Our last class was on Oolongs, probably the tea I knew least about and drank the least of going into the workshop. Dave, our instructor mentioned that many people are unimpressed by oolongs, probably because badly-brewed, watered down, poor quality oolongs are often the tea you get at the end of a dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Oolongs are traditional Chinese teas that are generally considered to be in the middle of the oxidation scale between green and black. What a lot of people (myself included before class) don't know is that the oxidation of Oolongs can vary hugely (from 10-70%) making oolongs incredibly different from each other in flavor (some, with less oxidation are more similar in flavor and appearance to green teas and others with more oxidation, are more like black teas). Oolong teas are usually processed in one of two ways; either rolled into long curling leaves or rolled and pressed into a ball-like or semi-ball shape.
When I arrived to class there was a long center table set up with about 9 different oolong teas brewed and strained into wine glasses so we could see the variances in the color and aroma of each tea. We didn't try all the teas--just five of them to get an idea of the variations. We also were given wine glasses and strainers so that we could brew our teas in our tea tasting sets but then strain and drink them out of the wine glasses to change it up a bit and to better appreciate the variations. (It would be a fun way to serve and drink good quality tea at home or a dinner party as well!). Dave also had several Yixing Clay Teapots for us to try using on one of our teas. These small pots, originating in China and dating back to the 15th century, are made from the clay produced in the region of the town of Yixing and are supposed to be the preferred way to brew tea, especially oolong, pu'erh and black teas due to the porous clay. I used to have one but it broke during my move to Hawaii and I never replaced it. (I think a trip to Chinatown is in order soon to buy a new one).
The first tea we tried was the Alishan Jin Xuan Cha from the Ah-Li Mountains in Taiwan. This partially oxidized tea comes from the high altitude tea gardens at the Alishan resort and nature preserve. It is described as having a "special" fragrance and a light creaminess. (That's helpful!) I found it to be somewhat milder in flavor and astringency than green tea but somewhat reminiscent of it. The taste was light and very "clean" not sure I get the "creaminess" out of it.
Our next tea was the Nai Xang Jin Xuan or "Milk Taste Oolong", also from Taiwan. This tea has tightly rolled leaves, a light yellow liquid and a "milk-like fragrance and taste". I made this tea in the Yixing Pot, before pouring it into my wine glass. In this tea, I really did pick up the creaminess, as it had almost no astringency to it. Very drinkable.
Our third tea was an oolong from China, Dan Cong Yu Lian Xiang Chan or "Phoenix" Oolong from the Guangdong Province. Coming from the Phoenix Mountains, the home of some of the oldest known tea bushes, this tea's leaves were very straight and long. The leaves were also darker, meaning that the oxidation level is higher and making the liquid a dark amber color. This tea is typically plucked in the winter and is supposed to have a "charming, sweet flowery fragrance and floral taste with honey notes". I really like this tea, I could pick up on the sweetness and floral notes and it was smooth with a lingering aftertaste, lightly fruity, I thought.
Next was the whimsically named Shui Xian Cha or "Fairies Tears" oolong, also from China. This tea is grown in the high mountains of Wuyishan and is also sometimes called "Rock Tea" due to the high quantity of rocks in the terrain. The rocky terrain is also supposed to give this tea a higher mineral content than those teas grown in the Southern Provinces. The leaf is dark and curly and is described as having characteristically "huge" tea leaves in comparison to other oolongs. (I didn't think they looked that much bigger). This tea, a dark amber is supposed to have a full body and strong taste, with a refreshing floral aftertaste. I found it to have a almost "toasty" aroma and be very full and smooth. I could pick up some of the floral and felt that it had an almost bittersweet chocolate aftertaste. Very drinkable.
Finally we tried the Gau Shan tea, a high mountain oolong from from Taiwan. In terms of the oxidation scale, this was out of order--it should have been the third tea we drank. This tea was also from the Alishan mountains of Taiwan, known for it's mist shrouded peaks. In this cool environment, the rolling cloud cover disperses the sun and the tea grows at a slower rate, giving the tea leaves more concentrated flavors and complexity and they tend to be more aromatic and less astringent. This tea is supposed to be "a smooth, medium bodied tea with fresh, semi-sweet, mold evergreen flavor and a floral aroma of wild orchid and clover honey". (Whew!) This tea was definitely more astringent than the last few teas we tried. It did have a clean, slightly "piney" fragrance. I didn't pick up any orchid but the aftertaste reminded me of chewing on a clover flower stem, (which I did as a child for some reason--usually while making clover flower "chains") it had that same kind of sweet taste.
A discussion on where to buy teas or get them online ended our class. Dave brought some of his favorite tea books to show us and gave us a course outline with the teas we drank on it and how they were brewed. One of the tea party ladies (mentioned in my second post), whose name I sadly forget, gave me a little package of the almond cookies that I raved so much about. (See what complimenting someone over and over will do!) They were in a little bag marked "Aunty C's Cookies" (I guess her name must start with a "C").
Again what a great experience this class was! I got bit by the tea bug and I plan on continuing my learning and continuing to taste and post about more teas. I am also going to do some more cooking with tea and I am going to blend some of my own teas and herbal tisanes (blends that don't contain actual tea in them), and post about that as well. Starting with the first below.
Lemon Grass "Tea"
Several years ago I had a particularly nasty case of food poisoning in Thailand. Since I traveled frequently through Asia for work and happily ate my way through many countries, I am lucky that this was the only time I ever got sick. Lucky is not how I felt however, flat on my back in a darkened Bangkok hotel room, (mostly on the bathroom floor) drinking strange medicines with the labels written in Thai, trusting that the people I worked with and the hotel doctor were not trying to kill me, and living on saltines and 7-Up for three days straight. My co-worker, who graciously took over the class we were co-facilitating, and I were scheduled for a quick weekend side trip to the island of Phuket and I was still feeling pretty weak and queasy as we arrived. Sitting on the lanai of the hotel lounge watching everyone order fun, fruity cocktails, I glumly ordered another 7-Up. The waiter, probably noticing my still green face and lack of enthusiasm asked if I was OK. Upon finding out about the food poisoning and my stomach issues he said "No 7-Up! I bring you my lemongrass tea and you feel better!" He then brought me a large tea pot filled with hot water and chopped lemongrass and I proceeded to drink it that night and again the next day and I did feel better! Now, part of it could have been the rest, the beach-side massage and the general island environment but I think the tea helped too and it was simple and delicious.
I have made the tea several times since but I had kind of forgotten about it until yesterday. I went to Borders, 30% off coupon in hand, to buy a book on tea and couldn't find the one I wanted. What I did find was this book: Drink To Your Health, Delicious Juices, Teas, Soups and Smoothies That Help You Look and Feel Great! by Anne McIntyre. All about the healing qualities of 25 ingredients from around the world and lots of recipes, it looked like fun to read and experiment with. It also made me think about my Lemongrass Tea and there on page 105, were instructions for making "West African Lemongrass Tea". Of course it was listed under the "Flatulence" section (hmm...maybe it wasn't my green face he noticed!). According to the book, lemongrass is a great remedy for flatulence and it stimulates digestion and relieves "tension" in the gut. Further reading from other sources states that lemon grass, also called citronella, has valuable anti-bacterial and anti-fungal tendencies. It is considered a mild insect repellent (that's why its in all those outdoor candles) and it is considered a stress reliever and is good for insomnia relief. It is also used as a detoxifier for skin and digestive track. Who knew our friend the lemongrass was so good for us?!
I decided to brew some up and bought a bag of about 8 stalks of lemongrass at the Farmers' Market today for $1.75. I made a larger quantity than the recipe given (I like to have healthy beverages in the fridge, on hand and ready to drink), brewing about 4 of the stalks, cleaned, chopped and bruised in my Coffee Press with about 48 oz of water.
I followed the instructions, letting it steep 20 minutes and then I enjoyed a cup of it warm, putting the rest in the refrigerator to cool down. Tonight, I put a glass on ice and it is very refreshing that way. I think it would also be good mixed with some green tea. Delicious, inexpensive (about 88 cents for this batch--I probably could have used less and still had a flavorful brew) and good for me too--a perfect summer beverage.
Instructions for West African Lemongrass Tea
Drink to Your Health, Anne McIntyre
1 ounce lemongrass, bruised
2 1/2 cups boiling water
Place the lemongrass in a teapot and pour boiling water over. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Drink hot after meals. Makes 2-3 servings (You can increase the quantities as I did, using about 1 stalk for about every 2 cups of water).
I really like this book and will be making other teas and things from it.