Green Oolong Teas

Green_tea_1

by Michelle Krell Kydd

The joy of experiencing the connection between the olfactive and the gustatory is limitless. We are cognizant of the separate senses of taste and smell, but the two work together—if you cannot smell then you cannot taste. Drinking Chinese and Taiwan green oolongs illustrates the volley of sensation from tongue to nose in a way that can be appreciated by anyone patient enough to brew a cup of tea. …

Green has a taste and a smell. As one of the 13 fragrance families in perfumery, its verdant qualities are described as fresh, crisp, classical, or rich. Green tea’s manifestations in fine fragrance are legion, the commercial charge led by Bvlgari Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert (1993). Fragrance descriptions are tinged with subjectivity as the vocabulary of memory gives voice to how our senses are affected. The quality of individuality, however, is collective and though we may possess different words to describe what we emote; we all feel the same things. There is tremendous peace in this comforting truth worth integrating into daily life.

Smelled dry, China Special Production Tie Guan Yin is redolent of early spring, when flowers begin to perfume the air, one after the other, each in its own time. In the cup, China Special Production Tie Guan Yin has the high pitched white floralcy of lily of the valley, a slight flower with a teasing, fleeting intensity. The smell then gravitates towards the balsamic sweetness of hosta plantagenea [photo], also known as the “August Lily”, one of the last flowers of summer that delights passersby with its nocturnal perfume. These specific floral impressions seasonally bookend each other, making the experience of drinking this tea undeniably spiritual—each sip possesses the intelligence of the universe, where things grow from flower to fruit before meeting the table.

Less floral, but equally compelling, Formosa Spring Dragon possesses a gentle character, tempered with notes of lilac, muscatel and sweet grass. There is a slight aldehydic lift in the nose that brings to mind the scent of a spring morning, delicately inviting one to pause, inhale deeply and take in the essence of teeming life. Many green teas from Taiwan (Formosa) are the grand cru of the green tea kingdom, worthy of the appellation that refers to the top ranking bestowed upon vineyards. They are deceptively simple, blooming from palate to nose as the tea is drank.

Watching steam rise from a cup of tea gives voice to the former life of the plant, recalling days spent on mountains and fields draped in mist, transmitting a message of sweet exhalation redolent with terroir—the land and the elements that determine its flavor. There are many green oolongs to explore and infinite stops along the sensorial journey. Take the time to enjoy each passage as you decipher life’s mysteries in the cup or on the plate.

N. B.: Michelle recommends trying Upton Tea, and I concur. Their selection of regional green oolongs is very impressive. Teas vary in price and are available in sample packs, which can be obtained either from the Upton Tea website or by calling 1-800-234-8327. In Europe, I very much enjoy the selection at Le Palais des Thés.

Photo of Formosa Spring Dragon © Bois de Jasmin.

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40 Comments

  • chayaruchama: What an evocative, informative post…
    A delight to read.
    Thank you.ladies ! January 5, 2007 at 7:02am Reply

  • k-amber: Victoria, I am glad to know you enjoy green tea. I like Dragon Well green tea(Longjing), having very fresh aroma as it is not unfermented. I also love vanilla tea at Les Palais des Thes. Is it difficult to get good green tea in NY?

    Kaori January 5, 2007 at 7:29am Reply

  • k-amber: Oops,Sorry Victoria, it is not your review..very happy to read good tea information 🙂

    Kaori January 5, 2007 at 7:32am Reply

  • Gaia, the non-blonde: I’m a huge tea fan. I order mine from Harney & Sons (www.harney.com). They have excellent Oolongs. Thanks for this post! January 5, 2007 at 8:53am Reply

  • Flor: What a beautiful article. I got completely spirited away to the east while reading it. Thanks! January 5, 2007 at 9:21am Reply

  • Judith: These sound lovely! I really like green tea and must try them! Thanks for the compelling review! January 5, 2007 at 9:51am Reply

  • donzo: Hi – Michelle this is awesome. When I lived in China they were incredulous that we Americans simply called it “tea” when they looked at so many different varieties and leaves and such. The tea such as celestial seasonings, for example, they thought was not even tea at all… I do not have a sensitive or sophisticated “nose.” Most perfumes and teas actually turn me off! I look forward to learning more from you. January 5, 2007 at 10:06am Reply

  • Tania: What a coincidence to come here and find a discussion of Chinese oolong! I have been running around trying to get people to drink Ten Ren’s Winter Tea this year, ever since I tried it last week. Each year they do limited editions in the spring and winter, selecting the best tea of the season, and this winter they have stocked an oolong of such expansive, honeyed floral fragrance, with a sweet aftertaste that haunts your breath for several minutes past the swallow, that I can safely say it is worth the $25 per half pound. The way they brew it in the store is educational. They seem to use the Yi Xing teapot to brew it very, very strong, then decant that into a holding pot. When it is time to serve it, they pour a little into a cup, then add hot water both to dilute it to the proper strength and to reheat it to the ideal temperature. This seems to solve nicely the problem of how to drink the tea over time so it is neither scalding nor cold, nor sitting on the leaves and turning bitter.

    I confess that now that two dear friends have made it possible for me to try the French flavored teas of Mariage Frères, I appreciate these teas as subsets of the art of French perfumery, but they seem not to represent to me the art of tea. As far as I can tell, that still belongs to China. January 5, 2007 at 10:38am Reply

  • Robin: Great article! I adore Upton, but not their oolongs for some reason. Have tried almost all of them, and the only one I like is the Classic Tung Ting. Premium Steap’s Anxi Ti Kwan Yin is one of my favorites, and I also love Ten Ren Osmanthus Supreme. Now I will have to try the Winter Tea Tania mentioned! January 5, 2007 at 11:51am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Chaya, I am glad that you liked Michelle’s article. I am now tempted to brew a cup of oolong tea! January 5, 2007 at 12:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, yes, the article is by Michelle. No problem! 🙂 January 5, 2007 at 1:22pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, yes, I also love green tea. When I used to live closer to Chinatown, it was a breeze to select any green tea I wished. I used to avoid ordering online, but both Upton and Le Palais des Thes are reliable. In New York, it is very easy to find good tea though. Takashimaya, a large Japanese department store, offers a large range of teas. My favourite teas are not flavoured, but natural. Still, I enjoy everything. I drink 2-3 different kinds of tea a day. 🙂 I also adore Japanese sencha. One of my favourites in the morning is Genmai-cha. Its roasted rice flavour adds such a terrific facet to the green tea. January 5, 2007 at 1:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Gaia, I have a few samples of oolongs from Harney & Sons. I should explore them more. Thank you for your recommendation. January 5, 2007 at 1:30pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, what one needs is a samovar! We solved that drinking tea over a long time problem quite nicely. 🙂 Russians can down gallons of tea in one sitting. It took me some time to make some of my friends understand that when I invite them for tea, it does not mean one cup, but a rather more involved ritual.

    I am ready to run to the nearest Ten Ren shop to find their winter tea. It sounds magnificent.

    Moreover, I will concede without a doubt that Chinese teas are superior. 🙂 January 5, 2007 at 1:34pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I still have some teas you gave me, and they are wonderful. Of course, I do not know where they came from, because the labels got lost.

    Ten Ren Osmanthus Supreme is what I would like to try. January 5, 2007 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Jennifer: I love the scent of Oolongs, my all time favorite being Peet’s Ti Kwan Yin, which to me, is the months of August and April converging. It has the scent of ripe apricots and hay of August, but then the floral green scent that I associate with April. January 5, 2007 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Tania: V, a samovar! I knew my kitchen needed something else. Nothing’s more frustrating than brewing a beautiful pot of tea only to find it’s gone bitter and lost its bloom, sitting on the leaves while you had the first cup. January 5, 2007 at 2:19pm Reply

  • Emotenote: Being a total tea snob with a whole cabinet devoted to tea, this was a wonderful post to read. Oolongs are my absolute favorite for their amazing smells as well as some very fragrant greens. The Tung Ting is a great first time oolong and has stayed in my collection for years. I do have to put in a word for fine darjeelings like Margarets Hope, almost oolong-like in its fragrance and light liquer. I get most of my best teas from Silk Road Teas in California (not to be confused with Silk Road Tea which has body products and such on the web) Their site is Silkroadteas.com. Unfortunately you have to call to order since their web site has only a list. However they are very responsive and really do travel to mainland to get their tea direct. (I don’t in any way work for them but I did meet the owner several times when I lived in SF.) I get their mailing each season and then drop a good deal of dough on the spot. For my Tung Ting Ten Ren is the place since this is a Formosa rather than mainland type.

    Tea and perfume have always been associated in my mind as each provide such wonderful sensory pleasure. And, of course, if I need both together, it’s a Tea for Two day! January 5, 2007 at 2:49pm Reply

  • Emotenote: Oops; Tanya, if you are savoring your time with your cup of tea one kind’a rule is that green tea should never sit on the leaves, but will put up with several brewings. Long Jing Green is suposed to become “Golden Water” after the 5th brewing. Oolong is of better sitting nature and will not get too bitter as long as not too many leaves are used. It can also stand many brewings if not left on the leaves. January 5, 2007 at 2:57pm Reply

  • assorted raisins: Michelle,
    How neat to see tea compared to perfume! I adore tea, and will drink all kinds, from tradtional black and green to white tea, herbal tea and “red” roobios tea. Being middle-eastern I grew up with tea and it wasn’t uncommon to samovars at picnics. In fact, we have one! We also brew tea in a way similar to Tania’s: brew it very strong in a teapot, and pour some into a glass, and dilute the rest with hot water. If done right, the tea shouldn’t be bitter. I love trying tea, so I was wondering if anyone could reccomend some good tea for me to try that isn’t too obscure or overly expensive. I do confess to drinking celestial seasonings when nothing else is avaliable, but it lacks the full flavor of good tea. January 5, 2007 at 3:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Flor, that is really how I felt too! 🙂 January 5, 2007 at 3:35pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, thank you! Michelle will be delighted to read your comment! January 5, 2007 at 3:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Donzo, it takes time to acquire a taste for many things, including certain unfamiliar scents. I am so envious that you had a chance to live in China. It is at the top of my list of places to visit. January 5, 2007 at 3:37pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Jennifer, what a beautiful description–“the scent of ripe apricots and hay of August, but then the floral green scent that I associate with April.” I am inspired to add this tea to my list of teas to explore. January 5, 2007 at 3:38pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, I have never owned a samovar, although my mother had one as a decorative piece. I would love to try brewing with a samovar. January 5, 2007 at 3:41pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Emotenote, the best part of having interesting articles is having fascinating and educational comments. 🙂 Thank you for the recommendation of Silk Road Tea. I will definitely have to explore it further. My list of teas to try grew dramatically this morning, as people shared their favourites both here and via email. This is very exciting!

    I have moved recently, and during my move, some of my teas got lost. However, I am rebuilding my collection little by little. January 5, 2007 at 4:15pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Emotenote, fascinating about the 5th brewing! I find that your observations on oolong agrees with what I have experienced. Oolong is the tea I make when I do not have a chance to get up often to refresh water. It does not mind the sitting as much as other kinds of teas.

    Do you have a favourite osmanthus tea? Among the flavoured teas, this is my favourite. I am jotting down Robin’s recommendation of Ten Ren Supreme Osmanthus. January 5, 2007 at 4:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Assorted raisins, I am sure others might have some ideas too, but if you are curious to try teas, the best way is to get a sampler from a reliable place. Upton’s samplers are great, by the way. What kind of tea do you prefer? Light, floral or dark? That might give me a better idea of teas to recommend. January 5, 2007 at 4:19pm Reply

  • Emotenote: V, Oddly, the only Osmanthus I’ve tried was from Silk Road and this was just the flower that I added to some Long jing green. I love the fragrance and taste though and the flower unfolded in a lovely way. Some of my favorite greens are formed in a roll that unfurls to for a chrysanthemum or other flower shape. I love to brew these in a glass pot so I can watch them and most of them are also flower scented like jasmine or rose. They have great names like “Thousand Days, Red Jasmine”, or “Add Flowers to the Brocade”. One of my more odd but very good oolongs is called Dragon’s Beard and, well, it looks like a Dragon’s Beard, or, some other beard (if you’ve read Chaucer).

    I totally sympathise on the loss of tea while moving. When we moved to the South in the middle of Summer, I decided to Fed Ex my whole tea collection so it wouldn’t sit in the heat of the truck. The only thing receiving better care, was of course, my perfume. This travelled in a well-insulated soft cooler in the car with us, taking up precious but well used cargo space. Obsessive Compulsive some? January 5, 2007 at 9:25pm Reply

  • portlandia: I have always liked Formosa Oolongs, but I never knew about these! I must try the one with the hosta if I can find it, it sounds just sublime. (If you have never smelled H. plantaginea, it is very much like Easter lilies with a little muguet de bois thrown in.) January 5, 2007 at 11:54pm Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    What a wonderful article about tea by your guest author Michelle Krell Kydd ! How beautifully she expresses herself. Very much like you ,dear V.
    There is an olfactory and an anticipatory joy in brewing both coffee and tea. Especially quality products. However,tea with its infinite varities ,to a purist– like myself ( and you , of course ) opens up yet another world. Do I have alot to learn! I will make an effort to buy and classicaly brew some of the marvelous and myriad selections. I am, to be honest, a bit overwhelmed with not only the numerous kinds of teas – but alao the many nuances affecting the fragility of preparing that cuppa tea !
    I am a coffee addict by day .. and after sunset , I often take solace ina a cup of hot, soothing tea. Takashimya.. here I come…
    How do you, V, like to prepare let’s say black tea ? Tea bag or loose, lemon, sugar, milk..or plain ?
    I always learn from you,
    On another subject. I succumbed tonight to the charms of one of your winter favorites : Sisley :Soir De Lune ! It it elegant and womanly.(like a Grand Dame ) to which I aspire !
    Madelyn E January 6, 2007 at 4:02am Reply

  • Elle: What an absolutely beautiful article. I’m a hopeless tea addict. My latest love from Upton’s is their Pi Lo Chun Reserve – wonderful slightly fruity (apricot is what I get), almost honeyed flavor. Also am a big fan of Murchie’s teas and had some of their Oolong Orchid this morning – incredible scent. There really is magic in these teas. I can’t imagine drinking them quickly. January 6, 2007 at 10:56am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Vitoria,
    It is Sunday and I am preparing to go to the city this evening to Spice Market – which is South-East Asian fusion. Whatever it is I’m sure it will be a memorable experience. I was thinking.. Have you ever done a theme article such as let’s say for example Wedding Fragrances. What does that special day of day “smell” like .I ,for one, would welcome such a post. That subject fascinates me. What scent does one select for one’s Wedding Day..and why .
    I received a gist set yesterday of one of my old time favorites , 1977’s Oscar de la Renta. The original. As I opened the parfum . (yes theparfum itself) I was thrown back in time to the many wonderful memoroies of wearing this beautiful romantic cmposition ,including , my own wedding day .. August 10th, 1985. (dating myself…)
    Anyway , sniffing Oscar DLR really flooded my mind with remembrances of nearly 30 years ago. It was beautiful. What do you think dear V?
    Also, I was wondering .. would you be attending the Absinthe lecture this week ?
    Best Scented Regards,
    Madelyn E January 7, 2007 at 3:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Emotenote, ha, when I moved, I did the same thing you did with my perfumes! So, I can completely understand. 🙂 When you have a collection you value and love, no amount of caution is too much.

    Thank you again for the recommendations. I am off to browse the website and certainly to place an order. January 8, 2007 at 12:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, thank you very much for your kind words! I am so glad that the article received such lovely and engaging comments. It is very educational for me as well.

    I drink all sorts of tea. I very much like oolongs, like the ones Michelle described as well as osmanthus tea. I drink green and oolong teas on their own. Moreover, I drink lots of Darjeeling and Ceylon teas, also plain. Darker teas I take with sugar and lemon. I sometimes make chai, in which case I use lots of sugar and milk. However, for chai, the lower grade teas are best, as they can stand up to the strong aroma of spices and caramelized flavour of sugar and milk better.

    As for Soir de Lune, it is very beautiful. I am tempted to wear it today. January 8, 2007 at 12:49pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I have never smelled hosta, but your and Michelle’s descriptions are enough to seek it out! January 8, 2007 at 12:50pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I completely agree on the magic of something beautiful that you want to prolong by savouring carefully. I always try to set enough time for my cup of tea, so that I am not in a rush to drink it. Otherwise, part of the pleasure is lost.

    Pi Lo Chun Reserve is now on my list to try! January 8, 2007 at 12:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, what a great idea! I will think about it, and perhaps I could write something on this topic. This is fitting, since one of my best friends is getting married right now. Therefore, I was pondering this topic already. January 8, 2007 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Lauren: Regarding osmanthus teas, Numi (www.numitea.com) makes a white tea with osmanthus called White Nectar that I like, and also a white flowering tea called Dragon Lily, which also includes an orange lily. I’d highly recommend trying the flowering teas if you enjoy the art of tea: they are tea leaves and flowers tied together so that they “bloom” when steeped. Maybe similar to the green teas Emotenote was talking about. Quite enjoyable! Stash tea (www.stashtea.com) also makes a black osmanthus tea under their Exotica line.

    I’m going to have to try some of the other ones that people are raving about! January 8, 2007 at 4:27pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Lauren, Dragon Lily and White Nectar sound amazing! Thank you very much for your recommendations. I am excited to try them and to write about them as well. January 9, 2007 at 2:01pm Reply

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