Harvest: Spring, 2011
Growing Area: Jenai Township, Nantou County, Taiwan
Elevation: /-4,000 ft (/-1,200 M)
Varietal: Qing Xin
White Oolong is an intentionally contradictory name for this extraordinary tea. Essentially, it has been processed using some elements of the processing methods commonly used in the production of both oolong and white tea. Among tea farmers in Taiwan, it is common to refer to Qing Xin cultivar tea plants simply as “Oolong” plants, so part of the reason this tea is called White Oolong is because it is made from (Qing Xin) Oolong cultivar. Also, even though it is produced from tea plants that are traditionally only used to produce Oolong tea, the way this tea was processed makes it fit into the “White Tea” category. This tea really fits into the category of White tea and Oolong tea just about as well as the proverbial square peg fits into its round hole…it doesn’t really fit anywhere if you are a stickler for the “rules” of classifying a tea.
The leaves used to produce this tea were hand picked in early April, 2011 from Qing Xin cultivar tea trees that were planted in the late 1930’s in Nantou County of central Taiwan. These precious old tea plants are the same ones used to produce our very popular roasted Lao Tai Di Qing Xin Oolong.
After picking, this tea was very carefully withered using a combination of sunlight and time in a climate controlled room to drive the moisture from the leaves. While it sounds pretty simple, the fact is that withering is a process that requires a lot of experience and expertise to accomplish properly, especially in a situation with these limited availability, old tree tea leaves. If the fresh leaves lose moisture too fast because of too much sunlight or too much heat, they can be ruined by the loss of aromatic compounds that make up much of the flavor and aroma of the finished tea through evaporation along with the water from the leaves.
At this point, when the water content of the leaves was reduced to the tea master’s specification, instead of going into a low temperature oven for drying, they were put into the multi-step process of bag rolling to evenly distribute the remaining “juice” evenly throughout the tea leaves and shape them into the distinctive, tightly rolled ball shape common to many of Taiwan’s High Mountain oolongs. After rolling, the leaves were placed in a low temperature oven to dry them out without contributing a roasted element to the flavor of the finished tea.
The infusion of this exceptional tea is crystal clear and light yellow-green with a lightly sweet and mildly floral aroma. I find the flavor difficult to describe because the aroma and flavor of the minimally processed Qing Xin Oolong cultivar is what dominates. A friend described the experience of drinking this tea as like having “a blooming camellia in your lap,” which, in my mind, is the only description I have heard or can come up with that truly fits this tea. It is light, fresh and sweet, but there is a richness to the flavor from the healthy, robust tea leaves which leaves a pleasant mildly floral sweetness on my palate. Because of it’s lightness, this tea is perfect for hot weather, and, if steeped with good strength, does make a refreshing and light colored glass of iced tea.
This tea is very forgiving to steep, and I haven’t yet found a way to make it taste unpleasant. My preference is to treat it gongfu style using about 7 grams of leaf in a 150 ML gaiwan, water just off the boil, and a series of short steeps. It does infuse well in a more “Western” manner either using water at about 195 F and a steeping time of 3-5 minutes or using water at about 155-160 F and a steeping time of 10 minutes.