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  • Writer's pictureNadav Biran

Blind Tasting Club #04 – Autumn 2022

Updated: Feb 13

Club Gathering Log #04 | Online Event: 18,20.11.2022

In the autumn edition of Blind Tasting Club 2022 we chose to focus on recent revelations of tea development during our sourcing trips in Thailand and Taiwan earlier this year. Making the connection between both industries, we created a narrative that tells the story of different cultivars, how they were shifted from one terroir to another and treated differently by the teamakers.

The 4th gathering of our club was all about challenging our senses and trying to identify unique characteristics in sub-types of tea that might seem familiar at first glance. The club sampler featured 1 tea from Thailand and 4 more from Taiwan, each was playing a significant role in the development of modern tea making, while pushing the creativity of its masters beyond the well-commercial tea industries in both countries.

tea club

We split between the clubbers 2 versions of the tea: an Emei Shan original version from Taiwan, and a gaoshan (high mountain) from Doi Mae Salong in North Thailand. Both wulong teas are organic, share similar tea making and an unusual cultivar with Jinxuan 金萱 (originally qingxin damao 青心大冇 is being used). It’s the terroir that makes the difference, we literally ended up with 2 teas with hardly anything in common in terms of profile. The Taiwanese version features spicy notes in a bolder silky body, while the Thai wulong was more floral, rich and consistent overall. Oriental Beauty, aka Bai Hao Wulong or Eastern Beauty, is the official name of this tea given by no other than Queen Elizabeth, that unfortunately died a day before we purchased the Taiwanese batch of this tea. The iconic mi xiang 蜜香 (honey fragrance) term related to this type of tea doesn’t necessarily relate to actual honey aroma, but to the sweet & sticky effect caused by the Jassid bugs (Leafhoppers) biting the leaves before harvest.

Altitude: Doi Mae Salong: 1,250m, Emei Shan: 370m

Tasting Notes: Honey, chestnut, roses

Club's Verdict: The Thai version was drawing more interest among clubbers

Although the leaves are unrolled and loose, the complexity of this tea can even make experienced drinkers surprised it’s a white, and for good reasons since this white tea was slightly oxidized and baked before being packed. Real wild leaves from uncultivated trees in the jungle as this one, will have different picking standards and tea-making procedures than cultivated tea. The relatively new botanical term Camellia Formosensis describes the native tea variety growing wild in several spots across Taiwan, though its roots are still believed to be originally from other varieties such as Yunnan’s da ye zhong 大叶种 (large leaf) and Fujian’s Camellia sinensis var. sinensis.

Altitude: 1,300-1,800m

Tasting Notes: Honey, roses, mushrooms, black pepper, cinnamon

Club's Verdict: A very unusual & truly rare tea which both Pink and Nadi claimed to be their favorite. When was the last time that happened? 🤔

#3: Shanlinxi "Grandma" Dong Ding Gaoshan Wulong – Spring 2022 (Taiwan)

A very unusual batch of tea we couldn’t skip! Originally grown and produced in Lugu town, Dong Ding wulong is another iconic Taiwanese tea entered the club thanks to a twist. Modern Dong Ding wulongs we know today aren’t necessarily produced in traditional craftsmanship anymore, probably because of the intensity and distinct bitterness that are attached to it. This version of Dong Ding is not only produced according to the family’s grandma recipe from the 70’s, but the leaves were grown in Shanlinxi at an elevation 900m higher than Lugu, giving it fruity gaoshan vibes. It took almost a week to complete the process of this batch, including 4-5 times of rolling that in earlier days used to be made by hands and feet. But not today…

Altitude: 1,350m

Tasting Notes: Green grapes, bamboo, lemongrass, spearmint

Club's Verdict: The most easy to recognize among the 5 teas. Either you really like it or you can skip.

A masterful tea making by a 3rd generation farmer who is both a pioneer in natural organic tea growing and a skillful charcoal baker. Short young tea bushes 11 years old, which were left to grow naturally without watering, planted from seeds of a Wuyi Shan native cultivar. The seeds were brought to Taiwan from China in the early 80’s by the family, a cultivar which is hardly in use today. The leaves were picked during winter 2019 due to the relatively low altitude and hot weather of Mingjiang, and were aged in vacuum for 3 years until left to oxidize for 5 more months. An unforgettable deep flavor complex with an endless ripe fruits huigan (aftertaste).

Tasting Notes: Ripe fruits, hazelnuts, raisins, banana

Club's Verdict: The crowd's favorite tea of Autumn 2022 club (Tied with No. 5) 🥇 was a consensus among clubbers who claimed this tea is flawless.

Out of all club members none had guessed this tea is black. I mean red. I mean the leaves are really black in color as this tea is deeply baked, even more baked than 2019 Tanbei Yu Guan Yin. Calling this tea a crazy experiment will do justice with its maker who blended different batches of Spring, Summer & Winter black teas of different cultivars, only to age it all together until the right moment to bake it together for over a week in an electric oven under low-med temperature (hong bei). The result is very deep in color and flavor, which is usually achieved in heavy baked wulong tea such as Wuyi yan cha. The leaves are tender as thin paper, sweet caramel is present all along with spice notes, mouthfeel is unique - which makes this tea incomparable with most red teas. I mean black.

Tasting Notes: Candied Lemon, Clay, Caramel, Warm Spices

Club's Verdict: Well deserved the "most unique tea" award 🏅 after none of the clubbers could guess this is black tea, but it also reached a tie with No.4 for the crowd's favorite tea.

Winter 2023 edition of Blind Tasting Club is around the corner, earlier than expected. We will feature a new tea sampler real soon and will publish new club gathering dates accordingly. Get ready 🧣