This is one of our flights this weekend in the Tasting Room.
The wisps of steam rising from the leaves is so fragrant, it’s hard to stop smelling the blend of gardenia, jasmine and butter. The light gold liquor is enchanting, drawing you in for a sip, allowing you to appreciate it’s medium body and light creaminess that coats the tongue. The freshest of BaoZhong tastes of nothing but honeyed flowers. After a few infusions it loses some of that sheen and takes on a lovely seriousness. If the tea is more than few months old, Baozhong begins to taste much more like a vegetal green tea.
The way BaoZhong is made, every step results in a lighter, gentler, and greener oolong. First harvesters pluck tender leaves that are larger than most green teas but not as big or tough as most oolongs. Then the leaves are withered in the sun, but only briefly (15-30 minutes), where they wilt and begin to develop some of their aromas. After withering indoors for an additional half day, the leaves are placed in a heated tumbler resembling a clothes dryer. The hot air completely fixed the leaves, preserving their green color. The partially fixed leaves are then rolled. Since they are so tender, they cannot withstand the pressure needed to twist them into the more common oolong ball shape. Instead, the leaves are rolled into tight coiled twists. The twisted leaves are left to oxidize, but only for a short time and only to 10 or 20 percent. Finally, the tea is fired only to stop the oxidation and to dry the tea for preservation.
One of the oldest Taiwanese oolongs, BaoZhong grows just outside bustling Taipei. The gardens lie to the south of the city, in a quiet mountainside spot where the air is clear of urban smog and mist almost always cloaks the gardens. For over 120 years, almost the length of Taiwanese tea history, the tiny town of PingLing has devoted itself to making BaoZhong for Chinese expatriates around the Pacific Rim. When the Japanese occupied Taiwan during World War II, they sent BaoZhong from Singapore to Saigon to Manila, often in beautiful paper wrappings decorated with lovely, intricate stamps.
PingLing is so tea centered, it boats several tea factories, a tea museum, and even streetlights shaped like teapots. Restaurants here serve wonderful foods cooked in BaoZhong tea: pork belly braised in it, fresh trout poached in it, even tea puddings sweetened with BaoZhong and condensed milk. Before you cook with it, get to know its delicate floral flavors.