Friday, August 18, 2006

Jawa Oolong

It wasn’t easy finding decent tea in Jakarta. My wife and I spent three weeks in that city recently. The first few days there we sadly drank over-sweetened bottled, supermarket canned and bland restaurant teas. The teas served in many restaurants are brewed from teabags or low quality, mass produced loose leaves grown in nearby mountains. These are coarse and characterless black teas meant for mass consumption and served free of charge to diners.

Bottled and Canned Teas

(Left: Teh Botol, too sweet; Right: Pokka green tea, tasteless)

We were loitering in a shopping mall when we saw a Chinese tea shop called Teh 63, so we checked it out. The store carries quite an extensive line of tea accessories but only a few types of Taiwanese oolongs (Gao Shan, Dong Ting and Li Shan) and Jawa oolongs. The saleswomen were very friendly and polite, more than willing to let us try every tea, and they know how to brew gongfu style too!Jawa OolongsWhile I thought their Taiwanese oolongs were so-so, the Jawa oolong was actually quite interesting! It’s got round, full body and smooth mouthfeel with plenty of caramel, burnt sugar, deep floral, soft roast/smoky, and nutty aromas. Though it’s a green oolong, its vegetal taste is subtle and does not dominate.

The lady who brewed the tea for us said that this Jawa oolong came from tea farms around Bogor, harvested from 5-year old bushes that were grown from Taiwanese seeds. Apparently, Teh 63 owns and manages the tea farms for their Jawa oolong. She also said that their Jawa oolong is slightly more astringent than its Taiwanese counterpart, but I didn’t notice that somehow.

Bogor Tea Harvest
Bogor, located about 55km south of Jakarta, is quite a bustling town that is surrounded by plenty of rural areas on the foot of Mount Salak. Its altitude (avg. 190m, max. 350m above sea level) and topography bestow the area a terroir of extremely fertile soil, warm days and cool, occasionally foggy nights (avg. temp. 26C year round). Bogor is sort of a weekend getaway place for the denizens of Jakarta looking for cooler, cleaner mountain air and fresh good foods.

Anyway, after liking the Jawa oolong in the store, I decided to get 100gr first. We drank this tea almost every morning with breakfast at my parents’ home. I grew fond of it. Before we left Jakarta, I bought another 800gr, 200gr of which is mixed with jasmine petals. They’d make nice everyday tea. In Los Angeles, I was able to brew it with better artesian water than the sub par filtered water in Jakarta. As a result, the tea came out noticeably smoother and lighter.

Maybe I like it because it reminds me of “home”…a nice cup of tea grown near my hometown. Nostalgia. A classic example of enjoyment through association? Maybe.

9 comments:

EvenOdd said...

The Jawa oolong looks like it is very well made. Nice mix between whole leaves and bud-stem (is that what that is called?).

Has the Jasmine Jawa been stored in Jasmine for quite a while or do they add it to a batch when you buy it?

Tess Grey said...

Super blog! So glad to find you--I will happily admit to loving wine nearly as much as I love tea.

Thanks much for the link--I've certainly linked to you in return and am very much looking forward to following your adventures!

Tess

teadonism.wordpress.com

~ Phyll said...

EvenOdd: Yes, this Jawa oolong was relatively well made, imho. Each pellet is substantially well-compressed, and it opens to whole leaves (or a leaf). The stems are generally thin(ner), especially when compared with the Taiwanese Feng Huang Dong Ting oolong which I'm in the process of writing about.

The jasmine one came already pre-mixed with the petals, so it was a separate package buy. As a side note, the petals are from local Indonesian jasmine flowers, which I find to have a different bouquet than jasmine flowers from China. Indonesian jasmines tend to have deeper, sweet bouquet than the brighter, sweet notes of Chinese jasmines, imo. Neither is better nor worse...just slightly different.

Tess: thank you for stopping by and for the link on your cool blog! I look forward to reading your tea adventures too.

Jason Fasi said...

That sounds delicious! I like the idea of tea grown outside of China/India, but it's hard to find Oolongs as such, let alone green/black tea of quality.

~ Phyll said...

I must admit that I was quite surprised at this tea's characteristics when I first tasted it. From Taiwanese seeds, yet so different in taste from its Taiwanese brethren. Bogor's / Java's terroir really brought out a different kind of end product.

The Simple Leaf said...

Nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia Phyll!

At any rate, this was a terrific post. I was particularly struck by this:

"The teas served in many restaurants are brewed from teabags or low quality, mass produced loose leaves grown in nearby mountains"

I can identify with that! The same problem exists in India, where it is virtually impossible to get a high quality tea (even in Darjeeling). All the better teas are shipped out for export, while Indians are left drinking - (for lack of a better term) sludge. Charging people a bit more for "better" tea, no matter how good it is, just won't fly (understandably) with a very price concious populace. The only times I've had excellent tea in India is when I'm visiting tea estates in Darjeeling. Restaurants, hotels (even the luxury ones) still serve Brooke Bond (PG Tips) and Tata tea bags. Although I must add that the idea of gourmet "cha bars" has recently started getting some traction in some of the major urban centers. But they suffer from a very limited clientele.

Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment. I just had to vent I guess!

Regina said...

Dear Mr.Sheng,

First of all, please allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Regina; I am currently working as Planning and Business Development in Teh 63.

On behalf of Teh 63, I would to say many thanks for reviewing our tea and it is an honor for us to have our tea enjoyed by valued abroad customer like you.

I must admit that I found your blog by accident. I was searching about Jawa (English: Java) Oolong tea and I found an interested blog that contents all about tea and wine adventures. And we are glad that our tea has a positive review from you.

Therefore, when you have chance to visit Jakarta in the future, we would like to invite you to enjoy view and tea-walk in our plantation in Bogor,
Shall we have our new tea item (new flavor etc), we will be very happy to send you the samples. Please advise us your address so that we could send them properly.

To improve our service, would you please advise us which boutique (which mall) you have been to, so that we could take the SPG (sales promotion girl) as a role model and share this experience with other boutiques and counters’ SPG. It will help us to encourage our staffs to have better service and performance.

We also welcome for any questions, comments, suggestions and critics.

Your response is highly appreciated.

Rgds,

Regina

Teh 63
Planning and Business Development
teh63@cbn.net.id

~ Phyll said...

Thank you for your comment, invitation and sample offer, Regina! I have sent an email to teh63@cbn.net.id.

Regards,

Phyll

Princess said...

I am responding to what your wrote on mass production of black tea in your blog. All tea companies, large or small are seldomly own tea farm or tea estate or process their own tea. They are tea merchans.
Tea processing is referred to a process of turning fresh tea leaf into dry tea leaf. Furthere more, most fresh tea come from tea small tea farmers. In order to produce 1000 kg of tea, 5000 kg. of fresh tea leave would be needed and 1000 kg of tea is not consider a mass production at all.
It is true that tea served in restuarants free of charge are cheap tea with no character and even this kind of tea were not mass produced iether.To make it short, tea cannot be done in the massive production method.