Friday, July 3, 2009

Review: Simpson & Vail, Vietnam Imperial Oolong, 2008

Nope, not those Simpsons.

Simpson & Vail have been around awhile-- since 1904-- and have remained a small, family-oriented business all the while, as is evidenced by the History section of their Web site. While the history discussed their tea grinder, which they used to use to break down whole-leaf teas into particles usable in a teabag, bagged tea is now only a part of their overall catalog, with loose-leaf teas of various types available.

Vietnam Imperial Oolong is their most expensive, selling at $6.05/oz. at this time. Unfortunately, other than the generic nation name (we know the tea comes from Vietnam), the Web site is little help. I don't know precisely where the tea comes from, or what time of the year (or even what year, though I guess it is 2008) it was plucked; nor do I know details about how heavily it is fermented. The Web site says this, though:

Vietnam Imperial Oolong T0766
The tightly curled, deep olive-green leaves of this superior oolong unravel to produce a pale green cup with a refreshing sweet and smooth taste. The tea has outstanding notes of honey with a slight spice aftertaste. Brew: 4 minutes at 180°F.

In my inimitable gong-faux tea stylings, I will use a fairly large amount of leaf in a lidded cup, around boiling, but for short steeps. Please, please, do not try this at home, using such an unsightly hodgepodge of tea equipment. I won't even show you a picture, such is my shame.

This is a very lightly oxidized leaf, rolled into balls. Lightly fragrant before steeping, but quite aromatic once the hot water hits. It smells much like a green tea, with high hints of maybe orchid, or

Rinse and discard

Steeping 1: 25s
The tea is quite aromatic, and smells much like a nice green tea. The cup is a light green color, and the aroma is floral, roasted honey and green, without much vegetal quality. A sweet huigan [aftertaste] lingers, which mixes nicely with the clover scent coming from outside my window.

Steeping 2: 20s
The tea is still pale, transparent green, but not terribly strong. This tea does not knock me down and take my lunch money, if you know what I mean. There is now a slightly bitter quality to accompany an increasingly dry mouthfeel. There's a lemony, citrus taste haunting the huigan, which is mild but lingering and pleasant.

Steeping 3: 20s
Not an aggressive tea, though very slightly bitter. Very like a green tea. As the leaves open up more and more, I find the leaves show very little sign of oxidization-- no reddish at the edges of the very complete leaf sets of two leaves-- furthering my impression of this as a very lightly oxidized oolong. As the tea cools in the cup, the bitterness seems to dissipate, leaving a green, grassy flavor and aroma I most often associate with Chinese green teas. The roasted honey notes remain strongly in the nose.

Steeping 4: 20s
Much the same as Steeping 3. Light and refreshing, very much like a green tea. Aftertaste less noticeable, but I drank it with dinner. Gregory, my seven-year-old boy, squaffed his down quite quickly, once the temperature got down to where he could drink it.

Steeping 5: 30s
The leaves are quite full now, having absorbed about all the liquid they're going to absorb. I did see one leaf with a bit of red at the edge. Again, the exception proves the rule: this is a particularly lightly oxidized oolong. The flavor is much more elusive at this point, as is the fragrance. Pleasurable mouthfeel, with just a hint of green at the back of the throat.

I always wonder if people ever read to the bottom of the post. Anyway, pleasant enough, light oolong, which tastes much like a simple, not-too-flashy green.