Floral oolongs are often the most sought after by tea connoisseurs, and it takes quite a bit of skill to process the leaves so that those floral aromas and flavors are preserved and even enhanced in the finished product. Here are three great examples of that skill put to good use. These are all mid-level (Imperial) and true to the floral characters in their names. They are also that special class of oolongs known as “Dancong” meaning that each one is made from its own particular cultivar. These are all from the Phoenix mountains area of northeast Guangdong province in China.
A – Imperial Songzhong Zhi Lan Xiang (Orchid) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong
B – Imperial Jiang Hua Xiang (Ginger Flower) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong (buy)
C – Imperial Mt. Wudong Yu Lan Xiang (Magnolia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong (buy)
Gaiwans are highly recommended for infusing these teas (although you can also use a small teapot, either Yixing zisha clay or even ceramic or glass). As shown above, the liquid is a nice yellow. Each tea can be infused numerous times using the same leaves. The secret is in the dry leaves as you can see below. These are mostly whole leaves that are semi-oxidized and then roasted to a dark brown color. Unlike many oolongs, the leaves are shaped into long twists. The advantage is that you don’t have to do a pre-steep (but it doesn’t hurt). The dry leaves of the orchid version (A) was floral and bit grassy, the ginger flower (B) was floral and slightly nutty, and the magnolia (C) was floral and had a touch of fruity sweetness.
The leaves after infusing are shown below. Note the lighter colors showing that these are not fully-oxidized teas, despite how dark they are when dry.
In terms of flavor, ‘A’ was floral, gaining a slight tang in the third infusion that disappeared in later ones and a hint of sweetness showing up early but fading. ‘B’ infused a pale liquid that got a bit darker with each infusion, and a flavor that went from slightly vegetal/floral to more floral. ‘C’ infused at first a pale yellow liquid to start that became more yellow, with a richer aroma and stronger floral character in subsequent infusions.
|2013 Spring Imperial Jiang Hua Xiang leaves being carefully selected by a tea worker.|
These are all from a cultivar (Song) that is part of a sub species of Shui Xian. The Song cultivar Zhong Zhi Lan is from a mother bush that is believed to originate in the Song Dynasty. The Jiang Hua Xiang cultivar also goes by the name Tong Tian Xiang, meaning its aroma can “reach up into the sky” according to the local tea people. In the withering process the Yu Lan Xiang leaves are hand-shaped and fired in wicker baskets over wood-charcoal fires to create and preserve a dark long-leaf with a magnolia blossom aroma that carries a fruity aftertaste; then it is gently steamed and semi-fermented (approx. 18%) so the external part of the leaf ferments without changing its cores chemistry very much.