Wednesday, April 29, 2009

REVIEW: Tea Gschwendner Formosa Fancy Taifu Oolong

Photo from the lovely Web site,

TeaGschwendner Formosa Fancy Taifu Oolong, 2008

This offering by TeaGschwendner is the winner of the 2008 Best Dark Oolong, from the 2008 World Tea Championship.

The Fancy Superior grade is bestowed only upon exquisite, tippy teas such as the Taifu. Known as “Five Color Tea,” northern Taiwanese Oolongs are oxidized around roughly 60% and take on various hues of brown—from beige to sienna. The Taifu is a heady cup, a nuanced sketch of wood and stewed plum. Infuse multiple times.

The dry leaves in hot pot: smells like roasted honey, like sweet black currant jam (and I'm proud of myself for figuring out what that elusive smell was-- but it's currants, on the nose!). The leaves are large, black, tightly twisted, with bits of dark-reddish tippiness showing up. After steeping, I can see why they call this "five-color tea," because the leaves take on many hues of reddish- to greenish-brown, with large open leaves. As the leaves cooled in the pot, they took on a mineral and muscatel aroma, a very complex scent that was rather heady. I love the smell of good wet tea leaves!

2 heaping teaspoons per cup @ 2 cups boiling water, in Great-Grandma's Japanese porcelain pot. (It makes me happy to use this pot that had been sitting fallow all these years.)

This is a nearly transparent but quite dark brown tea, and highly fragrant and strong. The aroma, though, is very weak to the tea liquor itself. There is a hint of bitterness on the tongue and a complex, almost medicinally herbal flavor, with a very smooth and creamy mouthfeel. To me, the most enjoyable aspect of the tea is in the long aftertaste, which keeps shifting on my tongue. It goes from herbal, to cream, to chocolate, to dark honey, to something sharp and ascerbic....

For this tea, the second cup was much the same to me as the first, without a great deal of new flavor development. I'll be interested to find how multiple infusions play out. Drinking alone, I think I'll have to just taste the infusions and just allow some tea to go cool, because otherwise I'll be floating. Seems like a waste!

  • The second infusion: 4 minutes, boiling water. The cup is still a deep brown, with a hint of fogginess, perhaps, as I peer to the bottom of my cup. When drunk very hot, the tea has a distinctly metallic characteristic, as though it was steeped in spring water with a high mineral content, instead of simply filtered water. The flavor is somewhat subdued, and a bit earthy, though perhaps not as smooth as the first steeping-- a bit ascerbic, a dry mouthfeel. Although the directions say that I can do multiple steepings, the second is really not so amazing that I feel compelled to try a third. As the tea cools, the flavors declare themselves (again, primarily in the aftertaste)-- a bit like honey in the throat, some greenness up in the high register, some ascerbic dryness in the middle.

This tea has won the Best Dark Oolong award for 2008. This means that this tea has been judged one of the world's great teas. It pains me to say so, but I don't love it. The reason I don't like to say so is because doing so obviously displays the limitations of my palate or my execution, rather than any weaknesses inherent in the tea. Nevertheless, I was expecting a much more complex tea, and one that would really please my senses. Though the first steeping was quite a powerful experience, I didn't thrill with pleasure as I felt I ought to do.