Review: American Tea Room Ruby Black

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Sophie’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"A cross between an Assam, a Yunnan, a Darjeeling and a deeply roasted oolong but with a unique freshness in the aftertaste that can only be inadequately described as the mentholated sweetness of balsam and fir on a warm day"
Sophie’s Teaview: 8.9/10
Other Teaviews: Lynn gave it 10/10, Laura gave it 10/10, Geoff gave it 9/10, Jamie gave it 10/10, Vanessa gave it 10/10, Shaiha gave it 8.9/10, Katie gave it 9.1/10, Erika gave it 9/10
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americanrubyblackThis unusual and rare tea comes from an entirely new strain of trees grown in the region surrounding Sun Moon Lake, in Taiwan. Ruby Black is obtained from a cross between tea trees native to Myanmar and imported Assam trees. The Japanese brought the latter during their occupation of the island in the 1920's. After 40 years of research, the Taiwanese Tea Experiment Station found that the T-18 cultivar stood above the rest of similar hybrids for the flavour of its leaves and its hardiness - it survived a particularly devastating earthquake in 1999. Presently harvested by small growers, only 1000 kg of this tea was grown over the past year. The ATR's website boldly states that it rivals the best Darjeelings or Assams. I've found their recommendations pretty accurate in the past - “it ain't bragging if it's true”, right?

Following the instructions on my sample's package, I infused a heaping teaspoon of tea in 8 ounces of water heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This is rather hard to do as the leaves are quite large and very curly. They have the same purplish-brown colour as highly oxidized oolongs and an aroma akin to pumpkin pie, with a hint of cinnamon and cloves. After steeping for 2 minutes the liquor is a crystal clear toffee colour, again faintly scented with warm spices as well as a vaguely floral bouquet.

True to its origins, I found this tea to be a hybrid in taste, more specifically like a cross between an Assam, a Yunnan, a Darjeeling and a deeply roasted oolong. When it's hottest it resembles an Assam, with some dryness and pull at the forefront. Like Yunnans and oolongs, there is a generous amount of sweet root vegetable and plum notes. The whole thing tied together nicely with the briskness of a good Darjeeling. What is unique about Ruby Black is that it highlights all the best elements of each of these types of teas. There is also a very pleasant freshness in the aftertaste that can only be inadequately described as the mentholated sweetness of balsam and fir on a warm day.

This tea is rather complex but straightforward at the same time. One can pick up on the elusive aromas that come and go as the temperature of the tea changes. However, this tea is immediately and gratifyingly delicious. The other nice thing about this tea is that it is very smooth and easy to drink, but with a fair amount of body to it. It could stand milk and sweeteners if one chose to go that route, but they are not at all necessary. In a happily confounding way, the dryness present is not accompanied with any bitterness.

Curious to see how this oolong-like tea would hold up to multiple infusions, I brewed the leaves a second time for 3 minutes. Roasted notes are more apparent, in what is a slightly more savoury flavour profile. Some plum still peeks through in the finish however. A third 5 minute-long infusion is a little thin. Although still pleasantly malty and brisk, the tea has now lost most of it's sweetness.

Practically all tea grown in Taiwan is consumed locally: they import three times the amount that they produce. So, it is no small accomplishment for the folks at American Tea Room to have obtained a portion of the 2010 harvest, especially since so little of this tea is produced. Sure, this tea is on the pricey side but the good thing is that the folks at ATR are often coming up with interesting promotions. You can also order a sample size to see if you'd like to order more of this exceptional tea. Which you most probably will!

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