit, like raisin.  I left this on the counter while I prepared the other two teas and when the liquor had cooled, came back and finished it up.  There's a surprising hint of fresh, tart, berry flavour like a bowl of raspberries.

I'm not sure this has the distance that we've come to expect from great Chinese oolongs, but there's still plenty happening in this beautiful looking oolong.   In fact, I think I'd get more of this tea just for the pleasure of its look and feel.

TUNG TING JADE  (aka Dong Ding) and TI KWAN YIN (aka Tieguanyin)
If I don't see these together I can easily mistake one for the other, since both are traditionally folded-leaf or ball-rolled and have a a similar colouring of blue-green with blotches of dark charcoal grey and a spit-shiny sheen.  However, I find that when seen together the Tung Ting Jade is usually smaller, and has more variance in piece size and fewer stems.  You can see this in the photo below, especially if you click to enlarge it.  On infusion, the liquor of the Tung Ting is slightly more golden, and its leaves have a touch more copper colour, both indicators of more oxidation.  Looking at the infused leaves of both teas though, they are very close in oxidation level which is quite modest -- according to the high amount of green in the leaf.

Wet and dry leaves of Ti Kwan Yin oolong on left and
Tung Ting Jade oolong on the right.

Do you notice the torn edges of the Ti Kwan Yin in the photo above?  If I understand my colleague Tao correctly, he tells me that in order to achieve the look of a more lightly oxidised oolong some producers in China have workers tear the copper-coloured edges from the leaves.  (!!)  I don't know if that's the case here, nor if I understood the story correctly - it seems so labour intensive.

Both oolongs were infused for 2 minutes 10 seconds in 90C water.  They are definitely more lightly oxidised than the Thousand Arrows, and that's evident when comparing their lighter liquor colour as well as the greener wet leaves. 

In flavour and scent they both have more vegetal notes than the Thousand Arrows, and are generally more floral and sweet scented, with little astringency and light to medium body.

Of the two, the Ti Kwan Yin has a stronger vegetal flavour with more of the toasty notes in its taste and has abit more body .  The flavour sticks to your tongue more.  When it cools some lovely peach notes comes through.  I often find that flavour notes come through more strongly on cooler liquor -- odd.  In fact this cool, room temperature tea is very refreshing and pleasant.

In the Tung Ting the swoosh of vegetal and lighter toasty notes are followed by a lovely sweet spicy note of cinnamon.  On the second steeping the spicy sweet note became more vanilla and floral -- is that what orchid smells like?  The Tea Drinker's Handbook talks of this tea having a lightly oily, rounded mouth-feel but I'm not getting that from this tea.

3 oolongs: Ti Kwan Yin, Tung Ting and Thousand Arrows.
I'm so glad I decided to taste these three together.  They provided a great illustration of the general differences in oolongs based on their oxidation levels.  Oolongs, by definition, are partially oxidised, varying from roughly 20% to 80% oxidation.   Generally you'll find that the lightly oxidised leaves develop intense floral and vegetal notes, while the heavily oxidised have more fruity, woody almost spicy notes.  Even though the Thousand Arrows is not heavily-heavily oxidised, it did exhibit more fruit notes than the Tung Ting Jade and Ti Kwan Yin.

No comments:

Post a Comment