Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hong Cha For Hot Weather

Today, a few days short of a year after it was harvested on Taiwan's east coast, I finished off the last of my pack of red tea I ordered after thoroughly enjoying the sample Stéphane was kind enough to provide. A da yeh oolong from Teamasters, this tea is made from oolong leaves that were fully oxidized to make a red tea rather than an oolong. Unconventional, to be sure, but as I mentioned in my first post on this tea, this is the only hong cha I've tried that I've really enjoyed. It's complexity and aromas that border on floral belie its oolong origins and make this tea all the better for it.

As we rapidly approach the solstice, temperatures have been ramping up and have been in the thirties (forties with the humidex) for a few days now. During the summer I try to drink outside as much as possible, both to enjoy the ambiance as well as to try to keep the heat out of the house what with electricity costing so much these days. Green tea, however, has got nothing on this heat, much less the low oxidation oolongs that are my preference. It's for that reason that I decided to go whole ho(n)g in the opposite direction.

The first quick infusion is light and complex; full of flavour but not yet hearty and warming. I savour the light fruits over candy sweetness and sniff the hints of flowers in the bottom of my cup as the next infusion steeps a little longer. As I pour it, I worry a little that I might've overdone it a bit and made the tea bitter; one thing I've learned is that once a tea's been drastically overstepped, there's often no way back. The much darker red liquor wafts a thick aroma that's always reminded me of very ripe tomatoes, although the two scents don't actually bear any striking resemblance. As that peculiarity dances across my synapses I take my first sip: it's so thick and flavorful! Far from being oversteeped, this tea has simply become more potent. I can feel the heat cascade down into my stomach and spread out as I finish drinking.

The veins on my arms start to pop up and I start to cool off as the perceived temperature differential decreases. Funny how drinking a something so warming on such a hot day can be so cooling...

The tea goes on, gradually returning to the lightness of the first steep, over a few more infusions. I stop bothering to reheat the water in my glass kettle (which seems better suited to this tea than my tetsubin) and pour in enough water for one last steep to be enjoyed tomorrow.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Guei Fei Oolong - Summer 2012 from Cha Yi

A quick note to share what I'm drinking today: a true dong ding guei fei oolong from the Gatineau tea shop I've been frequenting lately. I bought a small sample of this tea back when it first arrived with the spring oolongs and was warned that brewing this tea properly can be quite tricky. Happily, roasted oolongs seem to be my forte, so I've never experienced any great problems with this one.

Unlike Stéphane's concubine oolongs, this guei fei was harvested at the usual time between late spring and early summer (if memory serves, it may be more distinctly early summer). Summer being a season known for bitterness and astringency, this tea has a greater propensity to dry the mouth and rough up the throat than many. However, if brewed using hot water and short infusions using plenty of leaf, I've found these undesirable traits can be successfully manages most of the time, bringing clean, thick, and powerful sweet ripe fruit to the forefront.

The aromas and tastes are broadly characteristic of the genre, with a clean sugar sweetness in the bottom of the cup changing to apple cider as the stoneware cools. Being closer to a spring harvest, the emphasis is more on the finer and lighter aromas and flavours than the fall and winter harvested teas with the same processing technique I've tried.

To me, a wild (or semi-wild) tea with a tendency to be bitter or astringent is rarely a thing to be feared. These elements seem to often signal a more powerful or robust tea than one that simply isn't good. These teas are as far from insipid as it gets, no matter how they're prepared, and when they're brewed well, they can be among the most rewarding. The process of tasting them cannot be boring, and if nothing else, it's a canary in the coal mine of brewing technique. This is called gong fu cha, after all...

A bit of housekeeping: Thanks to my recent acquisition of a lovely little bit of increasingly ubiquitous technology designed by Apple, I'm now able to write posts pretty much anywhere. The tradeoff comes in the form of photos and formatting, options for the former being few and nonexistent for the latter. Nevertheless, my hope is that this will allow me to post shorter bits of content more regularly in addition to more infrequent lengthy posts.