The Real Milk Oolong

 

ool-jin_xuanThere is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what milk oolongs are, and sadly there are many low-quality examples of this fine tea dogging about, too. Milk oolong is really a buyer-beware situation, and as premium tea retailers we usually avoid walking right into the eye of the storm when it comes to tea controversy and confusion. (Perhaps the popularization of bubble tea, a Taiwanese milk and tea  drink that features the addition of colorful and sometimes flavored balls of tapioca may somehow be adding to the confusion).

But real milk oolongs are so good that we wanted to shed some light on what milk oolong is and what it isn’t and introduce the real-deal to our customers.

Simply put, milk oolongs are lovely, sweet, lightly-roasted semiball-rolled style oolongs produced in different regions of Taiwan from a particular tea bush cultivar – Jin Xuan (Tai Cha #12 ). This cultivar is sometimes referred to as Golden Lily.


All of Taiwan’s great oolongs begin with specific tea bush cultivars that, in conjunction with the unique terroir of each location, influence the flavor of the tea. Although Jin Xuan is a relatively new cultivar (developed in the 1980’s) it is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars (dozens of cultivars and varietals are grown throughout Taiwan) and the cultivar behind the marketing of milk oolong tea.

It is the flavor of the fresh leaves from these tea bushes that is transformed into the soft, creamy, ‘milky’ flavor which makes this tea so desirable. Try our milk oolong and you will see that it has very little astringency and an abundance of natural sweetness. This tea has been given a very light roasting, which enhances the milk fragrance – nai xiang – of the tea. It is from the same tea garden as our 2012 spring Alishan gao shan, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking to taste a delicious, easy-to-love Taiwan high mountain oolong.)

Real milk oolong tea is very appealing and delicious, and very popular in Taiwan and abroad. However, it is important to understand that absolutely no milk is involved in the production of real Taiwan ‘milk’ tea.

Spend 30 minutes searching the internet for a definition of this tea and you will end up with many rather silly explanations of what it is, such as:

  • tea that is plucked from tea bushes that have been irrigated with milk before being harvested
  • tea made from tea leaves have been soaked in milk
  • tea made from tea leaves have been steamed with milk in the manufacturing process
  • tea made from tea leaves have been dried with milk
  • tea leaves that were hung over a steaming milk bath before drying

Really? Milk….really? Milk is not abundant in Taiwan (or any parts of Asia, in fact), so how does this make sense?

Anyway, our customers can rest assured that our milk oolong is the real milk oolong, and should not be confused with Chinese imitations of milk oolongs or low-quality teas that have been artificially flavored with a so-called ‘milk’ flavor. Real milk oolong is a natural Taiwan original, and has never seen the white-soul of the inside of a bottle of milk.

This tea farm was awarded 1st Place for their 2012 Spring Jin Xuan tea at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government. Our Jin Xuan Oolong has been certified by the Agriculture Council and the County of Chia-Yi to be true to its origin and also to be free of pesticides. Each package features a certifying stamp to verify this.

Please visit: www.teatrekker.com for more information

2012 spring competition-grade Taiwan high mountain oolong

We have just received three luscious 2012 spring high mountain gao shans from Taiwan. For lovers of these very hard-to-find teas, we have distinguished selections from Alishan, and Shan Lin Xi tea districts. And, for the first time, we have a super-delicious, authentic, pure and natural Milk Oolong  from the Jin Xuan cultivar. (Read more about milk oolong on our website www.teatrekker.com).

Our Alishan and the Jin Xuan are grown and processed on a tea farm owned by a third generation tea grower and a tea master. The farm was awarded very high honors at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government in various tea growing regions.

This is how their tea placed:

  • 2nd Place for 2012 spring Alishan tea
  • 1st Place for 2012 spring Jin Xuan tea

To be clear, our teas are not from the competition winning batches of tea, but are from competition-grade batches tea processed in the same manner by the same tea farm for the spring competition. (Competition-grade teas are made with the utmost care and with more  attention to detail over the usual production methods because they will be entered into the competition). So these teas are in the top tier of deliciousness, so lucky us, lucky you!

Why not just sell the winning teas? Because the winners of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards sell the remainder of the batch of award winning tea to collectors and wealthy tea fanatics for very, very high prices. And those who understand the market in Taiwan for high quality gao shan know that this can mean many hundreds of dollars….spent in an instant by wealthy tea collectors, businessmen, and corporations.

However, all of the tea from the award winning tea farms is highly desirable in that year and in future years to come, so we are THRILLED to have these extraordinary teas from this farm for the pleasure of our gao shan customers.

How the competition works.

To enter the competition, tea is submitted in batches of 12 kilos per for judging. As many batches as desired may be entered.

Several thousand entries vie for placement in these competitions, which are conducted for the spring harvest and again for the winter harvest. This particular competition is for semiball-rolled teas produced exclusively in the Alishan tea district. The fresh leaf must be plucked from tea bushes that are grown on local tea farms, and the leaf must be processed by local tea makers.

Each competing tea farm and tea factory will make tea many batches of tea over the course of several days prior to the start of the competition. The methodology will be the same for each batch of tea they produce, but each batch will be slightly different one to another, as the tea made each day can never be exactly the same as the tea made the day before or after.

Businessmen and customers, as well as the tea makers themselves, can select their favorite batch of tea and enter it into the competition. Most tea farms will have several batches of tea entered on their behalf.

The Agriculture Council forms a panel of knowledgeable tea specialists to evaluate all of the tea that has been entered. Judges scrutinize the tea to see how it conforms to the norm for its regional type in both appearance and flavor. This means evaluating:

  • the size of each ball of tea
  • the shape and the tightness of the roll
  • the color of dry leaf
  • the aroma of the dry leaf
  • the color and clarity of the tea liquor
  • the aroma of the liquor
  • the initial taste and returning flavor of the liquor
  • the appearance of the tea leaves after steeping

For the teas that make it through the preliminary stages (more than 50% of the tea entered does not make it beyond this point) each tea is judged thusly:

  • 20% is based on the appearance of the dry leaf
  • 20% is based on the appearance of the tea liquor
  • 20% is based on the aroma of the tea and the wet leaf
  • 30% is based on taste
  • 10% is based on the appearance of the wet leaf after steeping

( FYI…this criteria is the same that we here at Tea Trekker use to evaluate each and every tea we are considering purchasing. We learned to conduct comparative tasting from our colleagues in China years ago. We always learn so when we taste and compare a series of similar teas from the same region).

First, second and third places  awards will have only one winner. Fourth place and up (upwards to seventh place ) will be awarded to multiple winners.

The top three teas will each be packed in special container and sealed with a stamp signifying the award and the win. The winning tea are sold at auction where there will be high and fast demand to purchase these teas as well as all of the remaining tea from that producer in that season.

For those who wish to have their own comparison gao shan tasting, we have some remaining stock of 2011 winter gao shans from Alishan and Shan Lin Xi. With only two plucks a year – winter and spring – each season brings its own qualities to the tea and there is much debate about which is more flavorful and more aromatic. All tea lovers look for and appreciate different characteristics in the cup, so compare and discover which you prefer!

For more details, please visit our Taiwan gao shan oolong page or Taiwan oolong page at www.teatrekker.com