Dong Ding Oolong Tea (Spring 2014) I thoroughly enjoyed last year's Dong Ding, and am excited to see how this one compares and to see how my palate has evolved. The aroma of this roasted oolong is yum! Really that is what the first word in my tasting journal says about the tea's aroma, it says a lot more, but I always consider that a good beginning. It is a blend of roasted notes and floral notes, retaining the original honeysuckle and orchid notes of the pre-roasted tea. The roasted notes start out with sweet caramelized sugar, cashew butter, roasted sesame, and a hint of acorn squash. It is quite sweet and the mild hint of smoke at the finish adds a level of complexity and is a really great finish.
Unsurprisingly, this tea went into my gaiwan, and after a brief steeping the aroma of the tea filled my tea area. Tao, my fat fluffball of a cat actually woke up and had to come give it a sniff. Taking a cue from my cat and sniffing the wet leaves, I notice that it is a touch smokier now and also not as sweet. There is a strong cooked acorn squash (possibly grilled with that touch of smoke) along with toasted sesame and pine nuts. The liquid is where most the sweetness went, there are notes of honey, roasted sesame and cashew butter. At the end there is a distant whiff of honeysuckle nectar.
Before I get into the taste of the first steep, let me tell you a little about my relationship with roasted Dong Ding Oolongs. I always have to have some on hand, even if it is a low quality (though I of course prefer the good stuff) it is the tea I drink when I feel bad, it is the tea I drink when I am homesick, I reach for this tea on cold winter mornings and chilly autumn evenings, I sip it during summer when I am longing for autumn, this is my feel good tea...but enough of that! The taste of the first steep is sweet with a smooth mouthfeel, there are notes of roasted corn, acorn squash, and cashew butter. The initial sweet almost grain like quality at the beginning transitions to roasted nuts and a finish of spicebush* that lingers.
I should warn you all, I steeped this tea a lot, so strap in as we move onto steep two. The aroma of the liquid is a blend of sweet spicebush and cashew butter with a hint of smoke at the finish. The taste is smokier and sharper, it has a slight dryness at the finish that has a lip smacking quality. It starts out with smoke and then moves to roasted nuts, acorn squash and cashew butter, the spicebush is there at the finish again. This steep was a bit richer than the first steep.
Time for a third steeping, and the aroma of the liquid this time around is quite sweet, more so than the previous steeps. There are notes of spicebush, burnt sugar, and cashew butter, there is also just a tiny hint of smoke at the finish, but it is very faint. The taste starts out smoky, though not as strong as the previous steep, there is hint of tobacco and a finish of burnt sugar and roasted sesame. The mouthfeel starts out smooth and finishes with a slight dryness.
For the fourth steep the aroma is gentle, with subtle notes of burnt sugar and spicebush, there is a whiff of smoke at the finish. This steep is by far the mildest, it is gentle, like drifting off to sleep, the taste of smoke at the finish is faint, it fades to burnt sugar and cashew butter sweetness that lingers into the aftertaste. Recently on Twitter I was asked which roasted Dong Ding is my favorite, I listed Eco-Cha's as part of my top three based on last year's harvest, tasting this year's I might have to change it to my favorite.
*A brief note on spicebush, since I have had a few people wondering what that is. I am reffering to the plant Calycanthus occidentalis which has extremely fragrant red flowers whose fragrance (at least to me) is a mixture of allspice, exotic flowers, musk, and a rich heaviness like spiced red wine. In one of the houses I lived in back in Georgia, there was a hedgerow of spicebushes between my yard and a forest, when they would bloom the aroma was intense!