Last weekend I bought some Golden Xuan Oolong, by Red & Green Company at Kobo at Higo on Jackson Street in the International District in Seattle. (Note: Their website is a nuisancy Flash site which is attractive, but takes about a century and a half to load pages and contains very little useful information on products.) The shop is more of an artsy Japanese gift store/ceramics gallery than anything else and this is one of only about 4-6 varieties of tea that they sell, undoubtedly because of its perfectly designed packaging more than anything else. It was the very lovely clay container that caught my attention in the first place, but when I opened it the smell was so exquisite I was compelled to buy it. The smell is floral, but also dark and reminiscent of peach-pits. Ironically, the store has samples of their small selection of teas in small presentation dishes sitting in front of the teas for sale, but they are completely flavorless, having lost everything in exposure to air.
This is the company’s description of the Golden Xuan:
Fujian Province: Many consider this fermented tea the finest of all ooling varieties. Its amber color, creamy flavor and flowery aroma intoxicates the senses. The tea grows on ridges and hills surrounded by winding springs and cool mists. Brew in spring water at boiling temperature for 3-4 minutes. 75gm/clay jar
The lesson learned in experiencing this tea is that there is a significant variation in results depending on choices of tools and materials used in the gongfu method of tea preparation. My assumption was that this darker oolong should be prepared and served in yixing clay. After pouring some of the tea into the presentation bowl I had some trepidation over the greenness of it, fearing that it may be better suited to porcelain, but I figured that it would be a good experiment to prepare it both ways and compare.
#1: The initial infusion was slightly bitter, but not terribly so. It seemd a bit muddled, confirming my suspicions that this tea would be better prepared in a porcelain gaiwan. It was quite good, but seemed to be performing beneath what it was capable of.
#2: The second infusion was slightly acidic and much more flavorful, and a beautiful golden yellow. It was floral, but more reminiscent of the leaves of flowers than flowers themselves.
#3: As with nearly all teas I have had prepared using the gongfu method, the third infusion was the most pleasurable. It had a sweeter taste and a lovely yellow color. I would be tempted to describe it as sun on dead leaves.
#4: The fourth infusion was stronger, with a slight bitterness, as if moving up towards the upper parts of the flower.
#5: This infusion was a darker yellow in color with a darker, subtler sweet aroma.
#6: The sixth infusion was not bad, but the dry throat feel confirmed that the tea was done.
After the final infusion the leaves of seemingly 14 tea plants were extracted from the tiny teapot. I do not believe that too many leaves were used thus resulting in the bitterness, but this is a vastly expanding tea. The spent leaves had an unexciting smell – like leaves, but not specifically like tea leaves.
Later that same day I decided to try this tea again, using the porcelain set pictured above, which is much better suited to it. The color of the tea appeared much greener, but can not be compared to the color using the other method as it was viewed in blue as opposed to white-lined cups.
#1: It was revealed in the first infusion that there was a marked increase in the complexity of the flavor of the tea. It was pleasantly sweet and fresher tasting. The muddled and lost sense when it had been made in the yixing pot was no longer present and the true nature of this very wonderful tea was brought out.
#2: The mouth feel of the second infusion was stronger, with a slightly bity acidic taste to it, but this did not diminish the pleasure of drinking it.
#3: The third infusion was less floral with more of a hay-like flavor. It had a strong and very interesting after-taste with an enjoyable grassy bitterness to it.
#4: The fourth infusion was more flavorful and more floral, with more tang in the aftertaste. There was no longer any bitterness to the taste.
#5: The fifth had a very full flavor, with again no bitterness. There was a definite increase in the coherence of the flavors.
#6: As with the other method, the sixth infusion declared itself the last with a strong back-of-throat dryness nearly overpowering the lovely flavor of the tea. The lingering aftertaste of this tea was nice and lasted quite some time.
I recommend this tea enthusiastically. The initial smell of it in the store hinted of its potential and it did not disappoint. My experiment with the different tea sets also allowed me to learn why greener oolongs should not be served in yixing, a mistake I will not make again.