Friday, February 6, 2009

Amin's Winter Baozhong

Three weeks ago, Teacup received its latest shipment of Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶). This Baozhong was produced in mid-December 2008 by my buddy Amin (阿民) in Pinglin, Taiwan. His family has been making and selling great baozhong for decades and since we met two years ago he has become my usual source for excellent Baozhong tea.

Nicole, Amin, Justice, Andrea, and the top of David's head
(left to right) drinking tea at Amin's house last Spring:

Wenshan Baozhong tea is very popular among my customers here in Seattle. I believe this is partly due to the great work of several local tea people such as Frank Miller (formerly of Blue Willow) and James Labe (formerly of Teahouse Kuanyin). They, and other, early tea pioneers were busy educating Seattlelites about Taiwanese tea at least a decade before I had even heard of oolong tea. In fact, my first experience with Wenshan Baozhong tea was way back in 2001 when my first tea mentor, Donna Fellman, and Mr. Labe imported several jin (600 grams) of a buttery and fragrant competition level tea from Shiding (石碇). Tasting that Baozhong was an eye opening experience for me and I can still remember its sweet and complex flavor. Great moments such as those are at the heart of my growing love for tea. Donna even let me keep the beautiful can that the tea was packed in!

The can from 2001. (It holds oatmeal now):

This afternoon I cupped up Amin's new Winter Baozhong at home. I used a small gaiwan (about 100ml) filled about 60% with dry leaf. I then did 8 wonderful infusions using 190 degree water, heated in my electric kettle.

The dry leaf with a paper crane parade:

My customers and I have been enjoying this new Baozhong tea ever since the minute it arrived... but today's solo cupping provided me with the nicest experience yet!

The first three infusions were about 15 seconds long. They poured a brilliant "full moon yellow" color with cooked sugar aroma and flowery overtones. This Baozhong also appears to have a slightly higher oxidation than the Spring tea I purchased from Amin last year.

The second infusion. (I wish you could smell it):

After taking a few lovely sips of the third infusion I then grabbed a new teabowl to receive the next four infusions. These steeps were each given around 30 seconds. As I tasted them, I went back and forth between them and the rapidly cooling third infusion. I was very pleased with the smooth full body present in all but the seventh infusion. The aroma flitted about wildly, yielding notes of raw honey, lavender, sweet grass and pine. The seventh infusion told me that I had better change my brewing plan or just walk away, because it was thin and boring. I decided to give it one more steep, this time for 3 hours in a lidless gaiwan. The resulting cold brew tasted nice but sat a little heavy in my stomach. So I watered it down to a half water, half tea mixture and then it came alive with more sweetness and a crisp garden aroma.

The third infusion on the right and the seventh on the left:

Many knowledgeable tea lovers have reported a lack of great Wenshan Baozhong tea this season. I have been told that this is mainly due to a warm winter in Taiwan. As I compare some of this year's tea to those in my memory I am inclined to believe it. That being said, it is hard to find a "bad" Baozhong tea. Although they do exist, most Baozhong tea can be graded between "good" and "sublime." I'd place this tea somewhere in the middle.

These leaves are spent:


Mark said...

KRAMER here, with nothing but GOOD THINGS to say about this new Winter Baozhong, which is everything Brett says, and MORE. playing around with infusion times resulted in numerous tones and timbres from each cup. i couldn't even begin to give them all names. at this moment, i'm enjoying this tea thoroughly and have set aside several new pu-erhs in favor of working on this half jin he just sent us. my favorite Oolong since last years' winter fare.

Terry said...

Brett I am constantly amazed at the remarkable standard of your sense of taste. I know I really, really enjoy the winter Baozhong, but I've not taken as much notice of all these beautiful intricacies. I will endeavour to drink tons more, listening closely to your analysis and looking out for those flavours. Keep up the great blog.

Justice said...

Amin's Baozhong is so good!! I wish I could have been there to enjoy his winter tea. Paired with Brett's superior tea service, I can only imagine how wonderful this tasting must have been!