February 21, 2017
You can check off a lot of boxes with Arbor Teas. Organic (USDA and Global Organic Alliance) - check. Compostable packaging - check. Carbon Free (with carbon offsetting) - check. Arbor Tea is also is also Fair Trade Certified and Green America Approved. The Ann Arbor based company was founded by Aubrey and Jeremy Lopatin. For those of you who are more interested in how the teas taste, the teas I drank were very good. I received four samples and drank them in the following order: Korean Woojeon, Gyokuro (Japan), High Mountain Oolong (Vietnam), and Hawaii Premium Black.
I would not be able to easily distinguish the taste of this tea from a Japanese sencha. However, the leaves are strikingly different. Sencha are flat needles while woojeon are twisted and curved. Cream and custard fruit came to mind whenever I smelled the dry leaves. What of the smell of the infused woojeon leaves? The toasted fragrance of genmaicha. One teaspoon in 6 ounces of 180-85F water for 2 minutes yielded a shiny, pale yellow green liquor. I prepared the woojeon (and the gyokuro) in a kyusu. The woojeon was smooth and creamy with no astringency. The toasted, nutty liquor left a slight silkiness on the lips. The second infusion of 3 minutes yielded a bolder liquor than the first infusion but it was still smooth. I prepared this tea with different parameters for a second session using 1 teaspoon in 3 ounces of 175F water for 40 and 50 seconds. The 40 second infusion was more flavorful than the tea made using 6 ounces of water and a longer steep time. The 50 second infusion was the best. The liquor was creamy, grassy, vegetal, with a hint of umami, nutty, smooth and had an endnote of fruity floral sweetness. The latter was a surprise. The mouthfeel was thick. I steeped the leaves once more for 60 seconds. The liquor was yellower and cloudier. It had a thinner mouthfeel, was still vegetal with a slight marine mid note, and a sweet, creamy tail note.
Of the four teas, this was the only one that specified the water volume. I infused 1 teaspoon in 8 ounces of 180-85F water for 2 minutes. The shiny, vibrant green liquor smelled like vegetables which was consistent with the smell of the infused leaves. This vegetal fragrance carried over to the taste which also exhibited some umami. I did not think the "some umami" corresponded to brothiness but according to TEA by Gascoyne et al., intense broth is associated with gyokuro. The tail note was smooth and creamy. The overall mouthfeel was enjoyable.
High Mountain Oolong
A few technical details about this oolong before I share my tasting notes. It was made from the Qing Xin cultivar grown in Lam Dong, Vietnam at 3,200 feet above sea level. The tea was oxidized to 20% making it a green oolong. I steeped 1 teaspoon in 6 ounces of 195F water for 4 minutes. The leaves were large and balled with visible stems. The infused leaves smelled soapy which in my mind is another word for floral. The leaves, very long (and with buds now visible), were not full unfurled after 4 minutes. (I resteeped these leaves several more times in a gaiwan.) The plan gold liquor was fully floral with a spice note. I did not identify the spice. What spice notes have you detected in a green oolong? There was a tart fruit tail note. The liquor coated the front of my mouth; there was almost a numbing effect. When I drank the tea after it had cooled down, I tasted a milker oolong with a citrus undertones.
Hawaii Premium Black
This whole leaf black tea was grown in Hawaii. It is a custom blend of "several different varietals and picking dates" from the Onomea Tea Company. The long twisted leaves are dark with copper flecks and silvery buds. The dry leaves smell of freshly broken stems, malt, and chocolate. This is consistent with the smell of the liquor. I infused approximately 1 teaspoon - it is hard to use teaspoon measures for long leaves - in 6 ounces of 212F water for 3 minutes. The liquor tasted more strongly of chocolate and malt but overall this was a light impact tea with the exception of the ripe banana tail note.
The Korean Woojeon and Gyokuro really shone among the four teas. The oolong performed really well in a gaiwan. Thirty second infusions offered up floral, fruity notes with a thick mouthfeel and silkiness on the lips. The black tea prepared in a gaiwan lingered longer on my palate. I used the remainder of the sample which was a bit over 5 grams in 100 mL of boiling water at 30 second infusions. The first infusion was enjoyably robust because of this gram:volume ratio. The subsequent infusions were semi-sweet chocolate with fruit. If you don't already, give your teas a second chance in a gaiwan.
All four tea samples were provided by Arbor Teas.
P.S. Check out Arbor Teas recipes page.