This is the last tea in the Upton sampler, and the only one that is a China Oolong rather than a Formosa Oolong. I’ve really enjoyed all of these and I’m looking forward to comparing Oolongs from other companies as well as some of the pricier ones at Upton to see if pricier equates to that much better.
I don’t know whether it is psychological or whether I read this somewhere, or both, but I expected this one, since it is last, to be the most complex, fullest, heartiest and perhaps even best of the bunch. It’s been a while since I had enough time to feel as though I could enjoy this without rushing through it, as I knew I’d want to put it through multiple steeps. Of course, since it has been so long between my note on the third sample, the Jade Oolong, and this one, I don’t have a clear memory of what that one was like. So I’m going to do a side by side taste test of those two. (I don’t think my bladder could handle doing multiple infusions of all four samples, and I’d probably be bouncing off the walls all night. I may be too caffeinated for this hour now as it is.)
However, I will comment on the dry leaves of all four. These do in fact look the fullest and heartiest. They’re big and and curly and greenish brown. They have the most in common with the Formosa Amber leaves in terms of color and the intriciacies of their curl, but they’re uniformly large whereas the Amber’s vary in size. The Fine Grade looks a little mulchy by comparison, and the Jade’s curls are smaller and the leaves greener. The aroma comparison is pretty interesting as well. The first three teas each seem to have a dominant note in the aroma of the dry leaves. The Fine Grade is toasty, the Amber is white-winey (champagny), and the Jade is “green.” This one is richer and deeper than all of the others. It’s got both the toasty and champagny notes, but they’re smoother and without the tang the others have.
I steeped these in identical glass mugs, using identical amounts of tea (1 tsp) and identical amounts of water (about 7 oz, I think — I forgot to measure the mug’s capacity first). Either there’s something wrong with my eyes, or the liquor of these is indistinguishable in color. They’re both a golden yellow color with maybe a little twinge of green. I’d love to be able to say one is greener or oranger than the other, but I really can’t.
The Se Chung’s aroma in the cup is bolder and has the toasty/champagny overtones of the dry leaves. The Jade is more delicate and more floral.
On the first steep at 3 minutes, the Se Chung is less silky in the mouth than the Jade, but bolder, deeper, and less green in flavor. Very pleasant, though the Jade is as nice as I remember it, too. (Did I mention that I’m finding this side by side tasting thing hard? I’m trying to clear my palate with crackers between tastes, but I’m wondering if the crackers are affecting the taste in their own way…. Any tips from those more experienced greatly appreciated.)
Second infusion, 4 min.+ The Se Chung’s mouth feel got creamier, and the flavors opened up some and became rounder and more buttery. There’s something else, too, that is more noticeable this time which could be a floral note. (I am particularly bad at identifying floral notes when I’m not told that the tea has jasmine, rose, or whatever in it.) The Jade is much as I’d said in my first note about it. On this steep the two seem to be converging toward a tawny/floral middle ground.
Third infusion, 5+ minutes. And they diverged again. The Jade took a very subtle turn toward the vegetal, though it was still silky and buttery. The Se Chung remained much where it had been in terms of flavors, on the toasty/woodsy side of things. But the flavors seemed to become more varied and more interesting, though I am having a failure of imagination trying to find comparisons for these more varied flavors.
Fourth infusion, 6 min.+ Though they were both pretty mellow and starting to fade by this time, the Se Chung had more of a nutty perkiness to it while the Jade was rounder and continued its subtle drift toward the vegetal.
The infused leaves of the Jade are significantly lighter and a fairly uniform green, and those of the Se Chung are darker, more varigated in color. And as could have been anticipated by the appearance of the dry leaves, they were generally longer and broader than those of the Jade.
So where do I come out? I’m not sure. It’s pretty close to a tie, and I think the question of whether one is better than the other really boils down to which I’d be in the mood for at the time. I can see keeping both on hand, potentially, and drinking the Jade when I’m looking for something mellower and the Se Chung when I’m looking for something more “Oolongy.” I’m giving the Se Chung a slightly higher mark, only because I do think it has more in common with the Formosa Amber, and I enjoyed it more.