So, as I alluded to a few posts ago, I feel that after ~5 years of studying tea I can trust my taste buds; but as I mentioned in that very same post, I still make mistakes.
Part of our education while studying with Teaparker in Taiwan is identifying samples;
It’s one of the same methods I employ with with my students at the Institute.
Recently we were asked to identify (what was obviously) a Taiwanese Oolong.
This is what I wrote:
Unidentified tea “Sample 1” has the characteristic taste, aroma, and sensations of a Taiwanese Oolong.I have identified it as a Winter Harvest High Mountain Southern Nantou Oolong of the Luanze Cultivar for the following reasons;
The leaves were tightly rolled, relativity small, but were not de-stemmed; and had minimal reddening as seen after the 2nd Pingbebei brew.
The strong floral aroma of the tea, with a Jasmine component, and the lack of bitter herbaceous notes is a sign of high mountain growth.
The wetness (salivary response) and viscous Kou gan paired with the strong LengXiang and sweet HuiGan all point to a Winter growth of a High Mountain Tea. Knowing the growth range rules out the majority of other cultivars; and it lacks the nutty-herbaceousness of JinXuan oolong. The provenience of this tea can be determined from the its terroir; I suspect a high mountain of the southern Nantou range do to its processing and flavor. The pale yellow soup, suspended colloid of tip down, and low oxidation with a low temperature toasting are qualities common to southern Nantou. This tea had a very rich-creamy component and a woody-bitterness that attests to its superior quality, and is reminiscent of other quality teas I have had in the Alishan, Lishan, Qilishan range.
While this is what my research partner, Pat Penny, wrote:
The tea was presented in the pingbibei, already pre-heated, The first smells that I picked up on were a lot of sugary honey notes as well as some floral notes such as lemongrass and lilac, some hints of gingerbread/ cinnamon were also present. The leaves appeared to be a decent medium size and the color was green, but the tea appeared to have been lightly toasted as it was not too green. The tea was brewed in the pingbibei for approximately a minute and a half, during this time we smelled the spoon multiple times. The spoon smelled richly sweet and was bursting with floral notes, honey, and a slight nuttiness. The smell was extremely clear, present, and had a light coolness to it. After smelling the spoon I believe that this is a high mountain tea from spring of this year.
Once the tea was poured into my cup I looked at its color in the cup. It was a vibrant yellow however it wasn’t very clear, there was a slight cloudiness in the cup. The fragrance off of the tea liquor was as vibrant as the smell off the leaves itself. The fragrance carried over into the taste, The tea tasted of orange blossom honey, gingerbread, and lemongrass with a light hint of orange zest. The tea was mouth watering and thick on the palate and throat. The hui gan and leng xiang came slowly, but built steadily until they became very present and lingered nicely. There was a slight drying characteristic in the throat but it was very short lived. The aftertaste remain floral, sweet, and lightly spicy. The cha qi came on quickly, it was very clear and strong, as I drank the tea I was able to feel it slide down my throat all the way to my stomach. lively and present.
The second brew of the tea was slightly more herbaceous and even more forthright than the last brew. The florality really shined through on this brew with an increasing honey characteristic. The hui gan and leng xiang came on even faster and lasted just as long. The mouth feel was much more lively in this brew, the tea practically danced upon the tongue. The liquor was a bit more clear, but the slight drying sensation in the throat still persisted.
After the second brew we pulled some leaves out, They were a nice mid size, and a decent amount of buds were interspersed within the leaves. There was a light reddening around some of the leaves which did not come out strongly in the brew, there was also a small amount of large stems which I believe contributed to a lot of the tea’s sweet/ sugary nature. The leaves were very whole showing this was indeed a hand rolled and skillfully picked tea. From all of the above characteristics I have come to the conclusion that this tea is a gao shan from this years spring harvest, It received a very light roasting and was lightly oxidized, the cultivar is luanze and I believe that this tea is from Alishan due to its very present and forceful nature.
Same tea, very close blind assessment by the two of us, and no conversation until after we had written these reports.
How’ed we do?
We both got the provenance wrong, and I got the season wrong.
The tea was a Spring 2012 DaYuLing.
So, what can I learn from this?
The tea was higher mountain than I had assessed, and that should have been obvious from the mouth feel and LengXiang;
I had originally assessed a winter harvest of ALiShan, almost changed my mind to spring, then stuck to my guns – if I had properly identified this tea as DaYuLing, a much higher mountain, than I would have known the leaf size, thickness, and floral notes were indicating spring despite the thicker mouth feel.
Mouth feel is a blanket term for a lot of sensations, and it is quite tricky to get right.