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January 05, 2007

Flavor and Fragrance: Green Oolong Teas of China and Formosa

Green_tea_1

by Michelle Krell Kydd

The joy of experiencing the connection between the olfactive and the gustatory is limitless. We are cognizant of the separate senses of taste and smell, but the two work together—if you cannot smell then you cannot taste. Drinking Chinese and Taiwan green oolongs illustrates the volley of sensation from tongue to nose in a way that can be appreciated by anyone patient enough to brew a cup of tea. …

Green has a taste and a smell. As one of the 13 fragrance families in perfumery, its verdant qualities are described as fresh, crisp, classical, or rich. Green tea’s manifestations in fine fragrance are legion, the commercial charge led by Bvlgari Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert (1993). Fragrance descriptions are tinged with subjectivity as the vocabulary of memory gives voice to how our senses are affected. The quality of individuality, however, is collective and though we may possess different words to describe what we emote; we all feel the same things. There is tremendous peace in this comforting truth worth integrating into daily life.

Smelled dry, China Special Production Tie Guan Yin is redolent of early spring, when flowers begin to perfume the air, one after the other, each in its own time. In the cup, China Special Production Tie Guan Yin has the high pitched white floralcy of lily of the valley, a slight flower with a teasing, fleeting intensity. The smell then gravitates towards the balsamic sweetness of hosta plantagenea [photo], also known as the “August Lily”, one of the last flowers of summer that delights passersby with its nocturnal perfume. These specific floral impressions seasonally bookend each other, making the experience of drinking this tea undeniably spiritual—each sip possesses the intelligence of the universe, where things grow from flower to fruit before meeting the table.

Less floral, but equally compelling, Formosa Spring Dragon possesses a gentle character, tempered with notes of lilac, muscatel and sweet grass. There is a slight aldehydic lift in the nose that brings to mind the scent of a spring morning, delicately inviting one to pause, inhale deeply and take in the essence of teeming life. Many green teas from Taiwan (Formosa) are the grand cru of the green tea kingdom, worthy of the appellation that refers to the top ranking bestowed upon vineyards. They are deceptively simple, blooming from palate to nose as the tea is drank.

Watching steam rise from a cup of tea gives voice to the former life of the plant, recalling days spent on mountains and fields draped in mist, transmitting a message of sweet exhalation redolent with terroir—the land and the elements that determine its flavor. There are many green oolongs to explore and infinite stops along the sensorial journey. Take the time to enjoy each passage as you decipher life’s mysteries in the cup or on the plate.

N. B.: Michelle recommends trying Upton Tea, and I concur. Their selection of regional green oolongs is very impressive. Teas vary in price and are available in sample packs, which can be obtained either from the Upton Tea website or by calling 1-800-234-8327. In Europe, I very much enjoy the selection at Le Palais des Thés.

Photo of Formosa Spring Dragon © Bois de Jasmin.

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