I received a message from Kim DeMent at Smith Teamaker informing me that Tony Tellin - one of their lead blenders - had concocted a gin-infused Ti Kwan Yin experiment. Where some would arch an eyebrow at the prospect, I furrowed mine in fancy. Tony had already successfully meshed whiskey with a Nuwara Eliya Ceylon over the holiday season. It was not in the realm of impossibility that oolong and gin could fuse poetically. I made the jaunt out the next day.
Tony kindly came out and set out a quasi-gongfu prep for the "leaforites" of Ti Kwan Yin. He also explained that - unlike with the whiskey Ceylon - the oolong leaves were literally infused in gin; not just scented, and it showed. The aroma of the dry leaves were distinctly oolong on first impression - smoky, wildernessy, floral - but there was an added tang to the scent that begged for a question mark. Appearance-wise, they were also darker in color than the usual green-brown of naked/untouched Kwan Yin. He steeped the leaves three-to-four times, each for about forty seconds to a minute (I think?). The results were thus:
First infusion: Typical Ti Kwan Yin foretaste - toasty, roasty, flowery - but it quickly transitioned to a woody, berryish middle. The aftertaste (which I usually hate on some roasted oolongs) was thankfully mild, retaining the berry note.
Second infusion: Pretty much echoed the first. Much stronger on the gin contribution, almost grape-y. Aftertaste was only a tad stronger.
Third infusion: I actually had to sip two helpings of it. The first cup was overpoweringly Kwan Yin-ish in its - as Tony called it - "graphite" note on the finish. However, as we plowed away at the gaiwan, the berry and juniper dual presence still stood steadfast against the tea tide.
Conclusion? For me it was a favorable (and flavorful) experience. I tend to be pickier with oolongs than I am with, say, Darjeeling blacks or Chinese whites. However, this retained all the positives of a Ti Kwan Yin and possessed a strong presence from the liquor infusion. Tony lamented that it still needed work to achieve more of a juniper "top note", but I thought that still having an oolong foretaste gave it a good hybrid character. Before I left, he casually mentioned that other experiments were in the works. I more-than-implied that I would be a happy guinea pig for those as well.
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