Thursday, October 5, 2006

TN: 2006 Meghma Garden Oolong, Kalikhop Valley, Nepal

2006 Meghma Esate Nepalese OolongSource: The Simple Leaf
$15 / 4oz

Here is a pleasant tasting and highly aromatic oolong from Nepal. It’s certainly a new kind of animal for me! From observing the dry leaves, this oolong looks and smells like a good second flush Darjeeling tea of BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) grade mixed with some OP (Orange Pekoe) grade. It smells like a mix of tropical fruits (mango, peach, citrus, orange peel), muscatel and floral honeysuckle.

I brewed this tea in several different ways to see how it reacts to different brewing methods: “gongfu” method with a gaiwan (lots of leaves, short infusions), “English” method in a porcelain teapot (little leaves, long infusion time of >3 minutes), as well as “office” method (vacuum thermos, little leaves, daylong brewing). I found the “middle path” method to be my personal choice for this tea. Middle path in this case is a method between the gongfu and the English styles where I use my larger (~400ml) Yixing pot, ~2 tablespoons of leaves, and medium infusion time of about 45 secs to 1 minute for each brew. Let me explain why.

I felt that the gongfu method yields an intense brew but not quite an aromatic liquor, as if the tea’s perfume did not have enough time to infuse itself out. The English method yielded a tea that I thought was a bit too acidic for my taste, and so does the office style especially after several hours in the thermos (although the nose is very vivid and appealing). As such, the “middle path” brews a tea that is not too acidic, yet smooth, perfumy with a hint of honey aftertaste.

The Simple Leaf provided this
background information about the producer and the tea's characteristics.

It exudes the aroma of the native Daphne bholua and Rhododendron plants. With a light and smooth liquor and a trace of honeysuckle flavor …. Founded in 1999, Meghma Garden is in the Kalikhop valley in the Ilam District in the far northeastern corner of Nepal. Nestled in the lap of the mighty Himalayas, Meghma Tea Estate is situated at an altitude of 7,000 feet, far away from the modern world. This makes it one of the highest tea growing areas in the world. This small estate produces hand-rolled all-natural teas."

What I still don’t understand about this tea is the description of “hand rolled” in the product information. Is this definition identical to when one refers to pellet-shaped (fisted) Chinese oolong leaves? The leaves of this Nepalese oolong certainly are not fisted. Or perhaps “hand-rolled” means differently when we are discussing Indian and Nepalese tea processing techniques? Does it perhaps mean the leaves were “bruised” by hand and not by a machine?

Another observation is that the picture of the tea on The Simple Leaf’s website looks much greener and more colorful than what I received. Has it been further oxidized during storage and so it lost its color vibrancy? The Simple Leaf claims that the tea was harvested in early August of 2006, which is only 2 months since this tasting note was written.

Overall, a pleasant tasting and aromatic everyday kind of tea. Due to its shape and size, this tea is quite sensitive to infusion time. I agree with whoever said it would make a very refreshing iced tea, though I think serving it warm brings out its charms better.


Anonymous said...

I guess India/Nepal/Sri Lanka are all seeing to step into the market of green tea and oolongs : )

Hand-rolled have two main styles; Wuyi (long. stripe-shaped) and Anxi (pellet/fisted). Of coz, hand-rolling of pu-erhs can be a third style, but I think it does not have as much impact the above two styles.

From the picture of the unfurled leaves, I really hesitate to agree that they were hand-rolled. If yes, someone certinaly were rolling the leaves in an angry mood : ) And if it is truely hand-rolled, I hope they have enough profits left to pay their workers better salaries.


TeaMasters said...

I also drank Darjeeling tea today! 2 samples from a first flush FTGFOP1 from Shiv Khola and a second flush (both 2006) from Arya Ruby.

I used little leaves and longer times to subject them to tea competition standards. The first was a little bit astringent, the leaves too green, but the smells very pleasant (reminded me of Marshmallow). The second one was just bliss! Long and mellow and sweet and just a little acid.

I then also played around with time and quite agree with your findings. However, I would like to clarify (or correct) what you describe as 'gongfu style'. Gongfu style doesn't mean lots of leaves and short infusion times (in a small teapot). If only it were that easy!! No, gongfu style is what you have done: you experimented with quantity, time, teaware to find the best result. The process to find what will bring out the best fragrance/mouthfeel from the specific leaves you brew is gongfu. (With my wild 2003 Yiwu you made a similar discovery).

~ Phyll said...

Thank you both for your insightful comments!

Guang: Indonesia (Java island), too, are following the footsteps of Chinese/Taiwanese style oolongs. I mused about one sometime ago here...

Stephane: I stand corrected on my generalization of the "gongfu" brewing method. I agree that experimentation to achieve the best result for our personal taste is the "gongfu" brewing philosophy. Merely using a gaiwan or Yixing and doing short infusions does not make it "gongfu". For that matter, I may have erroneously generalized the "English" method as well.

With this tea, like your Darjeeling, I also found the second infusion to be better than the first one. Do you rinse your Darjeelings before the 1st brew, I'm curious? I do.

MarshalN said...

I agree with Guang here -- I don't know whose hand was rolling what, but it's not what I'd called hand rolled tea.

Your picture of your pot reminded me I need to get a dish like that.

And please, I don't like saying this, but Stephane, spare us your ads while you're on someone else's blog.

Anonymous said...

"gong-fu" is not just about brewing, I am afraid, Stephane.

"gong-fu" covers the whole process from growing- harvesting- processing- storaging-brewing- serving. It's such a lengthy and labor-intensive process and requires so many knowledge and details to be right to end up with several good cups of tea. That we call it "gong-fu".

From the three small oolong plants in my backyard, each harvesting I can make less than 10g of dry oolongs, and that usually takes me several hours. I have to wait another two months to get next 10g. Patience is also part of gong-fu.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the observation about the photo. I think it may be our rather old camera at fault, or perhaps the reduced image quality when cropping it down to size. We're just starting this business, and investing in a high quality digital camera that takes great macro shots is high on our list of to-do's. Oh and we also need a better photographer...I'm taking names of volunteers!! :)

Thank you Phyll (and all who commented) for the instructive feedback.

TeaMasters said...

No, I don't rinse the Darjeeling leaves. I seldom do it: just for older puerh.
And I like infusion no 3 best (for the Shiv Khola)!

Thanks for reminding us that 'gongfu' goes beyond brewing. Let me add that it even goes beyong serving: the drinking also involves gongfu! One can be served the best cup of tea, but it won't taste good unless your mood is calm, at peace with the world.

I was referring to this post:
and Phyll's experimentation of the tea. I thought this was a relevant example for the discussion.
Peace on you too.

~ Phyll said...

Let me remind you all that "gongfu tea" also extends beyond drinking until the tea exits the body... :)

But seriously. I understand that every endeavor when done properly and with passion is "gongfu", whether you are a tea master, a lawyer, an artist, etc. I'm a casual proponent of cha dao and "gongfu" in tea brewing (with much room for improvements). I like to balance the zenism concept, which seems to dominate the Chinese tea culture, with some hedonism, epicureanism and casualism. I mean, I don't need to be in a meditative state of mind everytime I'm about to enjoy my tea, nor a spiritual state of mind is the goal of my tea enjoyment. It's just me. IMHO.

TeaMasters said...

The zenism and hedonism concepts can be opposites in certain respects, but for tea, my idea is that meditation is a 'tool' to get more enjoyment out of tea.
I'm not a monk either (lots of buddhists like tea here in Taiwan) and I also don't make the spirituality the goal. I also drink tea while browsing the Internet, answering comments like now... but I find I enjoy it most when I'm focused and calm.

~ Phyll said...

I've been drinking this tea over and over again, about every other day. The more I have it, the more I enjoy its nuances. Granted the leaves are not whole or of better grade, the liquor coming from it is very pleasant, complex and uplifting. My family loves it, and I've given my whole stash to my mom-in-law who was quite enchanted by this tea. Here is me opening my wallet to get more from The Simple Leaf. It is simply a fuss-free, excellent everyday tea, especially in the mornings and afternoons. It's not that expensive too, relatively speaking.

Anonymous said...

When it is established beyond doubt that altitude and cold winds gives Dajeeling flavours, Meghma's location is unmatched for and probably the best. Though the production is little and processing facility is still primitive, quality has tremandous potential to improve. The advantage of this upcomming mark is going to be its remoteness and thereby lack of pllution there. Once completed maybe in another five year's time this will be the the only real bio-dynamic tea from Darjeeling area. Its geographical location may not conform it to be Darjeeling, but its quality will never betray that.

Rajiv Lochan