TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

October 22, 2009

Reviews: Loose leaf versus cube

Filed under: exotic tea,food,oolong tea,tea — by JanisB @ 12:22 pm
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TeaSource Ti Kuan Yin oolongs

Retail and wholesale

Stock photos

Oolong teaI don’t think I could live without oolong tea. Almost every morning there’s oolong in my cup. Occasionally, for variety, I might have a white tea, but the next day I’m back to my oolongs.

A lot of people seem to like strong, “trot a mouse” tea to jump start their morning, but I prefer to ease into the day with a rich yet gentle oolong.

And not just any oolong. You’ll rarely find me sipping a dark-roasted or a “peachy” oolong. No, what I like are the greener “floral” oolongs or pouchongs. Extra credit if it’s not just floral but orchid-y.

A few years ago we visited Pennsylvania’s beautiful Longwood Gardens. As we stepped into one room of their exquisite greenhouse, I closed my eyes, inhaled the aroma, and spoke just one word: oolong! When I opened my eyes I saw that I was in their orchid room. Orchids of all kinds, enveloping the visitor in an ethereal blanket of orchid-oolong aroma. It was heavenly.

I also like unusual teas — amongst my favourites are Georgia and Nepal teas, which a lot of people have never even heard of, much less sampled. When I read on Teamail that TeaSource was offering a Ti Kuan Yin in a compressed cube shape, I wanted to give it a try.

OolongThe tea arrives four to a package, with the leaves pressed into a “cube” of about 1-1/2 by 1/2 inch. Leaves are quite large and in a variety of shades of green, ranging from a dark forest green to a light, almost silvery green.

The folks at TeaSource kindly tucked in a sample of their Ti Kuan Yin Special oolong, this one in loose leaf form. This morning I did a cup-to-cup comparison of the two.

In the package, both teas exhibited a gentle floral aroma. (I always sniff dry teas in their sacks or tins; I find that the aroma is more concentrated.) Each was prepared in a small clay pot dedicated to oolongs, and served in “modified gong-fu” style; i.e., two or more steepings of the same leaves are transferred to a serving vessel. Today these were two-cup Chatsford teapots, each snuggled into a wraparound tea cozy.

OolongBrita-filtered water was heated to a full boil in the electric kettle, then cooled to “fish-eye” temperature for rinsing off the leaves before the first infusion. Leftover water in the kettle after the first tea was prepared was discarded, and the kettle refilled with fresh water.

Having prepared the cubed tea previously, I was familiar with the needed proportion, and broke off half of a cube and placed it into the clay pot. Following the rinse, the first infusion was about twenty seconds, and the second infusion about forty seconds long.

I placed what looked to me to be a similar amount of loose leaves into the pot — my eye was apparently pretty good because the spent leaves filled the clay pot almost exactly to the extent that the cubed leaves did.

The teas were served and sipped alternatingly in a glass handleless cup.

The cubed tea is light and floral, a highly enjoyable cup, although a more generic floral. The loose leaves, on the other hand, evolved from a light floral to a very much orchid floral, with this same “catch in your throat” quality continuing through the finish. Two very good oolongs, but in the quest for orchid, the loose leaf Special oolong wins out over the novel-tea of the cube.

OolongOne last tasting note: It was obvious that both teas were capable of producing at least two more infusions beyond my experiment. Two infusions from each tea were decanted to a larger four-cup Chatsford pot. The blend of these two teas is, happily, dominated by the orchid factor in the Special. It is a wonderfully smooth blend, so good that I may have to order more of each to recreate it.

The cubes are interesting for anyone who likes to try something new and different in their teacup, and it really is a very good floral oolong. For those who prefer the full orchid quality in their oolong, the Special is the one you’ll want.

TeaSource recently updated their packaging. The new sacks are black with a beautiful image of a variety of tea leaves, and there’s a clear strip on the back so you can see what’s inside without introducing a lot of light into the tea. I think you’ll like these new packages as much as I do!

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1 Comment »

  1. The cube of Tie Kuan Yin might be designed for aging. Oolongs have the possibility of aging well though it’s not done nearly as often as the aging of Puerh, the tea that is usually compressed like that.

    Comment by Jason Witt — November 15, 2009 @ 5:07 pm |Reply

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