First, I want to thank you guys for introducing me to Floating Leaves. It's joining Jing Tea Shop, Tea Habitat, and a very few others as one of my very favorite sources for tea.
Apologies for the length of this post, but I've been thinking about Taiwanese oolongs a lot lately.
So: Taiwanese High Mountain oolong is where I came of age, with tea. It was my second love. My first love (a sort of passing crush) was the green stuff, but, 14 years ago, before the current Internet Era of Awesome Tea, the stuff I got was never that great. My second love I found in Los Angeles, 10 years ago, when I wandered into Ten Li (still around, still excellent) outside of Little Saigon and had the tea lady that ran the shop make for me, for the first time, gong fu tea, out of a well-worn yixing pot, with freshly, just-harvested, spring Taiwanese high mountain oolong. It was like a bolt through my tender young brain - I freaked out and went crazy and loved it. High mountain was what I settled on for a long time, and where I really learned to *brew*.
Anyway, I sourced it for a while from Ten Li and Atlantic Valley & Tea, both stores in Asian parts of town in Los Angeles, both great. Then I found teafromtaiwan (I think even before he had that website name), and for about 6 years, that was my high mountain supplier of choice.
The stuff from Floating Leaves is the first High Mountain that I've loved as much or more than the teafromtaiwan stuff. One of the things I love is how *distinct* the aesthetics are between the two shops. This sort of thing happens when a shop is basically run by one person, who goes wandering around the tea farms, buying what they *love*. What they are, what they love about tea, how they think tea should be, shows up in their every choice.
Both Floating Leaves and teafromtaiwan's tea selections clearly come from a particular distinctive palate, a particular sensitivity, and a particular set of choices. If I had to summarize, I'd say: teafromtaiwan's teas are a little earthier, simpler, and with more of a physical mid-punch. They tingle more, they hit you more, and they roar a little more. Floating Leaves teas are more refined, delicate, and well-defined. teafromtaiwan's stuff is like... comfort food. Melded, large, warming flavors. Floating Leaves stuff is... always so precise, and clear, with a sort of articulate high-end. Floating Leaves is crystal perfection, teafromtaiwan always has a bit of burr in the throat, an extra bit of honey. If a teafromtaiwan tea is missing anything, it tends to be from the complexity in the higher range of flavors. If Floating Leaves is missing anything, it's... you know, a touch of nice booty.
Floating Leaves tea makes me feel like I'm holding (or maybe licking) a cool, perfect jade statue. teafromtaiwan makes me feel like I just ate some caffeinated fried chicken. Floating Leaves stuff makes me feel clear, precise, like I've just skimmed across the Form of Perfect Beauty. teafromtaiwan stuff makes me feel warm and happy and fuzzy inside. This is overexaggerated, and oversimplified, but perhaps in the direction of truth.
If teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald.
Some tasting notes from recent Floating Leaves teas, from a recent order, while they're fresh in my mind. (All done in a gaiwan, typically 10s to 15s early brews, though the baozhongs seem to like longer infusions, a little):
2009 Spring Lishan: Smelling the dry leaves: wow, smells like asparagus! Smelling the wet leaves: jesus, it smells exactly like raw asparagus! Tasting the early brewings: jesus-wow, it tastes eerily like raw asparagus. Smelling and tasting the later brewings: man, it tastes a lot like... cooked asparagus!
Very vegetal, very clear, super-refined high end, cool and reserved, maybe missing something around the big-sweet-butt part of oolong. Shocking, eerily asparagus like, with that fresh-cut-grass thing. Will be a super-big favorite for people that really like things that taste exactly like other things. Seems to go to about 7-8 great brewings, then falls off quickly.
2009 Spring DaYuLing: I got this tea wrong at first. I thought it was *too* refined, *too* clear. I figured out that it wants more tea in the gaiwan than other oolongs. Also, I figured out I just wasn't paying enough attention. This is a *perfect* High Mountain Oolong, and perhaps the most representative of her taste, as opposed to the teafromtaiwan dude's taste. It is crystal clear, completely balanced, this sort of delicate, knit flavor that connects from the highest to the lowest taste range. It is a single, pure, glowing green thing.
The texture is my favorite, too. There's one of Imen's teas that my buddy Ira says feels like melted pearl. This has it, and has it in spades. This kind of thick, smooth, cooler-than-silk, lovely thing going on.
It just *glows*.
And it goes for a *lot* of brews.
A kind of astounding, *necessary* tea.
2009 Spring He Huan Shan: where the Lishan smells and tastes like asparagus, this smells and tastes like really good spinach. Warmer than the Lishan, with more malty sweetness and in the bottom end, less defined on top. Little astringent, little fuzzy. I don't love this, but I really appreciate it.
2009 Spring Farmer's Choice Baozhong: for about 3 years, I drank as much baozhong as all other teas put together (mostly from Atlantic Valley Tea, in San Gabriel, CA). This one strikes me as a little... insipid. There's a nice, pearly honey smoothness, but it sort of lacks definition or life. The aroma is similarly pleasant, but lacking.
2009 Spring Honorable Mention Baozhong: I like this more than the Farmer's choice, but not by a lot more. A little burrier and warmer, and a little more density in the aroma, but also a little simple for me.
2009 2nd Place Baozhong: certainly the best Baozhong I've ever had,
and perhaps one of my favorite teas. It's... stunning. Very
electrically alive from top to bottom, with a very gentle sweet and
just radiant highs. Delicate and so... precise. It has that white tea
light-tingle-on-the-tongue thing. It's very electrical. And it's *so* delicate, *so* precise, *so* many particular little winding clear flavors in the high end.
This one feels most like a perfect porcelain statue of a beautiful woman's face. With high cheekbones.
This made me and my buddy Ira both think of sencha. It has the same super-vegetal grassy thing going on, but where my favorite sencha is ultra-thin one-note crisp, this is kind of expanded and balanced out through everything.
Incidentally, this is almost 3 times more expensive then the previous two baozhongs, but I had to use *half as much leaf* for a satisfying brew, and, besides, the brew was this uplifting thing of pure glory.
2009 Spring Oriental Beauty: I don't know a lot about Oriental Beauty, and I've only tried this once. The first few steeps were pretty blatantly roasty, but on my way out the door to teach, I threw the half-spent leaves in a pot for a 3 minute western-style brew for my thermos, and what I got was really warm, malty, totally chill-and-drinkable thing. I see why this was all popular in Britain - it's very black-tea-plus.
2009 Taiwan Wuyi: This is one of the best values I've ever had. $5 an ounce? For stuff this good? Completely awesome! I went back before the sale ended and loaded up.
It's definitely halfway between the Taiwanese aesthetic and the mainland aesthetic. It's got the minerality, the roastiness and toastiness, but it's also got some tingling, vegetal life. It's less narrow than the mainland oolongs, it has more sweetness and citrus and bigness. Coppery and citrus-zesty. Totally great.
The first thought I had when I smelled the dry leaves was, "Wow, freshly popped buttered popcorn." Also, wet: hemp. Definitely hemp.
If mainland Wuyi is the old, skinny, wizened man of oolongs, then this is his younger, brasher, crasser, more fun-loving nephew. Or possibly niece. She may play basketball.
Last note: I just got a shipment in from Stephane, of Teamasters. Mostly the order was for some yixing pots, but I picked up his spring 2009 jinxuan. His blog says something like: "I hate most jinxuan, and it's cheap and crass, and mostly grown for mass-market, but if you treat it with care, you can get something special. This is special." I thought: "I hate most jinxuan too! Therefore, I must try this!"
It turns out to be completely incredible.
It's hard to describe - it's a very knit-together flavor, but it has life, it has glow, it has definition, it has warmth, it has the perfect cheekbones and the sway of the hips. It's vegetal and honey and malty and it has some burr in the throat.
I haven't had any of his other teas, but if this is an indication of his aesthetic, than he may the closest to my own particular tastes. If Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald, and teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, then Stephane's stuff is somewhere in the vicinity of Sarah Vaughan, or perhaps Billie Holiday.
Last edited by moot
on Sep 8th, '09, 16:10, edited 2 times in total.