February 21, 2020

Cultivars in Taiwanese Black Tea Production

All tea is made from Camellia sinensis and its varieties (var. sinensis, var. assamica). One of the main differences among tea types--white, green, yellow, oolong, black, etc--is processing. White tea is the least processed tea with two steps from plucking to finish. Green tea undergoes the least oxidation thus maintaining the green color of the leaves. Chinese versus Japanese green teas differ in how they are withered; Chinese green teas are pan fried while Japanese green teas are steamed. Oolong runs the gamut of oxidation from minimally oxidized green oolongs to highy oxidized dark oolongs. Finally, black teas undergo the greatest degree of oxidation which is responsible for the dark color of the leaves and the flavor profile (briskness, brightness, astringency, and strength, per Uhl (2016)) of the final tea.

Cultivars also play a key role in the flavor profile of teas. Cultivars are bred to produce specific tea types and styles. For example, leaves of the Longjing #43 cultivar are used to make one of China's most famous green tea, Longjing or dragonwell tea. There are 100s of tea cultivars in Japan, and tea producers match the properties of the cultivar to the profile of the tea they'd like to create. In this post, I review two Taiwanese black teas courtesy of Eco-Cha Teas. These two black teas are illustrative of the effect of cultivar in tea production.

Related Link - Tea Cultivars - 12 Chinese Tea Cultivars

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea was made with Qing Xin cultivar which is known for its aromatic profile. This cultivar is used to make Taiwanese oolongs such as Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding, Ali Shan, Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty), and Li Shan. For this tea, Qing Xin leaves were harvested in June and processed as black tea. The farmer who made this tea also makes Dong Ding. The standard Dong Ding is floral and vegetal with a creamy texture. This small leaf black tea did not taste like a green oolong. It drank like an Oriental Beauty.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea were variable in size and color. The infused leaves smelled like Oriental Beauty. The liquor was honey colored. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first infusion tasted like Oriental Beauty. It was honey sweet and fruity with notes of brioche bread and dried apple rings. The 4-minute infusion was also very good. The final infusion was sweet and floral.

Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea

Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea was produced from cultivar T-18, a hybrid of a Burmese var. assamica tree and a southern Taiwanese wild tree (Gascoyne et al. 2011; Eco-Cha Teas). T-18 is the standard cultivar used to make Taiwanese black tea. This cultivar is grown in the Sun Moon Lake region. Its flavor profile has a strong note of mint.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were consistent in size and color. The infused leaves were sweet and minty. The liquor was orange-red. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first cup was medium to full bodied with sweet, minty, malty, and dry cocoa notes. The 4-minute infusion was equally delicious. The final infusion was like drinking the minerals and woods of the forest. Next time, I hope to detect dark, dried fruit flavors.

I steeped each of these teas four times. The second infusion was accidentally done with 175F water producing liquor of lighter character though the Red Jade had more intensity than the Small Leaf.

The Takeaway

A couple of things were striking about this tasting. One, a black tea can taste like an oolong. How should I be categorizing Oriental Beauty oolong? Second, a black tea produced from a cultivar traditionally used in oolong production had no hint of green oolong flavor. The processing method overrode the bred characteristics of the cultivar.

I highly recommend both teas. If you are enjoy Oriental Beauty, then choose the Small Leaf Black Tea. If you like breakfast blends, then pick the Red Jade Black Tea. The latter would be a great choice in the morning or with afternoon tea.

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea and Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were provided by Eco-Cha Teas for review.

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