-Varietal: Ban Tian Yao
-Alternate Name: Halfway to the Sky Oolong Tea
-Harvest: Spring, 2009
-Growing Region: Wuyi Shan Scenic Area, Fujian Province
-Roast: Traditional Full Roast
-Sold in 50 gram portions
-10% off orders of 2 to 4 × 50g portions (100-200 g); 15% off orders of 5 or more x 50g portions (250g or more).
Ban Tian Yao (“Halfway to the Sky”) is a lesser known but increasingly popular varietal from the great category of oolongs known as “Wu Yi Yen Cha,” or Wu Yi Rock Teas. It was hand harvested and processed during the Spring season of 2009 in the Wu Yi Shan National Scenic Area of Northwest Fujian Province.
The name of this tea cultivar comes from it’s discovery as a wild-growing, unique varietal high up on a rocky cliff in the Wu Yi Mountains. Cuttings from the originally found “wild” plants were taken and grafted onto existing rootstock, creating exact copies/clones of the original plants that could be grown and harvested in more accessible parts of the the Wuyishan area.
This tea’s dry leaves are the long and twisting shape and dark greenish brown color characteristic of traditional Wu Yi Yen Cha. The fragrance of the dry leaves is tough to describe, but a sweet & sour toasted nut type aroma makes itself known when the bag is first opened.
This is a traditionally roasted or “fully” roasted Oolong, which serves the practical purpose of killing or deactivating any remaining oxidizing enzymes left in the leaves after they have been bruised and allowed to partially oxidize, creating the basis for the complex flavors in the finished tea. This roasting process traditionally happens using glowing (not flaming) charcoal covered with rice ash to prevent flame ups, but larger/more modern/less traditional factories use electric ovens for consistency and to prevent the accidental introduction of smoky tastes into the leaves. To use an example from western cooking, much in the same way as searing a piece of meat prior to cooking “browns” or caramelizes the proteins on the surface of the meat (the Maillard reaction) and creates complexities of flavor in the finished dish, this traditional roasting process caramelizes or “browns” the proteins in the surface of the tea leaves, creating an amazing layer of roasted/toasted richness & complexity in the flavor of the final product.
Flavor & Aroma:
The flavor of the infused tea liquor has elements of toasted spices with sweet & tart background flavors. One of the subtle flavors in the background of this Ban Tian Yao makes me think of the rich, herbal flavor found in real sarsaparilla or root beer (imagine the root beer flavor without any sugar), making this an intriguing infusion to say the least. The caramelized/roasted notes do not overpower the subtleties in the many layers of flavor, and bittersweet aftertaste (Hui Gan) is assertive and lingers nicely on the palate.
Wu Yi Teas are best suited to Gong Fu style preparation, but we have also had interesting flavors show themselves when steeping this tea western style. Rather than sticking to a specific weight of tea leaves to water volume measure, we recommend simply filling your gaiwan or Yixing style teapot 1/2 to 2/3 full of dry tea leaves, use water just under a boil and a series of short steepings. If you customarily use a specific guideline when steeping a tea for the first time, start with 6 grams of leaf in a 150 CC steeping vessel.
We strongly recommend using aroma cups when tasting Wu Yi Yen Cha because the sweet fragrance of the tea liquor clings to the porcelain for a surprisingly long time and the different layers & aspects of the complex nose reveals itself as the aroma cup cools.
For western style steeping, we have achieved dramatically different results with different amounts of leaf, but we suggest starting with 3-5 grams of leaf in a standard size (+/- 4 cup) teapot. Use water under a boil (195 degrees F), and steep for 5 minutes. Of course these rough guidelines are merely a suggestion, and individual tastes will vary. Adjust the amount of leaf, steeping time, and water temperature used according to your preference.