Last weekend, I drank an oolong that was—quite possibly—a hundred years old.
In late 2013, I thought I tried the rarest, weirdest, most unheard-of tea unicorn out there—a heicha (dark tea) from Taiwan.
After three years of palatial growth, though, I’m now convinced that it was a Yunnan grown puerh that was merely stored in Taiwan. Still unique, but not quite the unicorn I thought it was. However, I learned of a group who might have created one.
Days like this are frustrating. One casually glances around at different tea vendors, and then…it happens. There is a particular tea that catches the eye and doesn’t let the gaze turn away.
That was my reaction to Norbu Tea’s Jin Xuan Xiao Zhong. (Try saying that name three times fast.) The extensive bio said everything I wanted in a tea. From Taiwan? Check. Jin Xuan cultivar? Check. Smoked over sugarcane? Wait…what?!
Yes, this was a sugarcane-smoked black tea from Taiwan, utilizing the Jin Xuan cultivar of tea plant. Said cultivated variety is usually used for oolongs of the same name, particularly Taiwan’s answer to Quanzhou Milk Oolong. I hadn’t had a black tea made from the cultivar, let alone a smoked black from it. My tiny brain knew about pinewood smoked black teas (the typical Lapsang Souchongs), oak-smoked oolongs, and cinnamon-smoked teas, but this was new and unique. And as all three of you readers know, I like “new and unique”. It’s kinda my thing.
I picked some up a week later. Got to brewing that night. This was one subtle and resilient S.O.B of a tea. Like a ninja mime that was accidentally lit on fire. It was smoky yet sweet, floral yet malty – all juxtaposition, but with a bit of a bite. That and it lasted three solid Western infusions.
Norbu’s Greg Glancy, however, passed on an interesting tip: I should try it gongfu-style and compare. That seemed like a worthy enough approach, but then an odd thought hit me. I didn’t want to do this alone. This required spectators and additional commentary.
I put out an invite to friend’s PDX Tea’s David and Blackstone Hermitage’s Danica. The former was always worthwhile company for trying weird teas, the latter was a staunch Lapsang Souchong fan. Perfect chorus for a cupping session.
The first phase of the “plan” was to pick up David before said session. Danica agreed to host us at The Blackstone Hermitage, David’s duty was brewing equipment, and I…well…brought the tea. I arrived early on David’s side of town and had roughly an hour to kill.
While wandering the block, I spotted a brewery accidentally. Yes, I had not intended on that. Stop looking at me like that! To make time go by faster, I tried a few of Base Camp Brewing’s samplers. One of which was a stout…with a marshmallow in it. No wonder they dubbed it “S’more”. And the odd combination worked entirely too well.
That successfully annihilated the time, and I headed back over to David’s block. First, I went back to my car to check on the teas, update various social networks about the weird stout I just had, and so on. Then I closed the door…with my keys in the car.
I walked over to David’s and explained the situation. We went to my car, and I proceeded to call locksmiths and different outlets provided by my insurance company. All the while, two homeless people kept commenting about how much they wanted my shoes.
Note to homeless people: Don’t do that. It’s creepy.
At one point, David and I even tried to beg a AAA office to throw me a bone. They weren’t having any of it, though. Apparently, we tea men look threatening, or something.
Eventually, I got a hold of my insurance’s roadside assistance hotline. (Dunno why it took me so long.) And we headed off to the Blackstone Hermitage.
Danica greeted us when we arrived, supplied me with a parking pass, and we headed in. First thing I marveled at was how clean her place was. It made me wonder why I couldn’t keep a room so in order for more than a day. I have a problem, I guess. But back to tea…
I don’t remember exactly how many infusions we did, but the Jin Xuan Xiao Zhong lasted us a good two hours. Dave kept the hot water coming, and the leaves held up each and every time. Smoky sweetness didn’t let up until the last three infusions or so, remaining steady throughout. While I preferred doing it the Western way (for strength’s sake), this was a close second, if only for resilience alone.
In addition to the Jin Xuan Xiao Xhong, I also brought two aged oolongs that Norbu Tea had provided me. One was a 1983 Tie Guan Yin Greg used to carry, the other – one we went with – was a Baozhong of indeterminate age. Greg even said as much on the bag:
(Personal stash – not a website tea.)
Late-70s (?) – Early 90s (No way to tell) Baozhong
They told me 1970s, and an expert in Taipei said maybe late 80s to early 90s. Who cares? It tastes good. 🙂
To measure that tea in taster notes would be unfairly futile. There are no words for how wonderful it was. I can only sum it up with Danica’s reaction: It made her cry. Tears of joy, of course.
Good and tea drunk, we called it a night with promises of future tastings. That has yet to happen, but it’s kind of comforting knowing that you can count upon tea friends for impromptu tea tastings for the sake of “science”. Unique smoked teas, aged oolongs and friends.
There were far worse ways to spend a Friday. I could’ve been locked out of my car with a marshmallow-dolloped, smoked teabeer in my hand. Wait. That sounds awesome.