Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: You, Me and Tea, Quangzhou Milk Oolong

The flavor of this Milk Oolong from Quangzhou is quite singular, and though I've used up my sample, I'm already wanting more.
With this review, I hope to pique your interest so you might explore a rare tea that will surprise and intrigue you. I will be reviewing a pretty rare type of oolong from Quongzhou in China, the elusive creature known as the Milk Oolong.

You, Me and Tea gives rather little information about this tea on their Web site. Here's what they write:
Quongzhou Milk. Luxurious, that's what you can call this tea. It has a most unique character best described as sweet milk. It has impeccable orchid notes.
Okay, not much to go on, but sounds delicious. Note to the writers for You, Me and Tea: Because the tea has such an interesting backstory, you may want to write up more complete and interesting descriptions.

As I searched about online, I discovered that two of my favorite reviewers, Cinnabar at GongfuGirl, and Troy at TeaViews, have already written eloquently about this tea. I'll quote Troy here, who did some research into what this tea is all about.

Milk Oolong, according to the common story, is the product of leaves harvested during special seasonal temperature drops. These temperature drops, one would assume, infuse the leaves with a thicker milkier sap that curdles slightly during normal Oolong processing. I have, however, heard that the flavor is actually achieved by the addition of milk during the steaming of the leaves. I put a bug in David's ear, a voracious all consuming bug, when I asked him if he could find out whether this was the case, or not. What he found was at first a chorus saying that their products were Au-natural, followed by admissions that most of the producers do add milk to “enhance” the flavor. Clear as mud, eh?
Searching my memory, I do remember something about this. This is typically a limited-edition tea, because Milk Oolong can only be produced when there is a sudden drop in temperature, just at the time of the harvest. Very little of this tea can be created each year, because the conditions that give rise to this are quite rare.

Where is this tea from? Quongzhou (Guangzhou) is part of the Wuyi mountains, and has a very ancient tea culture. I'll quote from a local tourism Web site for the region.

Lingnan's tea culture is one of the four main tea cultures in China.

Lingnan Area consists of provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region with Guangdong as its core area.

Lingnan people began planting tea in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). A man called Cao Song brought some seeds of tea from northern China to Guangdong and planted them in Xiqiao Mountain. Since then, Lingnan's tea culture has become an important part of life here.

Because of the hot and humid climate, tea is a must-have daily drink for Lingnan people.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Lingnan people started a special Cantonese-style breakfast Yam Cha, or Dim Sum, which is popular little snack steamed, deep-fried or boiled.
Tea and dim sum? I'm sold. The site goes on to say that the practice of gongfu tea brewing also began in this region. Brilliant!

Filtered water, rolling boil, 2 minutes maximum, porcelain teapot.

Dry, the leaves appear green-to-black, in little wads and a fair amount of broken leaf dust in the pouch. It does have a very unusual scent, very rich and thick. I could definitely imagine this scent being associated with sweetened, condensed milk, rather than the typical green or sharp smell one gets from the teas I've been driking. It has a silky nose to it, if that makes any sense at all. In fact, if I hadn't been told that this was a tea that I was smelling, I may not have figured it out without looking. As many good oolongs do, the tea opens up into full, deep green leaves. There are high floral notes I can discern in the tea leaves, which help me pick up that aroma in the tea itself.

This tea is a pure, pale-gold tea that is clear to the bottom of the cup. The tea perfectly carries the aroma from the leaves-- rich, creamy, with the faintest bit of flower very high up in the aroma, set against the heavy thickness of the lower aroma.

For this tea, the aroma and the flavor are indivisible: like springtime irises and slightly carmelized sweet cream. One could see this flavor infused into a complicated dessert by Gale Gand. I enjoyed the tea the most when it was fairly piping hot, and liked it progressively less as it cooled in the cup.

For this tea, I performed multiple steepings, and each was fully as enjoyable as the first, with even more complexity of flavor, with a faint dryness in the mouthfeel appearing for the first time, and the caramel aroma heightening.

This tea's giving just goes on, and on, and on. Third infusion, the mouthfeel is not quite as silky as before, but the taste and aroma are still bright, with that milky and floral flavor very pronounced.

I do wonder about whether this tea was soaked in some kind of milk, or if they achieved this effect completely naturally. The flavor of this Milk Oolong from Quangzhou is quite singular, and though I've used up my sample, I'm already wanting more.

(Picture by Conservation Journal Online.)


Steven Knoerr said...

UPDATE: I am currently on the 10th steeping of this tea, the last of the package I have. Trying to make it last, I discover it has really nice staying power.