Last week I stopped by Floating Leaves tea shop in Ballard to pick up an ounce each of their three new Winter Wenshan Baozhongs (文山包種茶). Floating Leaves, in my opinion, is one of the best tea vendors in America. The proprietress, Shiuwen, is brilliant, fun and welcoming. I always enjoy stopping by her little shop to sample some incredible oolongs and puer teas!
These Wenshan Baozhongs are competition teas from Pinglin, Taiwan. They are simply called: 1st place Baozhong, 2nd place Baozhong, and Farmer's Choice Baozhong. This morning my wife and I cupped them up using the bowl and spoon method recommended by Shiuwen. Because these teas are very aromatic it is lovely to smell their fragrance evaporating off of the Asian soup spoons. I'm not certain why, but the convex and concave sides of the soup spoon smell very different. The convex often has a sweeter sugarcane-like aroma and the concave often has a fruitier, maltier and richer aroma.
Each of these three teas cupped up very nicely using four grams of tea in a half-filled bowl of 200 degree water. After about 3 minutes of spoon dipping and spoon sniffing, we decanted the tea soup into mugs for sipping.
The aroma of the 1st place Baozhong was noticeably stronger than the other two with a slightly "greener" smell that reminded me of pine trees. The liquor had a light yellow color. All three teas were very smooth but Alanna and I ranked this tea as the "least smooth." That is not a fault because this tea's warming, spicy flavor was extremely refreshing. This tea presented delicate tasting notes of pineapple and orange rind and its aftertaste and aroma were clean and very long lasting.
The aroma of the 2nd place Baozhong was sweet and creamy. I would say that the 1st place had a brisker taste, while this tea was more floral. Also, the yellow color of this Baozhong is a shade darker than the 1st place's. The flavor reminded me slightly of a perfectly ripe papaya that I had eaten last month in Maui. Alanna and I favored this tea for its buttery, flowery taste and thicker texture in the mouth.
The Farmers Choice Baozhong is in a class by itself. Shiuwen told me that this tea has a higher level of oxidation than most of the Wenshan Baozhongs currently being produced and I have been told that higher oxidation such as this used to be more common. I believe the farmer prefers this tea for its luscious and thick mouth feel. The tea soup was easily the darkest shade of yellow and the aroma was unique and pleasant. The flavor of this tea was much maltier and toastier than the other two teas and I even picked up a slightly "hoppy" note. The taste had a nice balance of rich, warming, complex and floral. I might say: "This tea drinks like a meal."
While these three teas may not have been the greatest Baozhongs that I've ever tasted, they are clearly among the best you can buy for this Winter. They are all very good, and they were a real pleasure to review.
After our tea tasting, Shu Shu the dragon enjoyed a steaming hot "Baozhong Bath" in the falling snow!
Shu Shu's Baozhong Bath: