I can't describe how excited I was to receive October's Global Tea Taster's shipment from the International Tea Farms Alliance this past weekend. This quarter's featured growing region is Taiwan, with several unique Oolong offerings and a tea that's called a Ruby Black, described as an Assam plant varietal. The Oolongs arrived just in time to help me nurse a sore throat and put my new rustic gaiwan through it's inaugural paces.
Immediately I opened the Goe Tea "super-fermented" oolong. My experiences with oolong up to this point have been with light-to-medium oxidized varieties such as Tie Guan Yin, so I was expecting (in my naivete) that a higher degree of fermentation would mean perhaps a flavor that approached black tea. For oolongs, a high degree of fermentation is typically described as something between 40-80%, so there's a lot of leeway or room for interpretation.
There's a bit more information and better quality pictures of this tea on Goe Tea farm's blog. (Note, I've linked to a translated version of the site from its original Chinese text. You may have better success viewing it in your preferred translation browser). Per the information supplied in the shipment, the word Goe refers to the "ancient" and farmer Alfredo De Lim balances an emphasis on traditional and local with the accessibility of the modern web, as one of the first to offer his tea direct to consumers through the Goe web site. Though it's important to note that there is not an English site at this time.
The occasion called for a gong-fu steeping method. Oolongs typically involve more of the senses, being large-leaf, textured, brothy, and floral. Gongfu simply means using a larger amount of dry leaf in a smaller amount of water at shorter steeps and steeping in succession. You tend to be able to pick up more of the nuance of the tea, good or bad, with each respective steep as the leaves begin to open further. It was the perfect method for coping with the seasonal "crud" and I felt better after my tea session was done.
My first steep was around 45 seconds to 1 minute and WOWSA. I was surprised. It had a sencha-like quality that I wasn't prepared for. In a good way. I enjoy senchas, but my palate was preparing for something more astringent and floral. Instead there was a buttery, vegetal sip with floral topnotes. Fresh and intriguing. Completely turned my expectation on its ear. Very savory.
The second steep was for 2 minutes. This time the vegetal-buttery flavor took a backseat and the floral came through. It was slightly more astringent, but still smooth, with a brothy texture that was just what my ailing throat needed.
In the cup, it's a dark, bright yellow. The picture I took doesn't really do the color much justice, you'll find better example on Goe's blog page linked above.
Very complex for an oolong. Its character changed with each successive steep in a way that I hadn't noticed in previous oolong varieties. If you prefer oolongs for their floral quality, you may want to try a regular steeping method or do a quick rinse of the leaves to get to that level "first." But if you like variety and nuance, you definitely want to try this gong-fu style and appreciate the initial savory notes.
As you can see, the leaves are nice and whole and I probably had a few more steep's worth that I could have drawn out from this heaping tablespoon, but rest and recoupment called me away from my tea session. The picture above was taken after just the second steep.