Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Oriental Beauty - Summer 2010 from World Of Tea

Tea: Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao Oolong, Dong Fang Mei Ren, etc.) from World Of Tea
Origin: Northern Taiwan
Harvest: Summer 2010

For those of you who haven't already heard of Oriental Beauty, it's high time you did. Known by many different names, Oriental Beauty is often touted as Taiwan's most famous tea, and certainly ranks among its most special. Summer harvest oolongs are generally low quality, not being very fresh or floral by nature, but this tea somehow escapes the mediocrity it seems fated to. There are many different versions of just how Oriental Beauty acquires its unique set of characteristics, but I believe the most accurate (and certainly the most plausible) is that the leaves are repeatedly bitten by swarms of insects which resemble a small grasshopper. The tiny chunks taken out of the leaves stimulate the plant to send more tasty juices that way in order to heal. Because insect bites are an intrinsic part of making Oriental Beauty, the plantations that produce this tea are organic as a matter of course. These traits, along with the unusually high level of oxidation involved in post-harvest processing (putting it right on the upper limit of oxidation while still being considered an oolong rather than a red tea), are what give Oriental Beauty its unique character.

Oriental Beauty captures the warmth of the season in which it is produced, and as such is a highly satisfying warming tea with a good caffeine punch. Intuitively, this is a great tea for a cold, damp winter day, but it also works quite well in the sweltering heat my region has suffered from recently. This principle applies to warming teas in general; cooling teas should be drunk when it's warm, warming teas should be drunk when it's hot. The following exerpt from a recent entry on  五行雲 offers a great explanation of this principle:
Why take a hot herb at the most yang time of year I hear you say? Because in summer, all your yang is at the surface of the body, so logically it is not at your centre. You may feel warm (British summers withstanding) because your warmth is exactly where you can perceive it but inside you are stone cold.
I took advantage of temperatures in the thirties (nineties, if you use Fahrenheit) in the shade of my back porch to test this out for myself recently; what follows is from my notes on that session which took place on the seventeenth.

I scrape out some tea from the bottom of what was originally a 50g bag some months ago, and since there's hardly any left and I'm in the mood for strong tea I use a bit more than I normally would. Being from the bottom of the bag, the leaves are a bit more broken up than the ones I remember from a few months ago, but on the whole they're whole (pardon the pun). A good Oriental Beauty should have plenty of downy white buds, and this one does. While heating up the leaves in my gaiwan the ripe fruit smells characteristic of an oxidised oolong are evident but not alone in the complex aroma; dried apricots and faint citrus notes are also present.

After the first infusion passes, my nose detects a sweet floral aroma under the lid of the gaiwan. This sweetness intensifies and becomes almost like caramel in the aroma cup, a characteristic not entirely absent from the liquor. The tea itself is smooth both in taste and texture. In the following infusions I push the tea, and it maintains its sweetness as well as a pleasant roundness and full body while developing a slight cooling bitterness. At this point the tea is largely devoid of unpleasant qualities, with only a little bit of astringency marring the liquid.

Usually when I describe a tea as "silky smooth", I use silky as a descriptor to loosely qualify the extent of the smoothness, drawing more on the fabric's reputation for high quality rather than any particular characteristics of the actual product. In the case of this Oriental Beauty, I will again use the descriptor "silky smooth", but in a rather different way, distinguishing type of smoothness and not degree.

I can best liken the smoothness of a long jing or a really green baozhong to a kind of oily feeling. Thick, smooth, and pleasant, but still wet lubricant. To continue this metaphor, Oriental Beauty, being on the other end of the scale, is drier and thinner, yet somehow no less full, pleasant, and (you guessed it) smooth: Teflon. An odd comparison this may be, but it's the best I've got.

As it turns out my trial was a success. Though the warming energy of this summer oolong was obvious, it left me feeling far more comfortable in the sweltering heat outside, and with a substantial caffeine buzz to boot.

No comments:

Post a Comment