17-Year-Old Gong Ting Pu-erh

Our final "new" pu-erh is even older--it's a loose pu-erh sold to us as "17-year-old Menghai Dayi Gong Ting Pu-erh."  Like our unwrapped 2003 brick, this tea comes to us without formal packaging or pedigree, so we've got to take its provenance with a grain of salt and pay attention to our senses to determine its quality.  "Gong Ting" refers to the erstwhile tradition of the best teas being gifted to the Chinese imperial court.  Today, it's often used to describe loose cooked pu-erh of the smallest grade.  One look at the leaves of this tea and it seems to be a fair appellation--they're tiny!  The tea seems to be almost entirely composed of buds, too, which range from dark brown to golden in color.  I can see this grade being included in a blended cake, but it's hard to imagine a cake made of leaves this small--it seems like it wouldn't manage to stay together!

2003 Menghai Ripened Brick

Our next "new" pu-erh has actually got some age on it--it's a 250 gram brick from 2003.  Like our '09 7452 cake it's hard to start talking about this one without raising some common confusing aspects of the pu-erh experience.  For starters, the brick is called "Menghai," and as the last notes mentioned, this tea was created in Menghai county, Yunnan province, but not at Menghai Tea Factory.  Secondly, you can see that this cake is a different shape--indeed, it's not the standard 357 gram bing (disc-shaped cake) into which the majority of pu-erh is pressed; it's a 250 gram rectangular brick.  Though this shape is not the #1 norm, it's relatively common and 250g is the standard brick weight.  You may also notice that these bricks have no wrappers (aside from the bamboo wrapper that holds multiple bricks).

New Pu-erh! 2009 Menghai Factory 7452 Recipe

It's been quite a while since we've had new ripened (cooked) pu-erh offerings at Miro Tea; a few months ago we sold out of the last of our 2007 Chang Tai Red Crane cakes, and shortly after our 2006 International Tea Expo Memorial cakes disappeared--a lot of customers have asked after the teas, wondering when we'll be restocking them.  Sometimes the unfortunate thing about the aged pu-erh world is that once something is gone, it's really gone--our supplier sold out close to a year ago, so all we have of those two cakes is memories!  Fortunately, though, it's also an opportunity to try some new teas, thanks to our new partnership with Yunnan Sourcing!  We have three new (to us) ripened/cooked pu-erh cakes that are already available at Miro for your tasting pleasure--Jeannie has introduced a couple of them at our weekly tea tastings (Saturdays at 1 pm) and they've gone over quite well.

Charcoal Roasted Dong-Ding

Marching right along, it's my sensory pleasure to introduce one of my personal favorite tea types--Charcoal Roasted Dong-Ding.  Charcoal roasted Dong-Ding has become about as crucial to my everyday survival as Wuyi Yan Cha oolongs, and that's saying something!  Although we've recently had some really nice "contemporary"-style Dong Ding oolongs, I've still been hoping to get hold of some more traditionally roasted (with charcoal, rather than a baking machine) tea.  Though both methods will caramelize a tea's sweetness, a well-done charcoal roast adds both a note of roast as well as a dynamic connection with the earth that just isn't there when a machine is used--surely traditional Chinese medicine would favor traditional charcoal roasting because it adds the element of fire to the tea processing, which contributes balance.  Unfortunately even machine roasting isn't very fashionable right now and judges are choosing greener and greener teas as competition winners.  Combine this with the fact that charcoal roasting is a difficult skill that is being passed down to fewer and fewer tea masters and you can see how a good traditional Dong Ding is becoming harder to find and more expensive. 

Let me tell you--it's worth it.  This tea is an excellent example of a lighter charcoal-roasted Dong-Ding: the charcoal note is present in the tea flavor, but it doesn't dominate.  The tea's natural floral notes are still preserved but are made slightly acidic by the roast--the lively acidity is evident in the cup where the tea liquor starts out light orange but darkens quickly as it cools down and interacts with the air.  The brewed leaves don't quite pop open as completely as green oolong, which is another sign of a healthy charcoal roast.  

It's too bad that charcoal roasted Taiwanese oolongs are becoming more difficult to find abroad--it's hard to understand how both green oolong and traditional oolong can't just coexist equally on their respective merits, but popularity ultimately determines the availability of a tea.  For now, at least, we can appreciate the best of both worlds!


Experimental Taiwanese "Da Hong Pao"

Here we have an even more unusual tea to continue with our selection of new Taiwanese oolongs.  Yes, you read the title correctly--this tea is billed as Taiwanese Big Red Robe.  But just how close is this tea to Fujian's most famous rock oolong?

My first question encountering this tea was "Which tea plant cultivar was used?"  After all, even in mainland China, there's quite a bit of disagreement as to which plant actually constitutes Da Hong Pao.  Our tea source revealed that the Taiwanese farmer who produced this tea actually used Buddha Hand leaves but processed them in the Da Hong Pao style.  I'm not exactly sure what this means, since I can't call to mind any other examples of Da Hong Pao coming from Taiwan, so it might be that the producer chose the mother of all marketing buzzwords to get people interested in her experimental tea.

Despite its tenuous claims to the title of "Da Hong Pao" this tea is certainly an exceptional experiment.  Though its name conjures ideas of roasted rock oolong, in reality it's closer to the Red Jinxuan we last featured.  I'd describe this tea as even closer to a black tea--the liquor is a deep crimson color and the leaves are even darker green with much more red present.  Compared with the Jinxuan, the liquor has a more present astringency in the finish, toward the back of the mouth.  What really surprised me in comparison with the Jinxuan was this tea's up-front fruity note.  Now knowing it's from the Buddha Hand cultivar, it's easier to understand, but even for Buddha Hand this is almost a punch-like fruitiness.  Apparently the processing includes organic treatment like our Oriental Beauty and Red Jinxuan, so perhaps there is also some leaf hopper effect happening as well.

This is an extremely interesting tea unlike any I've tasted before--we have a very limited quantity, so please stop by soon if you're interested in trying it out.


Red Jinxuan Oolong

Our next two teas are major departures from what's become the Taiwanese oolong norm.  First is this Red Jinxuan...oolong?  It's probably accurate to call it an oolong--probably more accurate is the appellation "Hong Shui" which refers to an older style of oolong processing that emphasizes high oxidation and lower roasting.  The party line is that this type of oolong processing has fallen out of fashion, but over the past couple of years I've been seeing more and more hong shui oolongs showing up online and at domestic Taiwan oolong suppliers.  

If you hang around Miro Tea, you've probably already seen or tried a Jinxuan oolong or two--it's become a popular cultivar in Taiwan for its yield and robust, creamy body.  This one's very different from the pellet-rolled, green examples we've had so far.  The leaf shape is almost like Baozhong, but it's pretty clear that the oxidation level is much higher.  The large, twisted leaves are almost black with a bit of light frost on the edges. 

According to our source, Drew, this tea is completely organically grown, like Oriental Beauty, and the leaf hopper insects' bites impart a sweetness into the end flavor.  Tasting the tea, I found it to be unlike the other Hong Shui oolongs I've tried.  It has an astounding mellowness--there is really no astringency to speak of, and the thick body coats the mouth almost immediately.  The flavor develops more after swallowing--it's not as up front as some teas.  The wet leaves are full of grainy notes and, when inspected, are fairly uniformly dark green (as opposed to our Oriental Beauty, which has that iridescence to it).  Still, there is a bit of redness on the stems and leaf edges that show the very high oxidation that this tea underwent.  With its mellowness and closeness in characteristics to black teas, I think this is a tea that might go down well with fans of our China Vintage Special black tea.


Three Other New(ish)-longs

Before we continue with the final three new-new-longs, it's time for a quick introduction of three we've been remiss in mentioning.  These teas, also supplied by Drew, have been enjoyed by Miro customers since mid-November.  They include two Dong-Ding oolongs and a High Mountain Baozhong.

The first Dong-Ding is called "Xiao Ban Tian," and it's the greener of the two.  This tea is an excellent option for those interested in branching out from our Lishan and Alishan oolongs; it's floral and full-bodied with less of a vegetal note than the Alishan and a bit more of a light fruity note than the Lishan.  As you can see in the above picture, the tightly-balled leaves have a nice coat of down, indicating they were plucked quite young.  As processing fashions change, I'm hard-pressed to identify what exactly defines a Dong-Ding as a Dong-Ding--I usually expect them to be more oxidized and roasted, but this is a solid high mountain oolong.  According to Drew, "Dong-Ding" can be fairly applied to any teas from the Lugu region, which clears up the confusion on the appellation but still leaves us unsure what to expect a Dong-Ding to taste like until we actually try it!

A Man and his Bike, in the Land of Oolong

Tea farm at the base of Alishan Mountain

Next in our series on Taiwanese winter oolongs at Miro Tea, we are going to introduce you to the man  behind the teas, my good friend Drew.  It is Drew who helps me locate the best oolongs of each season and makes sure we are always well-stocked with the highest quality Taiwanese oolongs that are most representative of each category.  I met Drew on my first day in college and to this day, he's the friend who doesn't let me live down certain events in my life that he had the fortune/misfortune to witness.  We should all be so lucky to have such a good friend.  In my first post, I had mentioned how a good friend was responsible for introducing me to what great tea was all about.  Well, that good friend was Drew.  He had already been studying and learning about teas long before I even met him and by the time we met, he demonstrated to me the variety of teas that existed outside of my limited knowledge of tea, at time, and introduced to me the concept of artisan teas, direct farmer sourcing and gung fu tea preparation. In my mind, the idea of Miro Tea was born the moment he served me that first cup of gorgeous delicious tea.

Since our college days, Drew left Seattle for warmer climates and settled down in Taiwan with his lovely wife Joyce, where they've established an envious life of teaching, exploring, and writing, as well as lots and lots of biking across the Taiwanese countryside.

Oriental Beauty

Certain teas are almost always identified by one easy-to-remember umbrella name, like Dragonwell or Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy).  There may be a more specific appellation to describe the tea plant cultivar or specific growing location, but the common name is always there.  Today's tea definitely doesn't fall into that category--alternately known as Bai Hao, Dongfang Mei Ren, Oriental Beauty and Fancy Formosa, it can be tough to tell just which name is "correct."

What's indisputable, though, is that Oriental Beauty (we're using its most common English handle) is a Taiwanese oolong like very few others.  Looking at the tea's close-up portrait above, you might even mistake it for a Darjeeling with its silvery tips and the leaves' rusty hue.  Indeed, the resemblance is remarkable (though a true tea sleuth would likely point to the presence of stems and the by-and-large unbroken condition of the leaves as evidence that it's not Darjeeling).  Still, the comparison rings true in some ways--the reddish color of the leaves gives away this tea's high oxidation--it's sometimes as high as 80%, which is treading mighty close to black tea territory.  It's also often unroasted and dried using an extended withering process.  Perhaps most interestingly, Oriental Beauty producers actually encourage a parasitic "leaf hopper" insect to bite the tea leaves--the insects' saliva produces a chemical response in the leaves that is absolutely crucial to achieving its hallmark flavor characteristics. 

Winter High Mt. Alishan Oolong

Introducing our next "new"-long, this is a High Mountain Alishan oolong.  It's been a while since we've had a fresh Alishan (our last one was the darker "Snowy" Alishan).  It's nice to have another option for those seeking a classic green high mountain alternative to our popular Lishan.

What's the difference? Well, for starters the teas come from different mountains--Mt. Li in North/Central Taiwan, and Mt. Ali in Southwestern Taiwan, respectively.  If push comes to shove, Lishan is probably the most famous tea-producing mountain in Taiwan (at least, the teas grown in the Da Yu Ling area of Lishan command some of the highest prices to be found on the island), but both mountains have distinctive characters.  To my palate, Alishan oolongs tend to be just a bit bolder in flavor--bright and forthright but occasionally finicky when it comes to brewing without making a slightly bitter cup.

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