Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dong Ding Cuisson Traditionelle - 2011 from Cha Yi

Tea: Traditionally roasted Dong Ding oolong from Cha Yi (English), a well roasted green oolong with surprising vivacity for its relatively low-altitude origins (roundabout 700m, if I remember correctly).

A review on this tea is long overdue, but first a few words about the teashop from which I bought it. I'm a big believer in supporting good local sources of tea for the simple reason that there's no better way to learn about what you're drinking than by buying your teas in person from someone who really knows their product. This Gatineau teashop located just across the river from Canada's national capital has been open for a little over a year now, and by the looks of it will be around for a little while yet. The service is friendly and the staff knowledgeable (Daniel, one half of the couple who currently run the shop, worked for Camellia Sinensis for five years, and through this association now offers some of their teas in the Ottawa area). Though I've limited my sampling to their selection of oolongs, I've been entirely satisfied with all my purchases so far, and the lower priced teas don't seem to suffer the plunge in quality common in some other local teashops.

Short version of the above: If you're in the National Capital Region, stop by 61 rue Eddy in Gatineau. It's nice.

I'm a big fan of roasted Taiwanese oolongs of all stripes, but I also have frequent cravings for the creamy vegetal freshness of gaoshan oolongs. This tea satisfies both needs, but without the hefty price tag that frequently accompanies hung shui type oolongs. Though certainly not a substitute for this highly acclaimed genre, this tea carries a level of roasting and freshness not commonly found together in 'lower range' teas.

Having by now enjoyed this tea on more than one occasion, I know this tea performs best with a bit less leaf than other teas. If made more concentrated, the roasting characteristics overwhelm the others in the first few infusions and render the brew excessively dry. I pour the requisite amount of small, tightly rolled green balls into the bottom of my teapot and lift it up to my nose for a sniff. Straight away the dry, roasted character of this tea kept subdued by its refrigerated storage wakes up and fills my sinuses.

I pour hot water quickly from high up to help open the leaves and decant the infusion directly into two of my porcelain singing cups. The hot liquor is deeply satisfying and slightly warming; the chaqi goes straight to my head in a pleasant head-rush type sensation. The roasting has left the liquor feeling slightly dry, but the tea is still fresh enough that it sloshes around and coats my mouth in the manner of any good green oolong. The roasting also dominates the taste at this point, with a dry caramel sweetness accompanied by fruity floral undertones. It's in the aftertaste that the green-ness of this tea is most apparent, with an oily and slightly vegetal finish; a subdued version of what I expect from gaoshan. The empty cup bears similar notes, but with a refreshing lightness, rendering the whole experience heady but not overpowering.

In subsequent infusions the balance shifts away from roasting and more towards the light vegetal notes, obviating the thick and slightly oily mouthfeel for a time before a dryness begins to creep onto the tongue. When I was sold this tea, Daniel told me one of the things he likes about this tea is the way this roasting gradually diminishes and gives way to other, equally pleasant characteristics. Unlike many low quality teas, this tea evolves from infusion to infusion rather than simply peaking then tapering off, and it's this sort of endurance and complexity that led me to believe that this tea was from a much higher elevation than it is.

The finished leaves are dark green, tender, and very springy. Fresh, roasted, and all around very nice.

Teapot also from Cha Yi, bowl by Petr Novak featured here
When the leaves finally do start to give up the ghost, make one last long cool infusion and use it to deglaze a pan of sautéed onions for quiche. Chop of a couple of the more tender leaves and mix them into the filling as well. The tea seems to lighten and freshen up the dish a little bit, while adding a touch more savouriness. A delicious way to squeeze those last bits of goodness out of an already delicious tea. (Apologies for the lack of a picture, in all the excitement I got distracted and forgot. I'll be sure to post one the next time I make this dish, perhaps the subject of its own blog post.)

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