Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ITFA October Shipment : T.T.E.S. #18 Ruby Black - Taiwan

Just when I thought I knew what to expect from most teas, this sampler of Taiwanese beauties from the ITFA Global Tea Taster's club arrives and my palate is thrown back to square one. This tea in particular has me nostalgic for the days when I was working in France and sampling different regional wines from time to time. It's simply tea leaves steeped in hot water, but the flavor has me tricked into thinking I'm drinking a mulled glass of spicy Cote du Rhone. Yes - it's that interesting!

Ruby Black, a.k.a. Sun Moon Lake Tea, also goes by it's technical moniker of Experimental Tea #18. Sort of like the naming of a hybrid apple or grape when a new taste is desired or a cutting made to improve hardiness, teas are also grown and tested against certain flavor characteristics. Ruby Black is a cultivar of the Assam variety of camelia sinesis. The Japanese are said to have brought the particular plant to Taiwan in the 1920's.

So what's an innocent little Assam doing in a place like Sun Moon Lake, Nantou, Taiwan?

Marvelous things, my friend.

First, notice how long these leaves are and how they appear to be hand-rolled or twisted.

Second, you might notice how there's a bit of a fruit aroma to the dry leaf. Not a citrus type of fruit. Grape, berry, and red fruits. "Wood fruits" as the French would say - the type of red and blue berries you'd find growing in a forest.

Being a black tea, it ideally steeps for about three minutes.

Taste: spice, "wood fruit," and a definite underpinning of the flavors you get in a typical Assam. A bit of malt. In some sips I even perceived a note of what I might characterize as tobacco or leather, though I've never smoked a cigar in my life.

If you're looking for a "manly" tea to serve to a mixed crowd of people, this would be a good choice. The wine snobs will find something to enjoy in it, and it's sweet "enough" without venturing into being a true fruit tea - the flavors are just implied rather than being overpowering. We're talking about a pure leaf black tea, after all.

This particular offering is produced by the YuanShiang tea farm, headed by Xu Du Jin Wan in Nantou county. (Again, the link to the farm's site is through a translation browser, the original site is in Chinese). There aren't many black teas produced in Taiwan due to the popularity of Oolongs, but this varietal is definitely a jewel in the crown. Wan has produced black teas for 30 years and has an impressive list of offerings on the farm's site that are worth checking out.

I do plan on adding this tea to my short list of cupboard "must-haves." It's just too interesting and at the same time so familiar to not enjoy it more often.


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