While the New York City streets are piled up with snow, it's a good excuse to stay indoors and finally have some of the tea we brought back from Taiwan. Things were so busy for me, I haven't even had a chance to open my tin of Oriental Beauty until now.
While I made myself a cup of this richly fragrant oolong, I looked over my photos of the trip:
We were lucky enough to have an audience with Master Shu, a tea master that specializes in Oriental Beauty in ShinChu Province. He had just completed his winter harvest and had a rare moment to sit down with us. When we got to his teashop, he was in the middle of roasting the last of his harvest and asked that we start our tasting at a table where several of his teas had been brewed competition style.
We were handed cups and ladled the tea into the our cups with a porcelain soup spoon. The tea was room temperature but the sweet perfume of the tea would cling to the spoon and the edge of our cups. Michael and Winnie dove right in. At first I was concerned that tasting so many teas at once would make it difficult for me to remember which ones I liked and for what reason. While all were delicious a couple stood out above the rest and the choice was easier than I thought. There was also a unanimous agreement within our little group over the favorites. This was one we all really liked.
Master Shu finally emerged from the roasting room and invited us to sit at his table. One got the impression of limitless energy barely contained in this genial man. We discussed the teas we sampled and he made some fresh pots for us to taste.
Michael sampling teas.
We must have tried over twenty varietials of Oriental Beauty. Because that much tea can really lower one's blood sugar, Master Shu served trays of peanuts he roasted himself.
We ate and drank, tasting the results of different elevations, parentage, and the age of the trees. We examined the wet leaves still steaming from the hot water and dissected the lingering aromas. Some were delicate and pale with high notes that evaporated at the back of the throat. Others were juicy and robust with candy-like perfumes. As the hours went by, conversation drifted from teas to politics, we had arrived in the last week of election campaigns. (We also had a chance to visit the roasting room but I've been asked not to post photos.) Master Shu talked about his gardens, the changes he was witnessing in the climate and the smaller harvests he and his fellow tea growers were experiencing. They noted fewer leafhoppers, those insects that feed on the tea trees and are vital to the unique taste of Oriental Beauty. It was a somber note of uncertainty but he also focused on the pleasure his tea brings and generously brewed cup after cup of his harvests. Winnie took copious notes on the ones that caught our interest. We settled on two for the Tea Gallery and purchased a little extra for ourselves. One came from some old trees that get cut back to preserve their longevity and is only harvested every other year (Oriental Beauty - Special Harvest). The other was harvested from a small garden that grows by a mountain stream (Oriental Beauty - Sweet Water). (Both are available as a sampler pack on our site).
Back in New York I have more than memories of that visit, I have the tea from Master Shu's gardens and now I have a little time to sit and enjoy this tasty find. Toki of The Mandarin's Tea reviewed our Special Harvest so I brewed some of the Oriental Beauty - Sweet Water.
A chance to examine the dried leaf closely:
Delicate, wiry stems hold twisted leaves with mahogany and copper hues with bluish tints. Feathery, silver buds are threaded throughout. The aroma is soft with a little apricot. Once the leaves are rinsed, that famous fragrance pours out of my gaiwan and lingers above my tea table; a bouquet of tropical fruit and antique roses. The first cup is mouthwatering sweet and soft with a hint of grapes. The flavor of ripe fruit and orchid gets deeper and bolder with each steep. A malted sweetness sinks into the taste buds. Each cup delivers a round body with a fine texture that leaves a velvet coating in the mouth. By the 6th cup, the aroma and taste soften and become less complex. I pour some more water over the leaves and let it steep for a few minutes. The first sip of the last cup is bittersweet. Still delicious with a trace of exotic flora but there's an edge of finality and the end to my blissful reprieve from the world.