Cup of Tea and a Blog

Welcome to my spot for musing about all things tea. Here you'll read reviews of quality teas, click through comments on tea rooms and shops I've visited, and see photos of leaves and cups. You’ll also find things I might talk about over a cup of tea, like philosophy, literature, current events, or fun ways to pass the time.

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08 September 2005

Comparison: Tie Kuan Yin Oolongs

Through a happy set of circumstances, I have three samples of Tie Kuan Yin sitting in my oolong tea chest. I’ve been wanting to have a nice comparison-tasting session, so I got out my camera, the teas, and my glass gaiwan, then started the water boiling.

All three oolongs were prepared gongfu style (or at least my homestyle version of gongfu). I used brita-filtered tap water brought just to a boil. This was poured over about one teaspoon of leaves steeped in a gaiwan for 1 minute (the first steeping). The tea was then poured into a cup for tasting.

Tasting Notes and overall comments follow.

Gourmet Tea Company’s Tie Kuan Yin, sent to me as one of several introductory samples.

This has quite a roasted aroma. The liquid is very light green with a hint of copper. The flavor is fuller than the color of the liquid would indicate (once again, I learn that color doesn’t always correlate with flavor).

Both the aroma and flavor have that roasted coconut overtone that I associate with aged oolongs. I’ve only tried two aged oolongs, so perhaps the flavor I thought to be characteristic of aging is actually characteristic of a type of roasting?

Second steep: more than a minute later, and I’m not noticing as much aroma. Should I have put more leaves in? I’m going to let this sit for another minute, to see if it just needs more time. 60 seconds later, and yes, I can smell that toasted coconut again. I poured the tea into a cup, and am enjoying the sweetness of this second steeping. It leaves a buttery, sugary coating on my tongue – quite an interesting aftertaste. As it cools, it gets even more sweet. It could make an interesting iced tea.

Third steep; very subtle flavor, more like a good cup of fresh spring water than a cup of tea. I actually like ending with this, a quiet finish that reminds me of the nature of water and leaves.

Tea Masters’ Tie Guan Yin, one of several samples Stephane included with some wonderful puerh he purchased for me. Place:An Xi, Fu Jian. Harvest: Spring 2005.

Color is a bit darker, but still with a rusty or coppery overcast. The Flavor is quite robust, and it brewed up more quickly than the previous. Again, this is a naturally sweet tea – very pleasing, and with a lingering, buttery aftertaste. This tie guan yin is a sharper-edged tea. It’s not bitter, but perhaps “stouter.” The aroma is that toasted/roasted scent, but it’s not quite what I think of as coconut.

Hmmmm…perhaps I’m equating some oolongs with toasted coconut because of the sweetness? That aroma of roasting sugars could be what I’m associating with coconut. Does roasting (and re-roasting, in the case of aged oolongs) bring out more of the natural plant sugars in a tea leaf?

Second steep: This tea brews up much faster. I increased the time only by 30 seconds instead of 90. The color is more green, less red than the first steep. Where the Gourmet Tea oolong had many interesting notes as it cooled, I prefer sipping Tea Masters’ Tie Guan Yin when it is fresh and hot. It is perfectly fine as it cools, but there is a very satisfying element to the steam as it rises from the cup – the aroma lingers and adds to the overall taste of the tea. There are nice floral elements to the tea, and their fragrance also adds quite a bit to the experience.

Third steep: Still holding well, but I’m stopping after a couple of sips in order to move on to the next tea. My eyes are spinning a bit from all of this tea, but I am still going to try one more. :)

TenFu’s Tieh Kwan Yin, purchased at a nearby Asian grocery for $4.50US. Yes, it’s a cheap bulk-produced box of tea, but I am interested in how this holds up to the higher quality tea samples.

The furled leaves are less uniform in color – some are green while others are browner. Does this indicate less consistency in roasting or oxidizing? Or, is it a sign that the leaves came from multiple sources?

Aroma & Color: no toasted coconut or sense of sweetness, although it doesn’t smell bitter either. There is a heavier floral fragrance to this tea. The color is very green, without much of a rust or red tone.

The tea also tastes much greener to me. There’s even a hint of that vegetable or brothy flavor that comes across in many greens. The buttery nature that was so prevalent in the previous two is still here, but it doesn’t coat the tongue or leave an aftertaste. Floral notes dominate this tea, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that other notes are subdued.

As the tea cools in the cup, the floral turns just a tad astringent, but the buttery notes come through more.

Second steep; it held up to rebrewing, still quite floral, this time with more of the broth characteristic. I like the second steeping better, since the astringency disappeared.

Overall: The buttery, silky nature of Tie Kuan Yin is fabulous. I think this will be a favorite oolong for me. I’m looking forward to trying more, and to seeing how these vary from one season to the next.

So, which of the above three oolongs did I like best? The first two were both wonderful, and I can see myself sipping either one in the future. The sugary elements to Gourmet Tea’s oolong were intriguing, and I want to experiment with that a bit. Tea Masters’ oolong was also a treat to sip – it’s one of those “ahhhhhhhhhhh” teas that warm you to the tips of your toes.

The cheaper tea from the grocery store doesn’t stand up to the complexity found in other two, but I must say that it was still darn good. At less than a dollar an ounce, that comes out to a pretty cheap cup of good oolong. I’ll probably use this as a carry-along tea, for hikes and trips where I want a thermos of oolong.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been on an oolong kick lately. Mighty Leaf also makes a great oolong, especially the orchid oolong. It definitely has a coconutty flavor!

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Blogger Cindy W. said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I've bookmarked this for a future order. :)

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