Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Meghma Estate Nepalese Oolong Tea

As a participant in T Ching's current online tasting event, I am honored to partake in this virtual tea ceremony that is taking place throughout the online tea community. We have each received about 25g of two teas (although looks like a lot more to me!), along with instructions for how to brew them to their utmost capacity. Here is the first review.

Meghma Tea Estate's Spring 2007 Nepalese Oolong

This tea is something special. Firstly because Eastern Nepal (which borders the Darjeeling district of India) is famous for producing black teas, so an oolong tea grown in the lower Himalayas is a rarity. Secondly, a lot of care went into the production methods. It was not only produced organically, but also biodynamically--using herbal compost preparations and planting and harvesting in alignment with astronomical cycles. This holistic form of farming can theoretically impart the tea with a whole lot of qi.

The dry leaves are hand-rolled lengthwise, anywhere from 0.25"-1.5" in length, and dark in color--with earthy, fuscous browns, coppery reds and virescent greens. The smell is nutty and reminded me of the smell of raking leaves in the fall. Let's give it a shot in my little teapot... here are T Ching's brewing instructions:

"We recommend brewing this tea with premium quality water at near boiling temperature. Use about 1 heaped teaspoon (about 4 grams) of leaves per 8 fluid oz of water for 3 minutes."

I give the four grams a quick rinse, and the aroma from the steamy leaves is very recognizable: baked butternut squash and baked yams. Upon infusion with near boiling water, the water almost instantly turns green, then becomes yellow, and progresses to an amber by the time the three minutes are up.

After infusion, the leaves are greener than expected. They are quite small in size, on average only about 0.5" wide and 1" long. Are these young leaves, or simply from the Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis? I also notice that they are not tattered along the edges like other oolongs. According to an interview with Madan Tamang of the Meghma Tea Estate, they use a production method closer to that used to produce Taiwanese (a.k.a. Formosa) oolongs. It is part of the Chinese traditional method of producing oolongs to bruise the leaf edges, which was apparent in a Tie Guan Yin I reviewed. Is this not the traditional method in Taiwan? Tamang does not mention the bruising step in his interview--only hand-rolling, fermenting, and firing.

Now to the fun part, the flavor! This is definitely different from any oolong I have tried. While it does have a slightly floral high-note, it reminds me of milky plant sap more than floral sweetness found in other teas. The tea is sweet, however, tasting of honey, raisins, and almonds. Is the muscatel quality due to the estate's proximity to Darjeeling? The low-note is of pumpkin, and lingers without drying the mouth. The overall mouthfeel is also pleasantly buttery. There is virtually no bitterness or astringency to be found here--it is a very smooth tea.

A second, slightly longer (~4 min) infusion produces a darker liquor. The flavor is not as complex, flat but somehow sweeter than the first brew, like brown sugar.

The tea buzz is not one that induces profound enlightenment or epiphanal alignment with the astros, but it does give the mild jolt that tea tends to give me.

Overall, I thought this tea was yummy! It was a pleasure to have a piece of Nepal passed through many caring hands to my tea cup. It will be one I come back to, and look forward to sharing with others. I give this tea a solid 7.5/10.


~ Phyll said...

That's a great tasting note! I similarly think that there is something unique and special about this oolong. I have brewed it many ways at home (I purchased 2 lbs from The Simple Leaf Tea) and found each way resulting in nice brews. It's still most complex when brewed in a gaiwan, lots of leaves and short infusion time...at least for me. Have you tried?

Thank you. I enjoyed reading it.

perpleXd said...

I'd like to try it in a gaiwan, but I don't yet have my own. Do you find the gaiwan to produce similar results to gongfu style, i.e. lots of leaves with little water and short brew times?

Thanks for the comment:)

~ Phyll said...

Yes. I use a gaiwan for "gongfu style" brewing in lieu of a Yixing teapot (or any small-sized teapot). So for me using a gaiwan is to brew gongfu tea as well.

perpleXd said...

Oops, using a yixing teapot is what I meant to say, but you caught my drift nonetheless :)