Several months ago while drinking tea with my friends Jason and Andrew at Smacha, I received (among other things) a little sample of Bitter Melon Tie Guanyin (苦瓜 鐵觀音) oolong tea.
These days I typically choose either an oolong or a hongcha for my daily brew, and I tend to stick with teas I know. But today I was feeling more adventurous so I decided to give this novelty a try.
I was surprised to find the tea leaves are actually packed into a dried bitter-melon rind shaped like a little bumpy cylinder! The leaves themselves look and smell pleasant. It is a roasted oolong tea.
I used freshly boiled water and gave the "unit" a three second rinse in my gaiwan. It smells quite good, roasty, sweet and mellow.
The first infusion was about 30 seconds and poured pretty light. As you might imagine it took the water a few infusions to get into the center of this "wheel of leaves" and start to push the real flavor out. I continued to do short steeps because I was afraid of the bitterness that actually never came. After the second infusion, with the leaves pushing their way out of the melon rind, the liquor turned a medium-dark amber color. I enjoyed the flavor but it does have a weird vegetable note. The sweet caramel-like oolong flavors are muddied up by a tart cucumber-skin aftertaste.
After 15 years as a heavy tea drinker I have a pretty good understanding of what my body craves. I drink tea for the satisfied feeling it gives me, the flavor, and the energy (qi) (氣). Maybe it's because I do not have any sentimental connections to bitter melon or it's potential health benefits that I found that this tea was ultimately not worth my time.