At this moment, somewhere, the kettle calls. Somewhere the cup waits. Somewhere a person smiles, watching the leaves unfurl.
We grew up in a “tea family”; coffee was brewed for special occasion meals. A “cuppa” was our go-to respite. So we love this sentiment from the Republic Of Tea.
Over years of tea-drinking, we honed our preferences—Assam, Dragon Well, Earl Grey, Jasmine—to the point where we don’t spend enough time with other great teas.
And there are many of them. While all tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis, the terroir (pronounced tur-WAH), growing season and finishing technique yield hundreds of varieties. Think of wine grapes: the same Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay grape produces very different wine in different locations and in the hands of different vintners.
Terroir comprises altitude, soil composition, aspect, hours of sunlight, rainfall and humidity, among other factors. The same rootstock will produce different tea flavors, aromas and quality when grown in different places.
Oolong tea. Photo by Shizhao | Wikimedia.
As with coffee, elevation is key: whether the plants are low-, medium-, or high-grown. Although good teas are grown in lower elevations, the highest elevations produce the greatest teas. The higher the altitude, the thinner and cleaner the air is and the closer to the sun the tea plants are.
TRY A GOOD OOLONG
In our quest to expand our tea choices, we purchased some quality oolong, a tea developed in China more than seven centuries ago.
Called wulong in some dialects and meaning “black dragon tea,” oolong is a traditional Chinese tea. Depending on terroir and processing, it can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, woody with roasted aromas, green and fresh with floral aromas or somewhere in-between.
Some oolongs famously have the aroma of orchids. Subvarieties produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian Province are among the most famous and sought-after Chinese teas (look for Da Hong Pao).
Oolong teas occupy a unique place in the tea spectrum: They are neither black nor green, but are oxidized to a point between the two, in a unique roasting process that can last from 12 to 36 hours, starting with withering the leaves under the strong sun and oxidizing them before curling and twisting. The degree of oxidation can range from 8% to 85%, depending on the roduction style.
The leaves are formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves (the traditional style), while others are wrap-curled into small beads.
HOW TO BREW OOLONG
1. Heat fresh water to a rolling boil. Use filtered water if your local supply isn’t clean tasting.
2. Use one teaspoon of leaves per six ounces of water. Steep tea for 5 to 7 minutes.
3. The leaves may be infused multiple times—keep infusing until the flavor wanes. It brings down the cost per cup!
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