Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bai Hao Oolong Tea

Bai Hao Oolong is produced in Hsinchu (aka Xinghu) Taiwan. Sometimes referred to Oriental Beauty, White Tip Oolong, or Champagne Oolong, in Taiwan it is often called Pingfang tea. As with everything, authenticity is based on the source of where the tea came from.

While most high quality Taiwanese teas are picked in the spring or winter, Bai Hao is harvested in the months of June & July, sometimes extending out into October. In reading about how it is made, I came across some contradictory stories. One source wrote that it is called bai hao because of the tender white downy buds that are picked along with the top two leaves, resulting in the white 'tips' evident in the dry leaves. Another source wrote that this particular tea relies on insects (like 'Miele de Sapin' fir tree honey) to achieve the white 'tips'. In their explanation, the tea bushes are home to a parasitic leaf hopper that feeds on the leaves and discolors the edges. Their chomping begins an enzymatic process that is essential to flavor and character development in the tea. Farmers wait until they have left their mark on the tea leaves before harvesting, and after picking and drying, the edges turn white causing contrasting strands of white among the black leaves. It could be a little bit of both, but without going to Taiwan and learning firsthand, I can be sure exactly.

Historically this tea is heavily fermented (according to Rishi) and roasted but in recent years they've been producing it with a light fermentation, resulting in a light fruity, honeyed taste. It's smooth with just a hint of tannin or acidity in the finish- my tongue can't quite tell the difference this morning.

This is a tea intended to be brewed and sipped in a gaiwan, a tea brewing method very popular in the east but not often seen here in the states. They're perfectly ideal for oolong teas, and although the setup is a bit different, it's a much more enjoyable way of drinking a cup at a time and brewing as needed. Here's a link to a basic video of how to use one at home. If you want to see the classical ceremonial way of brewing, watch this video.