I recently took a focused tasting workshop on teas that depend on nature's intervention. The session featured five teas that only develop their unique character when certain natural conditions coincide. The powers of nature always play a special role in creating individual teas which each have a distinct character, but these five teas depend more than others on nature's intervention.
The five teas we focused on were Milk Oolong (Taiwan), Oriental Beauty (Taiwan), Nilgiri Frost (Southern India), Peak Season Ceylon Uva (Sri Lanka), and Raw Aged Puerh (China).
Milk Oolongs are balled oolongs and are typically produced in Taiwan and China. They naturally have a silky, buttery taste with orchid notes. They have a characteristic milky mouth feel which is where it gets its name. In Taiwan, the best milk oolongs are made from the Jin Xuan (Jin Suang), a tea plant varietal developed in the 1970s and released to farmers for planting in 1981.
The plants are grown at altitudes of 650-5000 feet.The unique character depends on varietal, altitude, the age of the tea shoot when plucked, and manufacturer. Natural milk oolongs are more about mouth feel and less about the creamy flavor. In real milk oolongs the natural buttery flavor is quite subtle which is why so many farmers feel the need to add milk flavoring or essence to give the teas a buttery, milky character. It’s fine to flavor the teas, but information given must be honest and clear. I admit that I've had quite a few that I enjoy very much and find quite nice despite the fact they're not the "real" thing.
It is believed that the very best Oriental Beauty oolongs are made in Taiwan. They can only be made when the tea bushes are infested by little leaf hoppers (Jacobiasca formosana, known as ‘jassids’ or ‘thrips’). The insects bite the buds, leaves and stems while they are still growing on the bush. This causes oxidation to start. It also causes the bushes to defend themselves by producing enzymes called monoterpene diol and hotrienol which give the tea its unique flavor. The teas are sweet and fruity.
The Nilgiri tea gardens are located in the Nilgiri Hills (Blue Mountains) in Southern India where tea grows on hills at an elevation between 3280-8000 feet. Frost Teas are made from end of December to February. Night temperatures are close to zero, sometimes as low as minus 4-7 degrees Celsius. Frost settles on the bushes at night and disappears as the sun comes up. The sweet character and flavor is due to stress on the plants from factors such as temperature, altitude, etc.
Frost Teas are made from the end of December to February.The result is a mellow fruity aroma and a balanced, fragrant, aromatic, smooth liquor.
I learned how weather conditions in Sri Lanka’s Uva district create the special character of the best peak season Uva teas.
And then Jane moved onto one of my favorite teas, puerh. She elaborated on why and how ancient trees and ancient processing methods produce amazing raw puerh teas.
We compared a raw young puerh vs. a raw aged puerh.