Jason (on the left, from the Tea Institute at Penn State) continues to learn about tea in Taiwan. Steve (on the right), a Canadian tea lover living in Estonia, joins us for a triple tasting of Hung Shui Oolong. This type of Oolong is at the root of what is a classic Formosa Oolong, so it's very important to study and experience it.
A quick reminder: Hung Shui Oolong is not a cultivar, but a process. The most suited cultivar is probably Luanze (Qingxin) Oolong, but other Oolongs can also be used with this process. The 2 key characteristics of a Hung Shui Oolong are: 1. an oxidation that is stronger than the the light oxidation of today's high mountain Oolongs. However, it also shouldn't be too oxidized (like an Oriental Beauty, for instance). 2. The leaves should receive a long and slow roasting that intensifies and refines their flavors while retaining the freshness of the leaves. The roast should not leave a burned taste or make the dry leaves unable to open up.
Traditional Dong Ding Oolong is a good example of Hung Shui Oolong, so we started with my winter 2008 Feng Huang (Dong Ding) version. I'm using a porcelain competition set to brew the leaves in a neutral way. Despite the 2 and a half years since its production, this Oolong doesn't taste stale at all. This is one of the advantages of a good roasting: preserving the tea well.
We continued with the 2010 spring Shan Lin Shi Hung Shui Oolong. This tea taught us the impact of the elevation on the quality of the Oolong. The Cha qi was much stronger ; our mouths were salivating and the aftertaste was released like wave after wave. The roasting had not erased the high mountain characteristics of this Oolong, but amplified it.
We finished the tasting lesson with my spring 1990 San Hsia Hung Shui Oolong. This time, I used a fine zhuni teapot to get the best out of it. (It would have been a lack of respect for these patient leaves to use anything less!) The tea flows down the throat with great ease. It feels pure, clean and delicate. The fragrance reminds us of ripe raspberries. The taste is so soft and almost sweet. The aftertaste is still so much alive. Tea Bliss! And these are leaves that enjoy being brewed long, adding layer after layer of sweetness and freshness.
For this kind of tea lesson, the teaching is done by the tea. Each drinker learns first from what he tastes. My role is to ask question about what one feels and, maybe, propose some words that describe my own impressions: did you notice your throat? how does it feel?...
Good tea is what motivates to brew and to learn more. They are rewards for the students. And to experience this 20 years old Hung Shui Oolong shows what greatness Oolong tea can achieve if it is well chosen when bought and well kept. A door to great tea treasures is unlocked!