Review: Chicago Tea Garden Zealong Aromatic

Chicago Tea Garden, Oolong Tea Add comments
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Thumbs up!"I would simply walk into Mordor to try this again."
Geoff’s Teaview: 9.6/10
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Zealong is the dream project of one Vincent Chen and his family. In 1996, the Chens brought over 1,500 seedlings from Taiwan. However, New Zealand's Ministry of Agriculture - being a little paranoid about foreign invaders - quarantined the seeds and sat on 'em for months. When they were finally released to the owners, the majority had died. Only 130 survived the storage. These proved to be the strongest, and were spread out across Chen's 123-acre farm - approximately three hectares. The Rototuna plantation is located in the apparently-pristine Waikato region; fairly low-altitude in comparison to mainland Chinese or Taiwanese oolongs.

None of that actually caught my fancy when I first heard about the product. What did tickle my geek bone was the mention of New Zealand, and the potential bragging rights that came with it. The opportunity to say, "I had a tea from MIDDLE-EARTH!" far outweighed all other considerations. Luckily, I was able to acquire some of the Zealong Aromatic in a Steepster swap.

And aromatic, it certainly was. First whiff of these dark green-to-brown, tightly rolled leaves turned up hints of milk, earth, and minerals. It was an oolong alright. Product notes on the Chicago Tea Garden site mentioned that the leaves were lightly roasted at high temperatures. Light roast, my arse. These seemed like they were medium-well. The smell reminded me quite a bit of an Anxi Ti Guanyin given a traditional roasting.

Brewing instructions on the CTG site recommended using 190-195F water, two steeps at thirty seconds, followed by two steeps at forty-five. That's right...gaiwan directions. It just so happens that - prior to trying this - I finally acquired a gaiwan for just such an emergency. This time, I didn't have to finagle a gongfu prep from nowhere. I used 1 teaspoon of leaf balls per the one gaiwan for four successive steeps. The results were thus:

Thirty seconds: The leaves had barely begun to unroll. The liquor was pale yellow-green with a distinctly oolong nose. The flavor, though, had a silky texture with notes of flowers and fruit on the middle and finish.

Thirty seconds: The leaves had mostly unfurled and contributed to a darker green liquor - almost leaf-colored, I'd say. The taste was creamy on the fore-front, jasmine-strong in the middle, and possessed a mineral/metallic aftertaste. I didn't care for it.

Forty-five seconds: This was far smoother than the second steep. I detected notes of vanilla and caramel and a less metallic finish. Fruit hints took up the slack in aftertaste.

Forty-five seconds: By far the weakest steep in terms of yield yet also my favorite. The profile had completely changed to one resembling a Bai Mu Dan white with a strong, grape-y middle. Worth the price of admission.

I would simply walk into Mordor to try this again.

— To purchase Chicago Tea Garden Zealong Aromatic, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Geoff Geoff Reviewer
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4 Responses to “Review: Chicago Tea Garden Zealong Aromatic”

  1. Laura Says:

    The LOTR references cracked me up. Nice review.

  2. Geoff Says:

    Thanks, Laura. I’m Mordor-blushing.

  3. Jeff Howell Says:

    Hi other Geoff. Great to learn you love Aromatic. Just wait till you try Pure 🙂

  4. Geoff Says:

    I actually HAVE a sample of the Pure. It’s on the to-do list.

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