Wow…. those monkeys have been working overtime again. Thanks boys, for rushing this delicious tea to us; it is perfect for late-afternoon sipping on a warm fall day just before the cool of the evening settles in.
Kidding aside, those of you who follow this blog know that I love the monkey-picked yarn, but a yarn it is. For more on that, please read my blog posting on November 25, 2008.
Nevertheless, it’s time for the 2009 Anxi Wild-Grown Monkey-Picked Tieguanyin oolong. We decided to up the wow-factor this year and search for a wild-grown version of this tea. Wild-picked teas are teas that are plucked from bushes that are allowed for the most part to grow ‘wild’ without much human intervention.
These tea bushes are not pruned or cultivated as most tea bushes in most tea gardens are, but are instead allowed to grow as nature intended plants grow: wild, rangy and with a shape and habit all their own. Often, a wild garden is the result of the plants being located in an isolated or hard to reach place, in which case the plants are able to grow quite tall. Plucking is relegated to once a year in the late spring.
As tea enthusiasts know, no two Tieguanyin teas will ever be the same from producer to producer. In fact, this is a true statement for all tea, and fortunately so. Exact duplicity of flavor should be reserved for white bread and processed cheese, not premium, hand-made artisan tea. Too many variables, including human skills and judgement, make duplicity impossible. These are a few of the major variables that come into play for oolong tea:
- terroir ( location, climate and weather)
- tea bush variety or cultivar (or age and condition of the plants when the variety is all the same )
- the specificity of the pluck ( what leaf or configuration of leaf is plucked )
- the amount of withering the fresh leaf undergoes
- the degree of oxidation
- the integrity of the leaf manufacture and how many of the steps of processing utilize hand-skills, such as rolling
- roasting / no roasting
- aging/ new crop tea
We loved this Tieguanyin because it is soft in style yet vividly floral and mouth-filling. It is a semi-ball rolled modern-style oolong oxidized in the range of 25-40%, which is much less than the usual range of 35-65% oxidation for semi-ball rolled traditional teas. The leaves are loosely-rolled balls that are very uniform in size, and the tea has not been roasted.
The color of the leaf is dark green tinged with highlights of gold. During several repeated short steepings the color of the infusion will vary as the flavor is slowly drawn out. Initially the liquor will be light and clear, and then it will darken with each infusion. After the leaves have given up all of its flavor it will return to a pale, clear brew. Both color and flavor rise and fall in appropriate anticipation and expectation.