|"It certainly didn't smell or look like an oolong."|
And that's where I ran into trouble.
Fujian Province is indeed the primary location for oolong cultivation. Mount Wuyi is a protected area in the province and is often considered the birthplace of oolong. However, other sources claim that Bai Hao Oolong isn't one of them. The leaf cultivar - Dai Bai - might be the same, but the growing region isn't Chinese. Bai Hao Oolong - or Dong Fang Mei Ren (meaning "Oriental Beauty") - has its roots in Taiwan.
At least three or four other vendor sites corroborated this, and the farmer/bug legends were the same. Only one other vendor had a Chinese oolong of the same name. What differed in all of them, however, was the British queen who named it. One site claimed Queen Elizabeth I, another claimed Queen Elizabeth II (which meant the name was recent), while TeaVert claimed Queen Victoria (the more likely). The only clear consensus was that most (but not all) teas dubbed Bai Hao Oolong were Formosan not Chinese.
Whatever the truth - and whether or not bug spit was involved in invoking the flavor - the leaves for this were unique. Their aroma reminded me of pine-smoked, chocolate-covered grapes, or at least how I imagined that mix would smell. The leaves also had an interesting shape and color palette, displaying white-haired tips and golden browns. I agreed with the tippy description on sight alone.
Brewing instructions called for 195F-205F water and a four-minute steep. That was a lot heavier than I was used to for an oolong. The four-minute infusion sounded right, but 205F was a temp required for hearty blacks. I settled on 195F; 1 heaping teaspoon in an 8oz cup.
After four minutes, the liquor infused to a bold but clear pyrite with a muscatel nose. If I was doing a blind sniff, I would've guessed this was a first flush Darjeeling. It certainly didn't smell or look like an oolong. The taste would've also supported the pekoe confusion. With a crisp forefront, a fruit-rich middle, and savory finish, this was a very confusing soup to peg. I can say with clarity that it had a very Taiwanese feel to it. I was strongly reminded of Ruby Black while I tasted this, or Formosa Superior Taifu (another medium-bodied oolong).
In short, I liked it quite a bit, mainly for its un-oolong-like characteristics. The fruit-ish lean didn't hurt either, neither did the lack of astringency. Quite a good afternoon tea...wherever it comes from.
» Read more about this reviewer on Geoff's profile page.
» Find a list of recent posts by Geoff.