Happy New Year!!
Our winter teas are finally all purchased and carried batch by batch back to Black Dragon Teas HQ on Taiwan. The Classic Dong Ding was the last to be chosen. Of the three choices ranging from light to dark roast, we chose the medium. The whole truth is that the dark roast wasn’t even sampled when we had already decided upon the medium simply because it is such a nice tea. This was also after we had purchased the Phoenix Mountain Dong Ding – which is always a relatively darker roast. Although having said that, I noticed in today’s midday brew that it is still pungent and fruity – more so than the rich, peaty character that comes from heavier roasting.
The Classic Dong Ding is an exceptionally smooth, mild flavored, balanced brew. The medium roast brings the fresh green qualities into a yellow/orange vegetal/fruity range – think pumpkin and butternut and delicata squash – a mellow sweetness to balance out the light astringency that is essential to the character of oolong. Its flavors are subtle due to the exceptional balance of qualities resulting from expert roasting. The Phoenix Mountain Dong Ding has a bolder, vivacious character with tangy sweetness reminiscent of dried apricots. To express it in terms of visceral memory, tasting the tea brings images of fall in New England to mind almost every time I taste it. Hence, it is a particularly satisfying experience for me. It is a hearty brew without the denser charcoal-roasted character of a typical heavily roasted tea.
Alishan was the first of our winter purchases – on a Sunday round trip ride of 3 hours one way deep into the southwestern foothills of the highest mountain range on the island. I sat where I always sit – on one side of a heavy wooden picnic table made by the host – and drank the fresh tea that he brewed and poured for me on the open-air patio. I have watched growth in the last decade of an amazing array of local forest plants potted and displayed at the entrance to the outdoor sitting area – ferns and mosses and bonsai trees and flowering plants – very special. The tea stands up to its name – a consistently exemplary high mountain oolong of the variety that has been propagated in Chiayi County of south-central Taiwan. My tea mentors have politely implied for years now that I am paying more than necessary for this grade of tea, but given the personal connection and the reliable quality of the tea leaves– I am quite happy to keep this source in my life.
Shanlinxi high mountain tea is purchased from the same producer of Phoenix Mountain Dong Ding – a repeated first prize winner of the largest bi-annual tea competition with over 5,000 entries. The Champion tea was just doubled in value this year to sell at about US$3,000 per pound. Needless to say, I have never needed to buy the commercialized competition tea because I know the farmers personally and bypass the organized promotion and sale of specialty teas in Taiwan. In comparison to the Alishan, the Shanlinxi is more "traditional" high mountain tea in that it has a cleaner, simpler character with a bit less floral qualities than the Alishan. As I have said before, the tea evokes the alpine qualities of its place name – "fir forest river".
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