Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review: Simpson & Vail, Kenya Oolong 2008

Simpson & Vail. I rather like the cut of their jib. They are a fairly mainstream tea company who make the interesting choice to offer oolongs from unusual-- i.e., not Chinese-- sources, such as Vietnam, or in this case, Kenya.

Kenya is one of the biggest sources of tea worldwide. Most of the tea I see from them is commoditized-- it is sold to be blended into grocery-store brands, and the teas are not typically single-estate self-drinkers, intended to be unique vintages. Usually, the black teas from kenya are fairly robust. So when I see a Kenya Oolong, to be distributed by Simpson & Vail, I am intrigued. What in the world is this going to taste like?

Simpson & Vail has this to say on their Web site:

This delightful offering from Kenya features a new taste sensation in the world of Oolongs! The tippy, brown-black, medium sized leaves brew to a golden cup with an earthy aroma and a fresh, bold, slightly citral flavor. Brew tea at 195º - steep for 4-5 minutes
I tried two methods of preparation: First, I did a gong-fu preparation (really, gong-faux, because I don't have all the gaiwans and Yixing pots one would ordinarily use). Then I followed the directions on the Web site. You will see below my results.

This tea's leaf appears to be like a very typical, medium- to high-end black tea: smallish leaves, most certainly CTC (cut-tear-curl machine processed). The tea factory employed a machine to process the leaves, and they created a highly oxidized, nearly black, leaf.


1 10s, rinse

2 25s
This cup seems most like a malty black tea, and is quite unlike the Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs I've been tasting of late. It's fairly ascerbic, and seems to want a bit of milk and sugar to cut it. The tea is a bit on the acidic side for my stomach, which is complaining. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of tea oil floating on the darkish-brown liquor, making it quite shiny. There is a faint hint of oolong-ness, though. I'll keep up with the next steeping and see where this goes. So far, honestly, I am not really liking this very much, as it tastes quite like a typically harsh, grocery-store black tea to me.

3 20s
The second steeping, shows me the leaf a bit better, as it reconstitutes. The leaf appears now to be maybe 60% oxidized: green at the centers of some of the larger leaves, but the overall visual impression tends more to the reddish-brown. The leaves have a pretty nice aroma of

The liquor maintains the deep brown (but transparent) quality of the first steeping. There is just not much flavor here (maybe this means I should have steeped for the full 4 minutes, rather than trying gong-fu method for this tea). The tea is just... flat. The bitterness has abated somewhat on the second steeping, but the flavor has not picked up where it left off.

4 20s
The flavor remains as it has for the previous steepings, and doesn't seem to be abating at all. Still like a black tea that is not particularly inspired. I quit, because I am not liking these results at all and want to abandon this preparation style.

. . .

AS AN EXPERIMENT, and a bit dispirited by the failure of my multiple-steeping method, I am now drinking the tea per the Web site instructions. It is better than the gong-fu style. There is a woodiness about it that is pretty appealing (at least, compared to the tea flight I was just attempting). A little sweetness to the aftertaste, and I detect a bit of nuttiness. ("Oh, I'm detecting nuttiness, all right," says the rat from Ratatouille, whose voice lives in my head.)

Meh. This is not the tea for me, because though it is supposed to be an oolong, it seems more like an average "black tea," which you might find in a grocery store anywhere. I've tried to enjoy it by employing a couple of different preparation methods, but I just can't.