Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review


Owes its flavors to oxidation levels between green & black tea.

Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby debunix » Mar 24th, '11, 00:54

Long time, no oolong discussion!

Alishan High Mountain Taiwanese Oolongs from Norbu
March 2011

I thought I had set aside unopened packages of each of these to use in this comparison tasting, but realized that I'd twice dipped into the collection at some point in the past few months, and hadn't dated when the packages were opened.

1) Ali Shan High Mountain Beauty Summer 09
(freshly opened for the tasting)

2) Alishan High Mountain Oolong Winter Harvest 2009
(package already opened, date unclear)

3)2010 Spring Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong*
(package already opened, date unclear)

4) 2010 Spring Ali Shan "Tsou Ma Fei"*
(freshly opened for the tasting)


5) 2010 Winter Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong - 1,200m Elev.
(freshly opened for the tasting)


Image
Teas tasted by debunix, on Flickr

*Because there was such a marked difference in the teas, I stopped comparing the 2nd (Winter 2009) and 3rd (Spring 2010) after the first infusion, because I can't be sure what changes are due to their having been opened.

2.5 grams of tea in the medium gaiwans with about 75mL water (2.5 oz) per infusion, water 200-210 degrees

Image
Dry leaves by debunix, on Flickr

Sweet smelling, peas & grass, tightly rolled green leaves

Image
Liquors by debunix, on Flickr

First infusion 45 seconds, no rinse, all liquors yellow, but the first two--the summer and winter 2009 harvest--were a little orange in tone, and the other three a little more green

1 this one is VERY distinct today--unbelievably sweet, rich, deep, floral
2 sweet, floral, spicy, but none of the amazing deepness of the high mountain beauty, and really lacking the high notes
3 basically, the same as 2
4 sweet, rich, floral, spicy undertones
5 very hard to separate from 4--equally sweet, rich, floral, spicy undertones

I think I 'get' the difference now between the summer high mountain beauty and the others, the difference triggered by the bug bites, and wish I'd tossed a few more packets of this into my last order from Norbu. (Here's hoping no one reads this and a few of them are waiting for me when I next order!) As noted above, the previously opened teas were markedly inferior to the others, so I stopped comparing them to the others at this point (they were not wasted, used to brew up a bulk thermos of tea for the rest of the morning).

Second infusion about 45 seconds again

Still tasting that strong difference between the high mountain beauty and the other two: it is perhaps a little nuttier, reminds me of mahleb, a middle eastern spice made from the pit of a black cherry, a flavor similar to but not quite the same as almond extract. It also coats the tongue a little more strongly than the other two. The winter 2010 is a little more sprightly vegetal, a little greener, than the Tsou ma fei, but the difference is very subtle. It is the first time in a while that I have compared the Alishan oolongs together, and such a delight to enjoy them in this depth.

Third infusion, about 1 minute, and they smell so good. The taste differences are there in the color and the scent--that warm nutty roundness, a hint of overripe peaches in the summer beauty, a more delicate floral note in the winter tea, and something in between in the Tsou ma fei. I hate saying the Tsou ma fei is just 'in between' the other two, because that seems to suggest it is 'lesser' than the others. It's just that it has no unique flavor that is stronger or more distinct than the other two--it has a hint of the mahleb/peach of the high mountain beauty, but also a little more of the floral/vegetal/sprightly flavor like the winter tea. And it is fabulous.

4th infusion, about a minute and a half, the sweetness is fading a tiny fraction, but otherwise the flavors are still the same, and the difference between them holds up. I am drinking this infusion with a buttermilk biscuit and nectarine jam for breakfast, and they synchronize fabulously, oh my, yes.

Image
Tea with jam and bread by debunix, on Flickr

Pleased tastebuds, contented stomach, slightly tea-drunk brain: happy camper, me.

(later)

Woke up the leaves for a 5th and 6th infusion, 2 and 3 minutes apiece, delicious, the sweet floral nature diminished as expected by this point, and a rich spiciness and astringency to the fore. Still the differences between them remain--the essential character of the three teas are persisting even to this point.

The 7th infusion was weaker because I got impatient and didn't wait long enough. 8th was better again because I was more patient. The 9th shows that the leaves are done; even at 10 minutes, the infusion is weak, though still sweet, floral, pleasant.

Image
Wet leaves by debunix, on Flickr

The summer beauty leaves are smaller, and many do indeed have ragged-looking edges as though bitten

Image
Jassid-bitten? by debunix, on Flickr

And afterwards, this rather ambitious tasting led to quite a lot of gaiwan-washing: some used for brewing, some as tasting cups, a few extras being called into service as 'insulation' for later loooong infusions.

Image
Aftermath by debunix, on Flickr
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby tortoise » Mar 24th, '11, 12:27

Great spread, man!
Love dem ali shans.
Where did you find those gaiwan? I like them because they are decorated, but simply so.
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby debunix » Mar 24th, '11, 16:12

The gaiwans were from the brick and mortar Wing Hop Fung in LA Chinatown, $2.99 apiece. Last time I went, though, the price was up to $3.99 apiece. I have a bunch because I break them occasionally, and I want to have plenty just for occasions like this.
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby Herb_Master » Mar 24th, '11, 18:33

debunix wrote:(Here's hoping no one reads this and a few of them are waiting for me when I next order!)


I know this feeling - happy with something very good "let me tell my friends" - oops "maybe I should keep it to myself :lol: "

Fortunately a lot of my good stuff lately has been bought in B&M outlets in Malaysia :D
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby Herb_Master » Mar 24th, '11, 18:38

debunix wrote:The 7th infusion was weaker because I got impatient and didn't wait long enough. 8th was better again because I was more patient.


Deja Vu - again

Small / Tiny Pots and Gaiwans are great most of the time!

But when you are on a MISSION a larger infusion can keep you going until the next infusion is really ready.
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby fire_snake » Apr 3rd, '11, 12:23

What a great set up.

What's the capacity of these gaiwans?

I've been thinking about getting a big spread for tastings, probably from The Tea gallery.
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Re: Alishan oolongs from Norbu--a tasting and review

Postby debunix » Apr 3rd, '11, 12:44

They hold about 75 mL comfortably close to where the lid sits, and about 100 mL to the brim.

They're cheap, cute, and great for reproducibility during tastings like this. I use this size often for brewing if I'm going to sit or work near the kettle for a while, but I use larger gaiwans or pots when I want more of a single tea at one time.
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