The last time I had an Oolong, I really didn’t like it – but I can’t remember when or where that was, except that it was long ago – so that really is irrelevant. When I placed my last order with Peet’s, I tried to hit on each kind of black tea, and tossed in Golden Dragon Oolong to give me the best first impression of what an Oolong is, but when I saw Ti Kwan Yin given cultishly raving reviews on a few peoples’ feeds, and described in various places as unique and different from other Oolong, I added it to the order as well. It is definitely nothing like Golden Dragon in look or smell (I’ve still not tried GD).
From what little I knew of Oolongs, I always thought they were just another kind of black tea, albeit one I had found bitter and miserable in some hazy long lost memory. This one in particular is none of those things. When I opened the tin, I found that the leaves were in fact green – but unlike the straight rolled leaves I’m used to seeing be green, these were lightly crumpled balls, as though they’d folded in on themselves as they were prepared. The aroma is an intense, almost rankly nutty scent, with hints of floral tones and green tea – but it’s the ripe, green, fermented nuttiness that dominated what I smelled, and I was absolutely clueless as to what I’d be getting once I brewed it. This was a blind date if there ever was one.
Every tin of Peet’s tea says to steep in boiling water for five minutes, which is almost always horrifyingly wrong, so I am used to ignoring their instructions. In this case, I went with 180F and 2 minutes, as the tea seemed green and fresh, in need of a gentler touch. After 2 minutes, the color of the water had barely changed at all, so I added another minute… and another… and another. At five, I finally concluded that perhaps this is just an unusually light tea, a golden yellow but only just so. It absolutely looked understeeped – but it wasn’t, this is just how this tea is, it seems.
The aroma of the tea is very similar to the leaves, but the green tea becomes more pronounced, and upon tasting is far more intense than I ever expected. The intense nutty nose from the leaves still dominates, and lends the tea a unique flavor that I absolutely love, reminding me a bit of my Puttabong first-flush darjeeling – a few of the flavors from that explosively intense and varied tea comprise the nuttiness here. Perhaps this is the “Oolong flavor”, or perhaps it’s Ti Kwan Yin in specific.
I really was quite surprised to find that this tastes like a green tea – the unique nuttiness and other tones I described take the foreground, but this is not a black tea, this is a green tea… so I guess an Oolong can be either (Golden Dragon is definitely blackened). Whatever faint memory I had of disliking Oolongs and Darjeelings is long gone – they have a wonderfully unique and complex bouquet of flavors, and so far are proving to be smooth, not very bitter at all, and remarkably umami. I am definitely a fan, and this is definitely one of those that will be getting re-ordered when it’s empty… and it’ll be empty soon.
As a huge fan of shincha, gyokuro and other greens of massive character, I have to add green oolong to my list of favorites. This is definitely green tea, but definitely unlike any other green tea I’ve ever had.
I think next time I’ll go hotter, maybe 195F as seems to often be recommended, and a 4-minute steep, now that I know that it is light in color even when done right.