Our 2017 spring Jin Xuan oolong is from the same tea garden as our 2017 spring Alishan gao shan. When Mary Lou last visited this tea farm she wandered through a secluded tea garden that featured older, fully-thriving Jin Xuan tea bushes. Although that specific plot of the tea garden was small it produces a generous amount of ‘milk’ oolong from healthy bushes. We highly recommend this delightful tea to anyone looking to taste a delicious, sweet, well-balanced floral, easy-to-love Taiwan high mountain oolong.
It is interesting to us to see how the ‘same’ Jin Xuan cultivar responds to different climate and growing conditions within tea growing regions that are separated more by altitude than by geographic distance. Jin Xuan can vary quite a bit in Taiwan, from the sublime (this one) to the off-putting (not here).
The ‘milky’ taste in milk oolong can be very elusive as it is in this gao shan. Or it fades almost before the taste is experienced by the tea drinker. Like a ghost flavor that one is not quite sure one actually tasted, because on the next sip – poof, it is gone. This appearance/ disappearance of the milky taste can be attributed to the tea bushes/tea leaves developing (or not) an abundance of lactones (internal chemistry) which are necessary to yield this elusive flavor.
This Jin Xuan gao shan does not have the milk taste as a dominant characteristic. But, its high-mountain Alishan location gives this tea a silky rich, almost chewy quality that is most appealing, and a clarity of flavor from clean, clear high altitude air. This Jin Xuan gao shan features different qualities that Jin Xuan cultivars grown at lower elevations do not have. And visa versa – each place produces unique tastes, even from the ‘same’ cultivar.
So, tea from this cultivar is not just about milky taste or no milky taste. These differences point out how the taste of finished tea is entirely dependent not just on the tea bush cultivar alone but also on altitude and geography, growing conditions and production techniques. Changes to one of these elements can yield big differences in flavor!
Try this milk oolong and you will see that it has very little astringency and an abundance of natural sweetness. This tea has been given a very light roasting, which enhances the natural fragrance – nai xiang – of the tea.
What is Milk Oolong?
There is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what milk oolongs are, and sadly there are many low-quality examples of this tea dogging about, too. Milk oolong is really a buyer-beware situation, and we often avoid walking right into the eye of the storm when it comes to tea controversy and confusion.
But this tea is so good that we wanted to shed some light on what milk oolong is and what it isn’t, and introduce the real-deal to our customers.
Simply put, these are lovely, sweet, lightly-roasted semiball-rolled style oolongs produced in different regions of Taiwan from a particular tea bush cultivar – Jin Xuan Tai Cha #12.
All of Taiwan’s great oolongs begin with specific tea bush cultivars that, in conjunction with the unique terroir of each location, influence the flavor of the tea. Although Jin Xuan is a relatively new cultivar (developed in the 1980’s) it is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars (dozens of cultivars and varietals are grown throughout Taiwan) and the cultivar behind the marketing of milk oolong tea.
In some tea growing regions, the flavor of this tea is transformed into a soft, creamy, ‘milky’ flavor. Real milk oolong tea is very appealing and delicious, and very popular in Taiwan and abroad. However, it is important to understand that absolutely no milk is involved in the production of real Taiwan Jin Xuan ‘milk’ tea. Spend 30 minutes searching the internet for a definition of this tea and you will end up with many rather silly explanations of what it is, such as:
- tea that is plucked from tea bushes that have been irrigated with milk before being harvested
- tea made from tea leaves that have been soaked in milk
- tea made from tea leaves that have been steamed with milk in the manufacturing process
- tea made from tea leaves that have been dried with milk
- tea leaves that were hung over a steaming milk bath before drying
Really? Milk….really? Milk is not abundant in Taiwan (or any parts of Asia, in fact), so how does this make sense?
Anyway, our customers can rest assured that our milk oolongs are from the Jin Xuan cultivars grown in Taiwan and should not be confused with Chinese imitations of milk oolongs or low-quality teas that have been artificially flavored with a so-called ‘milk’ flavor. Real milk oolong is a natural Taiwan original, and has never seen the cool white-soul of the inside of a bottle of milk.
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