We’re back! I can’t stay away from tea for very long after all, especially now that the winter harvest is here, the oolongs are arriving, and Winnie has brought back new oolongs in every sense of the word: a varietal that had not been imported into the US previously, and this batch was harvested only a few months ago.
When Kayla let us sniff the two new oolongs, Wuyi Water Golden Turtle and Wuyi Half Way Up Sky, my curiosity soared. While the Golden Turtle smells of tar and “ashtray” (to quote a sommelier who tasted the tea), the Halfway Sky (as labeled on the canister, and which I prefer to “Half Way Up Sky”) is more difficult to articulate. Its smell is more volatile, dark but light, roasty but green like sage bushes in the desert. (I just returned from the dusty White Mountain, the memory’s still fresh…)
Halfway Sky is grown and harvested in Wuyi mountain, most closely related to Da Hong Bao (Big Red Robe), known as Old Man’s Tea in its region, and was not previously imported to the US. It’s a dark oolong (high oxidation), and the sommelier describes it as cinnamon with a note of ginger.
Upon the first steep, the rich amber-color liquid has the roastiness of char coal roasted Tung Ting in the first instant, but the spice immediately vanished, it became as light as White Peony minus the sweetness. In a sense, its name is truly befitting: it’s only half way up and not quite there, every note is just a quick glimpse, nothing too long lasting. An intriguing but calming tea.
Darker oolongs such as Halfway Sky seem more lenient than lighter ones: the steeping time is 2 minutes as said on Teance’s website, and it’s not so prone to burn. In fact, subsequent steeps reveal more sweetness and longer lasting flavors (I found it somewhat spicy like star anise).
Wuyi rock teas are unique in the world in many ways. The terroir is irreplaceable. Soil that is only about 10 cm thick over soft white rock, and the tea tree roots split and insert into these rocks, absorbing minerals and nutrients in ways that tea bushes in other terrains do not have access to. The large twist leaf style is one of the original, oldest traditions of making oolong. The oxidation level is very high, and baking by charcoal heat demands long laborious effort.
Half Way Up Sky (Ban Tian Yao) is a rare varietal, and rarely see exported. It is dark and earthy, like other Wuyi varietals, but with distinct cinnamon notes, and a nutty fieriness. This is a top grade usually reserved for government officials.
This tea reaffirms what I like about Teance: Winnie works so hard to find and import rare varietals, that every time I sit down at the bar, there’s bound to be something new to learn.
All images are courtesy of bnibroc. I particularly love the reflection of the dangling red-paper lamp in the cup.