My sister now lives near Santa Fe so it behooved me during my visit in May to get to know the area a bit. How do I get to know a new city? Well, partly by shopping for tea!
After locating The Teahouse (tucked away near the art galleries by the river) I walked all the way through it, looking for tea. This is apparently a tea place that mostly serves sit-down customers (they also serve food, but have an extensive tea and specialty-tea-drinks menu). On the far end of the building from where I entered, there it was: what looked a little like a restaurant entryway/check-out desk but was surrounded on all four walls by tea tins. Not always legibly labeled either; I was lucky to have one of the staff help me figure out what I was looking at, and take down any tins high enough for me not to be able to reach (most of them). The experience was enlightening and I smelled some really delicious teas. In the end I indulged myself with some Pineapple Sencha and something called Freak of Nature.
In answer to the obvious question: Yes, it is. It’s a milk oolong that goes beyond milk into the realm of buttered popcorn, shortbread, whipped cream, and more. The staff member said no two people agree on what it smells like. They had only maybe 1/8 of a tin left and I bought one ounce for $22, so we are not talking an everyday tea here. Apparently only a few hundred pounds are sold every year and this is one of the few tea vendors that buys some, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. (I note that this tea is already on Steepster as purchased at The Rare Tea Cellar, so you can go read other reviews on that listing, but I think the sum total of a tea—even if it is without doubt the same tea from the same grower/processor—is also comprised of how it is treated/stored by the dealer, so I added a listing for this tea from The Teahouse.)
I do have to say that the small ziploc into which they put my ounce of this tea, and in which it spent the first couple of months with me, had several small holes along the side which I didn’t notice until a couple of weeks ago. When I did, I put the whole thing, bag and all, into another ziploc bag. The scent diminished somewhat over the last few months until I put it in an additional bag, but I’m not sure whether this would have happened anyway, or if the holes hastened the loss of scent. It still smells amazing, don’t get me wrong! Just not as strong as it did when I bought it in May.
I did a “traditional” brewing a few weeks ago but I feel like this really needed a gongfu brewing to experience the flavor. So tonight, I brought out the gaiwan. I used about 4 tsp. or enough to fill the gaiwan about 1/5 to 1/4. Yes, that’s a lot of this stuff to sacrifice, but I wanted to do it right. I set the water heater to 190/Oolong and I brewed for 35 seconds. I didn’t burn myself with hot water this time, so I must be doing something right.
The first brew (after rinsing) is round, floral, and creamy soft, with just a little astringency; maybe I should have started at 25 seconds…? I have had a small headache since earlier today and it seems to be helping a little with that, though I don’t feel particularly caffeined-up. The color (I’m estimating somewhat, as I’m using a Japanese teacup that’s brown on the outside and bright celadon on the inside) is a light-to-medium golden green with a tint of yellow/brown to it. The butteriness is more of an aftertaste. I’ll be interested to see whether it takes center stage in later brewings. I don’t know that this rises to my expectations of something that smells this amazing in the leaf, but it sure as hell beats most other oolongs I’ve ever had.
Second brewing: 45 seconds. This brewing is a little darker in the cup, more yellow and more light-brownish, still on the light side though. Less astringency (as in: it’s almost gone) but instead of being more buttery, it’s more round and sweet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I was just hoping for more butter! Still one of the most lovely oolongs I’ve ever tasted. Towards the end of this I’m feeling the caffeine more. (I’m really sensitive to caffeine, so for it to take two cups worth to feel it, that means it’s either not very high in caffeine, or its relaxing properties are mitigating the caffeine jitters.)
Third brewing: 1 min. 10 seconds. Not appreciably different from the second brewing, though darker in color; butteriness is still more of an aftertaste than anything else. I can’t drink more caffeine than this in one evening, and it took me awhile to drink this third cup, so I’m stopping here, though I wonder what the fourth and subsequent brewings would have been like.
Overall: I wish I had done a gongfu brew much sooner after getting this. I suspect it would have been more strongly flavored with the butttered popcorn/shortbread flavor that was so wildly apparent when I purchased it. As it is, it’s still a wonderful milk oolong, sweet and round, impressing me with every sip…but not really a freak of nature. Going back to single-cup brewing so as not to use up so much of the leaves, since when it’s gone, it’s gone!
Flavors: Butter, Creamy, Floral, Green, Mineral, Popcorn