August 30, 2016

Tasting Three Oriental Beauty Oolongs

Oriental Beauty is the common name for the Bai Hao oolong which translates to white down. Do you recall that silver needle is also referred to as bai hao with Bai Hao Yin Zhen indicating the highest grade of this type of white tea? In this post, I will use the common name, Oriental Beauty or OB for short, when discussing Bai Hao oolongs.

Oriental Beauty oolong: Te Company, Totem Tea, Smith Teamaker
In July I tasted three OBs from Te Company (won in an Instagram giveaway), Totem Tea (courtesy), and Smith Teamaker (also won in an Instagram giveaway). These tasting notes should not be read as a comparison in part because the oolongs do have some outstanding differences. The Te Company OB is a reserve while the Smith Teamaker OB is presented in a pyramid teabag. Also, different cultivars were used; Qing Xin Da Mao for Te Company and Qing Xin Da Pan for Totem Tea. In terms of steeping parameters, all teas were treated similarly. I used 4 grams of each tea. All the teas were orthodox whole leaves. The leaves were infused for three times for 30 seconds in 4 ounces of 200F filtered tap water.

The OBs were similar with regards to the qualities of the dry leaf. My notes on the infused leaves were similar across the OBs so I won't include them here. Although Te Company OB was drunk third, I present it first to match the order shown in the photograph: the leaves smelled fruity, floral, and spicy; were long with a consistent length of at least 1"; were chocolate brown, dark brown, and silver in color with a medium presence of buds. The Totem Tea leaves smelled herbaceous; were long with a consistent length; were also chocolate brown, dark brown, and silver in color with a medium presence of buds. On the other hand, the Smith Teamaker leaves smelled fruity, floral, and spicy; were of varied lengths with a medium presence of buds.

The most striking differences occurred in the tasting. As I mentioned, I steeped each oolong three times. Starting with Te Company, the first infusion was very aromatic. It was similar to a 2nd flush Darjeeling and had rose notes as well. The amber colored liquor coated my mouth and the flavors lingered on my tongue. The Darjeeling note was less pronounced in the second steep but the rose was still very much present. There was a woody undertone as well as a citrus flower note. The empty cup smelled of caramelized sugar. The third steep also yielded rose notes and warm spice. The liquor was drying at this point but with a lingering apricot-like sweetness.

Moving to the Totem Tea OB, this liquor also had a lingering quality with roasted and spicy sweet notes. The second steep did not have the same staying power but yielded a new note of baked sweet bread. The third steep had a drying effect with a cocoa powder finish. Lastly, the Smith Teamaker liquor tasted of roasted stone fruit, floral honey, and spice. On the second infusion, I liquor tasted and smelled of cinnamon. There was a pronounced rose geranium taste and smell, too. The third steep did not linger but it had a pleasing drying effect.

The takeaway: while I enjoyed the Totem Tea Oriental Beauty No. 1, it did pale next to the more complex Te Company Oriental Beauty Reserve. The Smith Teamaker Bai Hao Oolong is an easy drinker OB, and I really appreciate the convenience of the teabag.

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