Saturday February 4, 2006

Today was another nasty day, with heavy rain in the late afternoon. I got home early, and decided to drink some oolong I got from Taiwan during the summer.

Taiwanese oolong is an interesting tea. First of all, they are usually very specific as to where the tea is produced. This one I am drinking today is from Lishan (or Pear Mountain, literally). For the most part, it is a good thing that they identify the tea very specifically by where it was produced. It makes it possible to sort of know beforehand what kind of tea it is.

Taiwanese oolong, in general, is very fragrant, rather vegetal in taste, and brews lightly with a green/yellow liquor. Now, different mountains do have different tastes, and Lishan, for example, tends to be even lighter and more fragrant than your usual Taiwanese oolong. Unfortunately, of course, not every tea labeled from a certain place is going to be exactly from there — there are variations too, since something planted at the foot of the mountain and at the top of the mountain can all be called Lishan tea (or Dong Ding, or whatever). For that, you have to have had some good/bad ones before and have some basis for comparison. That’s not always possible.

Taiwanese oolong sold in the States generally are very stereotypically Taiwanese — fragrant but light. Sometimes though I’ve had some pretty dubious ones that are stronger in taste, although sometimes that’s due to poor storage (or just long term storage) rather than the tea itself being problematic. It is a great tea to introduce someone to finer teas, since it smells really nice, looks really nice, and initially, tastes really nice.

One problem with Taiwanese oolongs in general, however, is that since they are light, the body of the tea is very “thin” and there is scarcely any aftertaste. As soon as you gulp it down, the taste starts disappearing and it goes away pretty quickly. I know some people who don’t drink any Taiwan tea precisely because of this — there’s no follow up to the initial fragrance, which makes the tea a bit of a let down. I can sympathize, but at the same time, it is a great tea to have around for guests and if it is a good one, it can always impress people.

When I first started drinking tea it was difficult to tell the real difference between qingxiang tieguanyin and Taiwan oolong, simply because they look so similar and are both high in fragrance. The main way I use to tell is the body/aftertaste. A good tieguanyin should be very strong in those areas, whereas the Taiwanese tea is not. After a while, I also remembered what kind of taste each particular type of tea is, but once in a while, you have mainland tea farms producing tieguanyin using a somewhat Taiwan style method, which can really mess up your identification. Those are when the experts are needed and I’m not always good about telling them apart. Sigh, lots to learn.

I really should buy a oolong teapot though. Next year when I (hopefully) go to Taiwan to do research, I’ll be drinking it day in, day out (ugh) and I should really put all that tea to good use by dunking it all in a teapot instead of wasting it.

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