Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Anodyne on Amber Oolong, Kali Cha, Aged Oolong, and First Grade Blue Pencils

Tasting an organic Amber Oolong from The Fragrant Leaf, a sample shared by a friend, not direct from the source. This is an oolong from Fujian province, China and is described as a "toasty dark-style oolong tea from the Wuyi Mountains." It does have that deep roasty type aroma and flavor. When water first hits the leaf in the initial rinse you catch that fruity note against the sweet woody character. That latter note is what I refer to as the sweet damp pencil thing.** It's not intended as a negative comment, in spite of how it may sound to the contrary.

There is a kind of dried raisin and/or dried apricot/peaches fruit aroma to it with the sweetness (a bit like honey, but I am thinking more of how sugar takes on an aroma as it heats in a cast iron skillet) and sweet wood. Along with the latter there's that mineral-rocky note in the flavor that creeps into the finish. The visual picture an oolong like this brings to mind is always a very elemental one, p'rhaps those stones half-carved into human shape that suggest an only semi-completed metamorphosis. In some ways, the mineral-rocky note against the other characteristics in the cup reminds me of sun-warmed slate. As it cools slightly, the dried fruity aroma pulls forward with more sweetness.

**this reference goes back to a childhood memory of chewing on the end of the big blue First Grade pencils we had. Subtract lead and the blue paint and just remember the soft damp sweet character of the gnawed wood. :-)

Btw, the sweet wood damp pencil aroma/taste is also what I find in the Kali Cha Darjeeling Oolong that Cindy W. posted about here, and I am finding it also here today in the Imperial Tea Court's Aged Oolong.

Older notes here on the ITC Aged Oolong as I first experienced it:

The dry leaf actually smelled a bit earthy to me, but maybe that's just the toasty quality. The initial rinse brought forth a very toasty/roasted scent with perhaps a slight sweetness of dried fruit, rather perhaps like dried apricots or peaches. Steeping, I still find that earthy scent that seems close to the roasted scent and yet not quite the same thing. As it steeps a bit longer, that sweet dried fruit scent pulls forward a bit more. And then that First Grade Damp Pencil Smell I associate with Hojicha. Post steeping, that impression follows. It's quite smooth (and yes, quite dark in the cup). It has a sweet fullness of aroma. The roasted/earth notes against woody are appealing to me. But what I find intriguing about this tea is that the sweetness truly comes more into the aftertaste, where you catch a hint of honey/peaches. I don't find this in the tea itself really, but it's there in the lingering aftertaste. This tea is quite interesting because it goes through so many shapeshifting transformations.

For daily drinking, these kinds of oolongs end up being, p'rhaps, too 'rich' for me, at least at this stage of the game. That was my problem with the Kali Cha Darjeeling, I think, though I found it better in my second tasting, notes below:

2nd trial run on brewing Kali Cha, The Tao of Tea Darjeeling Oolong:

...brewed today with a less concentrated equation. With less tea but longer steeping, I got a better balance going here today that is a bit less aggressive than my initial brewing. Still that very ripe fruit with what the source (The Tao of Tea) calls 'cocoa.' That 'cocoa,' to me, veers off into the sweet woodshaving kind of note (but it's not dominating the cup today as much as it was in my initial brewing). Very mellow indeed, sweet with a sort of burnt sugar kind of sweet wood sweetness. Going really well with our second mooncake, which seems kind of sweet nutty/bean-y, though I am told it is lotus seed paste, only they have used some level of peanut oil in the making. It definitely comes through.

In my first brewing, the roasted notes were coming very aggressively into the cup and hollering for attention. Today, they are very distinctly there, but seem in a better overall balance to the other characteristics. I am still more interpreting sweet wood shavings in lieu of cocoa, though I can also find my way to that interpretation if try. It's still not what really comes to my mind though. Some part of this tea reminds me of Hojicha.

Diverse teas. The common denominator? First Grade Blue Pencils.

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