Kali Cha: Darjeeling or Oolong?
The Teamail list has been buzzing with members' impressions of a unique Darjeeling that has been roasted and prepared with oolong techniques. The tea has been described as having chocolate tones, which immediately intrigued me. Even more interesting, though, is considering whether this is “darjeeling” or “oolong” tea. It was grown in the Darjeeling region, but the tea doesn’t have the usual traits associated with those teas.
Before you read my tasting notes, let me start with a shameful disclaimer: I have not yet met a Darjeeling I like. I’d mostly given up on them, in fact, but couldn’t resist sampling it after such reading such interesting descriptions from fellow tea-philes. My tea senses were tingling! :)
I ordered mine from Tao of Tea (listed under oolongs, not darjeelings). I received the Kali Cha earlier this week and have sampled it twice now. Both times I’ve brewed the tea gong fu style in a gaiwan, heaping a spoonful (good-sized pinch) of leaves, rinsed then steeped in water brought to a boil.
Dry Leaves – quick sniff is all it takes to smell the chocolate that others have noticed. It’s not cocoa, like I get from golden yunnans, but a chocolate. There’s also just a hint of berry or perhaps grape. Is this that “wine” aroma/flavor that is often used to describe darjeelings? The leaves are long, thin, wiry, almost like an Oriental Beauty (but not quite as long and without the OB’s tri-color). The Kali Cha leaves are mostly a reddish-chocolatey-brown, with a few gold tips.
As I poured off the water from rinsing, the steam rose into my face and I said “wow!” There’s definitely quite a bit of aroma, almost coffee-like, perhaps because of the roasting process? I wouldn’t describe this as a true coffee, or even chocolate, but the aroma shares a familiar trait with both of those.
When I sniff the leaves, a hint of the toasted coconut scent that I equate with medium to dark-roast oolongs is present. There’s a definite sweetness coming through. The color of the tea is lighter than I thought it might be, but there’s quite a red tinge to the liquid. The color reminds me of red-velvet cake.
First steep: Very nice, but not really chocolate in flavor. Roasted. Smokey.
Second steep: still holding its flavor quite nicely.
Third steep: the leaves are unfurling more and the liquid is taking on more of a green cast. I finally get a sense of what another Teamailer referred to as “pencil shavings.” It’s not as off-putting as you might think, but I preferred the first two steepings.
Overall: I do like the roasted notes and appreciate the sweet nature of this tea. Most darjeelings I’ve tried have been too citric for my taste, but this one isn’t. Quite nice. I’m surprised to find myself liking a Darjeeling.
Which brings me to the big question: is a darjeeling tea really a darjeeling without any standard darjeeling characteristics?
I do find this to be more similar to oolongs, mostly because it’s sweeter and less fruity than I expect from a Darjeeling (which may be incorrect expectation on my part). It is worth noting, however, that Tao of Tea lists this in their oolongs but not in the darjeeling teas.
The Kali Cha especially brings to mind more heavily roasted and aged oolongs, but it has some notable differences that make it unique. First, the aroma rises off in the steam instead of staying in the cup. When I used the aroma-tasting cup combo, there was no lingering scent in the cup. However, the whole upstairs of my house was beautifully fragrant from this tea. Second, this seems to want a longer brewing time than most of the oolongs I’ve tried. It is a robust tea, but it doesn’t go bitter – quite forgiving, actually.
Is the sweet and gentle side to this tea evident in other Darjeelings? I prefer this to the more astringent notes of wine or the ripening peach flavor that had been my previous experience with Darjeeling.
Let me end by saying that I am happily surprised to have found a Darjeeling (even if it is an oolong) that I really like. :)