Thursday, October 02, 2014

2014 Vertical Tea Tasting: Falling into Tea

It's been decided that this fall, J-TEA will conduct a series of tea tasting events in which we plan to drink several teas from the J-Tea collection, but in a different way than many of you might have experienced in the past. This is a vertical tasting, meaning that all of the teas to be tasted will be in the same category. We already compared six of the high mountain green oolongs and it was a blast. Next up is roasted oolongs. Additional tastings featuring Formosa, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Aged Oolong, Cooked Puer, and Raw Puer will be scheduled soon. The vertical tea tasting series might just take us right through the winter. In the interest of identifying particular flavors we will do our best to pull it off.

It's our hope that this series with help us understand what creates a flavor that we particularly enjoy and that you will find a tea or two that you are especially fond of and might not have previously known about.

Vertical tea tastings involve tasting teas that, by their categorization, are similar. Currently it's my opinion that this is one of the more important aspects of tea to study. For instance, how are two teas grown in the Dong Ding region similar or different and what factors contribute?

A couple of weeks ago we completed the first of our vertical tea tastings. We drank six high mountain green oolong teas. The teas were largely similar, with minor differences.

Here are the teas we tasted last time:

Spring Lily Spring 14 – A golden lily (jin xuan) varietal. Spring harvest Mei Shan Mountain, on the shoulder of Mt Ah Li. High mountain, approximately 1,200 meters.

Shan Lin Xi Winter 13 –A green heart (qing xin) varietal. Higher elevation, approximately 1,600 meters, Shan Lin Xi, Nantou Central Taiwan winter harvest.

Shan Lin Xi Winter 14 – Same as above, but 2014 vs. 2013.

Tai He First Stop Spring 13 – A green heart (qing xin) varietal. Grown on the back side of Mt. Ah Li, Approximately 1500 meters, spring harvest.

Tai He Sun Spring 13 – Same as the one above, but different farm and different processor.
Tai He Sun tea farm at harvest time.

Picking the fresh buds on the Tai He side of Mt. Ah Li.

Cui Ran Spring 13 – A green heart varietal grown at approximately 1800 meters, in the Li Shan mountain range, far from oceanic influence, Spring harves.

I gave participants some criteria to consider when evaluating the teas. We use the senses eyes, nose, and taster to evaluate...

Difference between winter and spring harvest
Difference between 2013 and 2014
Difference between golden lily (jin xuan) and green heart (qing xing)
Difference of elevation
Degree of oxidation
Degree of roast
Differences caused by processing

It’s fun to taste teas in the vertical format in an organized tasting with others. Last time, with the high mountain greens, people noticed the differences between the teas, although they were subtle. We used a standardized brew method in which we used 3g of each tea, brewed in the Jian Ding Bei (150ml) boiling water, and steeped for 5 minutes. Each person had an individual bowl of tea to ladle tea from with the white porcelain spoon into the small drinking cups. The spoons can then be used for smelling the aroma of the tea. The empty porcelain spoon, once having been dipped into the tea, retains the scent of the tea. It's strange, but it works. It's as if the scent sticks to the spoon.

When asked to pick a favorite, the participants grumbled for a bit and almost all of them had a different opinion. Exciting! No clear favorite. Some participants liked the Spring Lily best, some like the Shan Lin Xi Winter '13 best, some liked the Cui Ran best, and some liked the Tai He (both of them) best.

A few days after high mountain green oolong tasting, two guests returned to request that we have the next vertical tasting on a Friday. Apparently some people have trouble going to sleep after drinking copious amounts of tea. And for that reason, we are doing the vertical roasted oolong tasting on Friday, 10/10 from 6 to 8 pm. In order to help us prepare for the class, we are asking people to sign up in advance. If you would like to sign up, call or stop in the tea house on Friendly Street (541) 357-5492.

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