Posts Tagged ‘wulong’

The late Bob Ross used to close his show with the line, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

bobross

His philosophy – if it can be called that – holds true for a lot of things. Oolong, for starters, was a happy accident. As legend has it, the style came about because a leaf picker fell asleep, allowing the leaves to partially oxidize. Taiwanese aged oolong was a happy accident. Someone once thought, “Hey, why don’t we sit on this back stock of tea for a few years and see what happens.” Lapsang Souchong . . . well . . . I think I’ve covered that subject aplenty.

Point being, while the Ross-ite “happy accident” logic doesn’t hold true for all things, it does for a lot of things, especially in the tea world. I just never thought I would run into one in my pursuit of weird teas. This one practically fell into my lap.

I received an e-mail from Eco-Cha, a relatively new outfit. The name “Eco-Cha” in Chinese literally translates to, “A Sip of Tea”. The company was the brainchild of Andy Kincart, Tom Lin and Nick Fothergill – all of whom had lived in Taiwan for a number of years. Advisory support was provided by Tony and Lisa Lin, renowned proponents of Taiwanese tea culture. Their mission was simple, source and sell Taiwanese oolong tea directly to the consumer.

Occasionally, however, they sourced the odd black tea or two. One in particular hailed from the Shan Lin Xi district in Nantou county, Taiwan – a relatively high altitude tea growing region. The name Shan Lin Xi translated to “Pine Forest Stream”, and was also home to the famous oolong of the same name. Many farmers in the region have been at the tea growing game for several decades . . . including this guy.

Image mooched from Eco-Cha.

Image mooched from Eco-Cha.

(I have no clue who he is.)

In winter of 2012, after tea leaves had been plucked and fried, they were brought indoors to oxidize. They were stored on multiple racks, one on top of the other. The tea master had inadvertently forgotten to check the top rack. (It was above eye level.) He didn’t realize this until the next day, after the leaves had undergone roughly 75% oxidation. The typical Shan Lin Xi oolong oxidation level is about 30%.

Instead of tossing the entire batch, the tea master adapted his rolling techniques to suit these accidental leaves. The result was a unique beast in the tea world often referred to as a “red oolong”. While it was still an oolong by technique, the mostly-oxidized profile gave it a black tea (or “red tea”) character. I had sampled red oolongs before, but those had been intentional. This was my first taste of a happy accident.

loose leaf

The leaves looked like a darker-roast, heavier oxidized version of almost every Taiwanese oolong I’ve ever come across. They were ball-fisted in appearance, and the color spectrum ran from forest green to cherry wood red. What was different, though, was that the actual leaf-rolling appeared incomplete. They weren’t as tightly rolled as others I’d come across before. As for fragrance, I was more reminded of other Taiwanese black teas – due to the sweeter aroma – but there was something different at play, too. A floral underpinning was also present amidst the sweetness.

Eco-Cha surprised me with some of their brewing recommendations. Aside from the usual gongfu (multiple short infusions) brewing instructions, they also recommended brewing this grandpa-style – putting leaves in a mug and pouring hot water over it. That gave me a grin . . . so, I did it both ways.

Brewed gongfu-style, the liquor color on each infusion gradually grew darker.

gong fu

It started off pale, like a typical Taiwanese oolong, then grew slightly more crimson by the second, and a deep bronze by the third. Each steep had an aroma of sweetened nuts and a hint of fruit. That also showed up in the taste, revealing a complex combination of flavors and sensations. Like an oolong with darker – if mintier – aspirations

Grandpa-style, though . . . wow . . .

grandpa style

I didn’t have a 16oz. mug (that was clean) for taste-testing, so I utilized a 12oz. one. Unfortunately (and awesomely!), I kept the leaf ratio the same – roughly 2 teaspoons. The results were sheer brilliance – a bold, rust red-colored liquor with leaves at the bottom beckoning to surface. The aroma was like that of a Ruby 18; woody, minty, sweet, and slightly malty. Some astringency showed up the further down I sipped, but it helped bring a spry note to the sweeter proceedings. The further I sipped, the more it was like I was sipping cherry-filled chocolates that’d been left in the sun.

By the end of this Taiwanese double-fisting, I realized I was extremely wired. Not just any wired, but “Rainbow Fuzzy Buddha”-wired. Doesn’t make sense? Well, it didn’t to me, either. I hadn’t intended to have that much of this black tea in one sitting. Nor did I plan on re-steeping both helpings. My excuse? Another photograph.

both preps

Flimsy, I know.

Oh well, like this tea, the resulting warm fuzzy feeling was just a happy accident.

This one is for the fellas.

About three years ago, I received an invite to go to a bar trivia night in downtown Portland. I usually got the call when a group of friends required a “guy-that-knows-useless-shit”; that was me. Need someone that knows the composer for the “Death of Optimus Prime” scene in the ’86 animated Transformers: The Movie? I’m your man. I am a fountain of frivolous knowledge.

Our track record this night was fairly steady. I was contributing answers to about a third of the more non sequitur questions – a little off my game but not too badly. A question came up that I wasn’t expecting, one that I thought I instantly had in the bag.

The Q/A emcee asked, “What group of people has better sex? Coffee drinkers or tea drinkers?”

Slam-friggin’-dunk.

My primary geek hobby – tea – started because of sex. There were at least three-to-four blends and tisanes I knew of that were beneficial for…er…”blood flow”. That and normal tea was a primary ingredient in many male enhancement products. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) Tea also made for a great conversation starter; plus, the rest of the world drank tea. It was a given.

The answer? Coffee drinkers.

I cost us the game.

How could I have been so wrong? All my perusals – scholastic and palate-related – pointed to tea as being the clear victor. How could the swill of Satan be the better boffing brew? The question plagued me on the drive home.

It hit me when I was in the shower the next day.

First off, tea was not a ubiquitous beverage in the United States, not since we dumped crates of it over a perfectly good harbor. Coffee dates were considered the universal icebreaker, almost to the point of cliché. If a guy wanted to get to know a potential…um…playmate, there were only two viable routes – coffee and alcohol. In some cases, both if the conversation went really well.

I looked back at my track record with tea dates. The first one I ever went on was with a girl from Craigslist. She was older than me by a month. Other than showing complete uninterested in me, she also related how she answered an ad to be an old man’s “sugarbaby”. In short, it was a bust.

The next – oh – several attempts ended one of two ways. The less common occurrence was that we hit it off in terms of conversation, trading barbs like old friends. But that was it, “friends”. Either one didn’t feel that mandatory “oomph” or the other – or both. The outing was so completely non-threatening and informal that any tension from the event was rendered impotent.

The more common outcome? The girl never showed up. Seriously.

A last attempt at a tea date was in March. I considered it the make-or-break for this anti-Friend Zone field test. In theory, tea dates should work, especially if one had some knowledge of the beverage prior. It was classy. Girls dug classy…right? Well, apparently not.

While it may be a sad conclusion – and one that most bros of brewdom don’t want to hear – tea dates don’t work. At least in my experience. It might be just an American conundrum; it may even be that I’m no good at dating in general. The simple summation is that tea and dating are a one-way ticket aboard the HMS Platonic. That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t ways around that.

Just because you, fellow steeper, have this one peculiar hobby doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of it. You can mention it in passing on a normal-ish date. Once an actual rapport and/or relationship are established, then you can let her into your wulong-rich world. A second – more lowbrow – approach would be to find establishments that serve tea-infused alcohol drinks. In my neck of the woods, I know of five. Can you think of a better gateway to “Awesome!”? I can’t.

I’m almost certain this entry will garner some amount of, “You’re wrong! My wife and I are the exception.” In statistics, you would be known as an “outlier”. For you to be an exception, there first has to be a general rule. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this. So, please, do relate your success stories if you have them. Prove me wrong, I beg of you.

And while you’re at it, kindly tell me where you’ve parked your unicorn.

Awesome Doodles by Aaron Grayson