High Mountain Oolong

This is a light Oolong from the Taiwanese mountains. High mountain teas mostly come from central Taiwan and the particular growing environment at high elevation gives these “Gaoshan” teas a distinctly rich sweetness. It is semiball-rolled with the attached stems and was harvested in Spring 2013.

High Mountain Oolong

Preparation: To prepare this tea, I put 4g of the tea in a warmed porcelain teapot. I add a little water at 85 °C (when medium bubbles appear in the water). This water is discarded as a rinse and then I add about 175ml of water and let the leaves unfurl for 30 seconds. The steeping time increases for each subsequent steeping and I find that I can get at least 5 steepings from this tea. The liquor is pale yellow in colour but the sweet floral aroma is magnificent. To taste, this tea is subtle, creamy and gentle and has a long aftertaste. Overall, I think that the price of £9.95 for 50g is worth it for this level of quality.

High Mountain Oolong is available from Postcard teas.

Note: As with all reviews on this site, I purchased this tea and have no affiliation with the sellers or the tea estate.

Tea with food

food and teaThere will be plenty of eating going on over the next week or two and there are bound to be a few times when wine will need a substitute. Here are some of the basic guidlines on combining tea with food.

As a general rule, green tea is the savoury tea. Salt will bring out its flavour and crispness while sweet foods will bring out the astringency and bitterness. So vegetal green teas will go well with prawns, anchovies, other seafood and olives. It is better with light meats and snacks rather than greasy foods. Light salty crackers like water biscuits work well and especially crackers with thyme. Light rice-based dishes are also complemented by green tea.

Strong black tea (from Africa, India and Sri Lanka) goes very well with red meat and spicy dishes (especially peppers) but goes equally well with rich creamy deserts, cream cheeses, dark chocolate and nuts such as pecans. Tea with desert is quite common and black tea is ideal for deserts such as rich chocolate cake or pecan pie.

It seems a shame to eat food with oolong but if you must then lighter oolongs go well with seafood, salty crackers and walnuts. Salty crackers with rosemary go particularly well. Similar to green tea, lighter oolongs do not combine will with heavy foods that contain butter and fat. Dark roasted oolongs go well with rosemary, honey, pecan, almonds and cashew nuts.

In my opinion pu-ehr should not be drank with food but shou pu-ehr is very soothing after a heavy meal.

White tea doesn’t blend well with food but I’ve heard it can be used as a palate cleanser between courses instead of sorbet (I’ve never tried this).

For the tisanes, rooibos and honeybush have a natural hint of sweetness so they go well with pastries and chocolate. Christmas rooibos usually has cinnamon, spices and orange that complement fruit cake, pudding and mince pies.

Finally, fennel, peppermint, ginger and anise are all excellent for aiding digestion. Anise is sweet and spicy and calming for digestion at night time while fennel is particularly good after a heavy meals and for helping with heartburn. Fennel and ginger are also excellent for nausea.

Shelbourne Hotel – Dublin

Lord Mayors Lounge

The Lord Mayors Lounge (Source)

The Shelbourne is an ideal setting for afternoon tea – good location on St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful old building that dates back to 1824 and a elegantly decorated Lord Mayor’s lounge complete with background piano music. It seems to be very popular with families, tourists and couples and there is a pleasant atmosphere of hustle and bustle. When I arrived  at 3pm without a reservation there were no tables available so I had a short wait in the lobby. I didn’t have time for afternoon tea so I ordered a Jade Oolong and a scone. There was a good choice of Black, Green and herbal teas and a few Whites and Oolongs.

The Jade Oolong came in a standard glazed ceramic white teapot and was a loose-leaf tea. There were plenty of leaves inside and the water seemed hot enough but the smell from the pot was a bit pungent. I waited about 30 seconds to let it steep but it wasn’t ready so I waited for about a minute. There was still no taste.  I was expecting that fresh sweetness of a Jade Oolong but it was just bland. I did a quick check of my taste buds by eating half a scone ;-). All fine there. Then I knew I had waited too long because the tea had gond from bland to bitter. I asked for extra water and diluted it to get a drinkable cup of tea but it really wasn’t great. I don’t know what went wrong but maybe this Oolong isn’t ordered much and it’s an old tea that has faded with age.

Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne Hotel (Source)

The total for tea and scone was €8.30. Based on the scone alone, I’ll go back for the full Afternoon Tea but I’ll avoid the Oolong and try one of the Black teas next time. Will keep you updated….

Da Hong Pao (Royal Red Robe)

This Da Hong Pao or Royal Red Robe is an Oolong tea, produced in the Wuyi mountains of Fujian, China (a Unesco World Heritage Site).leaves

There are a couple of legends associated with this tea. One of them involves an Emperor of the Ming Dynasty who was travelling with his ill mother. The Emperor’s mother was cured by the leaves of the tea bushes that were growing on a cliff of the Wuyi mountain and in gratitude, the Emperor sent red robes to cover the tea bushes. Hence the name Royal Red Robe.  It is believed that three of these original bushes still survive today in the Wuyi mountain and so these bushes were insured in 2006 for $14,000,000. Tea has not been produced from these bushes for some time but when it was, it was reserved for the select few. On occasion, some went for  auction. In 2002, 20g of first generation Da Hong Pao apparently sold for $21,700 (source).

Clearly this is not that tea that I have! Cuttings have been taken from the original bushes to produce similar ancestral teas. The quality of the teas varies but the best grades are still expensive. The one that I have was a gift so I don’t know how much it cost but I hope it wasn’t too much because it was clear from the foreign matter and broken leaves (especially after steeping) that this is a low grade. I don’t know the year or harvest period of this tea.

leaves in bowl

Wuyi Oolongs are darker with ~80% oxidation.  They are earthier than other Oolongs and give a deeper colour after steeping. It is strip-style (as opposed to ball-rolled) so it is not packed as tightly as the Tieguanyin that I spoke about previously.

red robe glassPreparation (see post here about steeping): To prepare this tea, I put 5g of the tea in a warmed clay teapot. After rinsing the leaves, I add 150ml of water that is just below boiling (when it makes the rumbling sound) and let it rest for 30 seconds. This tea is brown-red in color and has a deep earthy and nutty smell.  The second and third steeping are deeper and darker than the first but not by much. I get six steepings from this tea with the steeping time increasing for each one.

This tea came from Beijing Tong Ren Tang on Shaftsbury Road, London. Because it was a present, I don’t know how much it cost but I wouldn’t be paying any more than about £12 for 100g of this grade.

 

Ti Kuan Yin – Iron Goddess Tea

I seem to be on an Oolong kick at the moment and this Ti Kuan Yin (aka Iron Goddess or Tieguanyin) is my tea-of-the-minute. I love it because it has a clean, fresh taste and sweet after-taste that is both strong and gentle at the same time. This tea is a variety of Oolong tea and comes from Fujian Province in China (this type of tea is also produced in Taiwan). Judging by the look and colour, the one I have is not a high grade Tieguanyin but it still gives a good idea why this tea is so popular. Apart from the taste, I like seeing the dark green semiball-rolled leaves expand out after it has steeped a few times but again, because this is not a high grade the leaves are chewy and broken rather than full green leaves when it is steeped.

Tieguanyin (5g) before and after steeping

Tieguanyin (5g) before and after steeping

This Tieguanyin is described as “old style” and is darker so it had medium to heavy oxidation (oxidation being the process that causes the tea leaves to turn brown).

Second brew of Tieguanyin

Amber colour of the second brew of Tieguanyin

Preparation: To prepare this tea, I put 5g of the tea in a warmed clay teapot (one that I keep for Oolongs). I add a little water that is just below boiling (when it makes the rumbling sound) to rinse the leaves. This water is poured off and disposed of, not drank. Then I add about 175ml of the hot water which is about the size of the teapot and let it rest for 30 seconds. This is the first brew and is pale yellow in color and has that lovely sweet smell but the second and third steeping are  even better with the colour turning to a deeper amber.  I usually leave these to steep for about 40 seconds each. The steeping time increases for each subsequent steeping and I find that I can get 4-5 steepings from this tea. The taste is clear and refreshing with a deeply sweet aftertaste.

If you don’t have a clay teapot or a gaiwan, don’t worry. Steeping this tea works just as well with a brew basket but if ever there is a tea that can’t be used with a metal tea ball, it is this one. The leaf expands so impressively, it would be a real shame to keep it in a confined space.

I bought this tea from Tea Palace, London and it was a reasonable £10 for 100g.