Monday, 20 June 2011

Subtropical Forest Baozhong - Spring 2011 from Teamasters

Tea: Subtropical Forest Baozhong (luanze oolong) from Teamasters
Origin: Wenshan, Taiwan
Harvest: April 22, 2011

Today I sat down to drink the last of the sample of this Subtropical Forest Baozhong that Stéphane so generously included with my last order. Well, let's not spend too much time beating about the bush here, this stuff is really good.

Today's was my last of three sessions with this tea, and despite it being with what is quite literally bottom-of-the-bag tea, it was the best. My first taste of this tea with all my friends who were around the day it came in the mail two weeks ago was thoroughly enjoyable, but getting to spend some real quality time with it today just hit the spot. When I tried this tea for the second time a couple days ago, however, I was really just having an off day. To begin with I didn't use enough leaf, and then part way through the session I reheated my kettle rendering the water far too hot and bringing out a nasty roughness that persisted at the back of my mouth for the rest of the session, not to mention the miserable effect of my lackluster timing when it came to actually steeping the tea. Today's session, however, went far differently, showing that with just a little attention, this set of leaves will give up something really special.

I neglected to take a picture of the dry leaf from this session, so these are the leaves from my previous session, the difference being the degree to which the leaves are broken up.

On opening the bag such a clear and thick oily scent escapes that I know this tea will leave plenty glossy residue on my teaware (if only I had a pot to consecrate to baozhongs). The odour is fresh and slightly vegetal, and only intensifies within the heated walls of the gaiwan. In using up the last of my sample, I found myself using a bit more leaf than I usually do, so the water flows out of my kettle making only a brief hesitation in the gaiwan before arriving in my faircup. Even so, the strong energy of this tea is immediately evident in its nose-tingling aroma.

As I don't usually rinse most of my teas (pu'erh being the main exception) this tea's character really opens up in the second infusion with strong floral notes under the lid of the gaiwan followed by a citrusy sweetness accompanied by wet nectarines and (sub)tropical fruit in the aroma cup. I spend such a long time marvelling at the strength and complexity of this aroma that the tea in my tasting cup grows cold and I have to pour myself a fresh one. A taste which initially gave the impression of a herbaceous take on sunflower seeds evolves through the second steep into something resembling the taste of stir-fried bamboo hearts. Stéphane was right to say that this is "a tea that mirrors its environment very well".

Because a picture of bag-bottom leaves isn't much use to
anyone, these are some of the leaves from a previous session.

The taste of this tea is more refined than that of its semi-wild cousin and overall seems more cohesive with less in the way of obtuse angles. This is by no means a slight to either tea; what I'm trying to express is that while both have complex flavour profiles, the cultivated tea's are more closely blended together rather than emerging as separate notes. It's because of this, its more cultured nature, that I'm not entirely surprised when a sweetness which is almost sencha-esque in character emerges in this tea.

In the fourth infusion an intriguingly distinct lemony note makes a brief cameo in both taste and smell, leaving behind a pleasant tingling sensation. It's at this point that the tea mellows out into a more conventional baozhong character. More bamboo hearts, less papaya.

Because of the degree to which the leaves were broken up in the bottom of the bag (which had settled to the bottom of my tea drawer with a few things on top of it; I really need to reorganise my stash), I had expected this tea to have a fair amount of bitterness and astringency, but over the course of my session very little ever came to bear. While drinking the seventh infusion I noticed some roughness at the back of the mouth emerging in the aftertaste, but considering the state of the leaves it really was negligeable. The more lasting impression of this tea in its more than ten infusions (which in all honesty could probably be pushed farther if I had the patience for adequately lengthy steeps; today I don't) is its cool mint aftertaste and mildly relaxing full-body chaqi.

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