Exciting news everybody…I am now blogging directly from Taiwan! I moved to Taipei about two months ago, so sorry about the slow pace of my reviews lately. Anyways, on to the tea…
Today’s tea is the Red Water Oolong from T Shop in New York City.
I should start by saying that T Shop is probably my favorite tea shop in all of New York City. I visited this awesome shop for the first time last June and I immediately fell in love. It is the only specialty tea shop that I have found so far in New York that is able to serve incredibly high quality tea without being overly pretentious about it. When I visited T Shop, I had a Charcoal Roasted Cui Feng and a Dong Ding that were both incredible, the very pinnacle of each of these styles of tea. I hate to sound overly dramatic, but both of these teas were probably up there in the Top 10 best teas I have had in my life.
For some reason that I don’t understand, I didn’t buy either of those teas to take home with me. Perhaps I was scared off because they were quite expensive, but I definitely regret not buying at least an ounce or two try out at home. After speaking with Theresa, the super friendly and knowledgeable owner, I decided on the Red Water Oolong to take home. Theresa and I spent a good bit of time discussing how awesome and perfect Taiwan is, so when she described this tea as a very traditional Taiwanese style tea, I couldn’t say no.
In case you are not familiar, Red Water or 红水 (Hóng Shuǐ) is a very old school style of Taiwanese oolong in which the leaves undergo a much longer oxidation process than most modern Taiwanese oolongs. From what I understand, this tea is usually made in the Lugu region, where Dong Ding is made. I’m not sure if T Shop sources their Red Water oolong from there, but I do know that this tea came from Taiwan. I wish I asked more questions while I had Theresa’s attention. Regardless, I trust her tea sourcing skills and I’m sure this tea is a great example of Hóng Shuǐ oolong.
As one would expect from a highly oxidized tea, these leaves are quite dark. There are no broken leaves or dust, even in the bottom of the bag. These leaves definitely have a strong oxidized aroma, but there is also a slight fruity aroma that smells like raisins or prunes perhaps, somewhat similar to the aroma of a Sun Moon Lake style Taiwanese black tea.
Once I put the leaves into my warmed teapot, the more complex smells came through. A honey sweetness and slight floral quality drifted out of the teapot. The aromas were strong enough that my friend on the other side of the room asked what we were drinking.
In case you like to keep track of these sorts of things, I used 6.5 grams of tea for this review.
I broke out my new side-handled teapot for this review. Isn’t she beautiful?
I bought this pot from a tea ceramicist in Yingge, Taiwan, which is probably the most famous ceramics town in all of Taiwan. As a result, the town is flooded with a ton of crappy ceramics made for tourists, so you have to dig a bit to find the good stuff. Luckily I was with some good tea friends who pointed me in the right direction.
Here’s the backside, in case you are curious. Or is it called the teapot butt? Not sure.
This teapot was made by a Taiwanese ceramicist who studied in Japan and has a very Japanese influenced style. So I suppose this teapot is sort of a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion design?
The rest of my setup is quite minimalist, but I couldn’t bring over all of my tea equipment with me in my suitcase sadly.
I started off the brewing with a quick five second rinse.
For the first steep, I let the tea infuse for about 35 seconds or so before decanting the tea into small cups for the three tea drinkers.
The first steep is a bit lighter than I anticipated, so I suppose the tea is still opening up at this point. The most noticeable flavor right off the bat is definitely the heavily oxidized flavor. This tea seems to ride the delicate line between a heavily oxidized oolong and a less oxidized black tea.
This tea really starts to shine during the second and third steeps. As you can see, the tea is significantly darker at this point, almost the color of a Keemun or Sun Moon Lake black tea. The dried fruit notes have fully developed at this point, releasing layers of raisin and plum flavors. While I find many Hóng Shuǐ oolongs to be thin and flat in the mouth, this tea has an incredible deep and rich mouthfeel. The finish is very dark and complex, with a pleasant sweet aftertaste and clean feeling that lingers in the mouth for several minutes.
This tea is not a simple dark oolong. There are so many flavors and nuances that this tea deserves to be drunk in a quiet and focused setting in order to to appreciate the subtle flavor differences between steeps.
The later steeps (7-9) are where the sweetness of this tea really develops. Each of these later steeps finished off with a deep honey sweetness. These later steeps even have a slight floral finish, which was unexpected. I have never tasted a Hóng Shuǐ oolong that developed into more floral notes at the finish.
I was amazed by how much life this tea has. I ended up taking the tea leaves in my to-go “grandpa style” tea tumbler after the tenth steep, since this tea definitely still has a lot to give, even though I ran out of time!
Unlike many darker oolongs, this Hóng Shuǐ is incredibly forgiving. If you leave it in the pot for a few seconds too long, it won’t turn bitter on you. This quality only appears in the highest quality of heavily oxidized oolong, so this tea has definitely been crafted by a true tea master. As a result, this tea is quite nice to drink as a “grandpa style” tea.
Although these tea leaves were not quite done after this review, I made sure to snap a quick photo. I was surprised to see how long these tea leaves are. The leaves were quite curly and wrinkly, almost leathery. This texture is likely a result of the heavy oxidation and rolling process that the Hóng Shuǐ style requires.
Although this style of tea is not usually something that appeals to me, it really hit the spot today. I think that after only two months in Taiwan, I’ve gotten a bit burnt out by the overabundance of the more green, high mountain style oolongs. So this Hóng Shuǐ was a very nice change of pace.
Perhaps most importantly, this tea simply feels nice. My body and mind feel much better after drinking this tea.
This tea also works quite well as a “grandpa style” tea (leaves in a mug, with no filtering) as long as you don’t use too many leaves. I suggest using only eight or nine leaf balls (that sounds weird) for a typical coffee mug.
This tea sells for $18 for 2 ounces, or $40 for 5 ounces, so it is definitely on the more expensive side. T Shop is more expensive than many other tea stores online, but their teas and teawares are some of the highest quality items I have seen. I would probably save these teas for more special occasions due to the higher price, but I know that I will enjoy them immensely.
I don’t know if I will buy this tea again, since I’m usually more into roasted oolongs. But for those of you out there that really like the more heavily oxidized teas, I definitely think you should give this tea a shot. Regardless, I will likely place another order with T Shop in the future, and I will definitely visit the shop as often as possible when I am in New York City.
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. ~ Thich Nat Hahn