Monthly Archives: August 2012

Oolong tea: “Oolong Formosa”

Dong Ding Oolong

Unidentified dummy oolong. Maybe a dead Dong Ding.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, ★★

Hmm. The nomenclature’s incomplete. My local tea merchant labelled it lazily as “Oolong Formosa”. But “Formosa” means “Taiwan”, which tells us only the genus of the tea but not its species. (The same merchant sells other teas from Taiwan such as Dong Ding and Oriental Beauty, which are labelled correctly.) So I set about discovering what this mystery “Oolong Formosa” really is.

It looks like any other oolong tea with a tight curl and a relatively unoxidised leaf (about 40%, I’d say). But when I brew it, it lacks the fragrance and freshness I’d expect after examining at the leaf—the brew gives me mouthfeel but no flavour. It certainly cleansed my palate, but didn’t really leave me with any taste.

I think this mystery tea is a lower-quality pluck of Dong Ding (a Taiwan Oolong). The leaf is indistinguishable, but the pluck contains more stems. “Oolong Formosa” carries more undesirable fizziness and grittiness, and while it does give the mineral-induced mouthfeel of a quality oolong, it just tastes fake.

Oolong Formosa” is priced just a little lower than Dong Ding. Needless to say, I strongly recommend getting the real deal (Dong Ding) instead of this sleepy impostor just for the sake of a few dollars more. Dong Ding is worth every cent. Don’t skimp. ★★

White tea: White Flowery Pekoe

White Flowery Pekoe

It’s sunshine, dry white wine or burned depending on the brewing temperature.
White tea (no further subcategories), ★★★★
Also known as: 白毫银针, Silver Needle Tea.

I love white tea’s characteristic “sunshine taste”. This comes from its most simple production process: the leaves are plucked and dried in the sun, after which, the tea is ready to drink (or store). White teas are considered to have been invented first (before green, oolong, yellow, black and dark teas).

Brew White Flowery Pekoe any hotter than 80 °C and the dryness (as in ‘dry white wine’ dryness) will come out far too accentuated, which will stop you from drinking it. Ignore any advice that tells you to brew this tea hotter than 80 °C. Instead, brew it slowly in a teapot at 70 to 80 °C and enjoy its lightness without getting it ‘burned’.

Even better, use more leaf (7 grams) and quick brews (gongfu style) to delay the dryness and enjoy the sunshine taste completely uninhibited. The lightness matures into dryness with each successive brew, allowing you to enjoy the lighter flavours and still choose to stop drinking when it becomes too dry for your liking. (If you particularly like the dryness, try Bai Mudan white tea instead.)

Brew White Flowery Pekoe right and you’ll have a refreshing drink that changes with each successive brew. It’s best at the second brew, when its floral notes (of lilies and white chocolate) come out to play. Savour he sunshine taste, remember to treat it nicely and don’t burn it. ★★★★

Green tea: Genmaicha

Genmaicha Sencha

Like nibbling on sweet, roasted popcorn. Or potatoes & seaweed.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, 
Also known as: 干米茶

Think lightly-buttered popcorn mixed with grass and hazelnuts. Genmaicha is a Japanese Sencha mixed with toasted rice pieces which add an earthy, slightly vegetal taste to the tea—they taste rather like a buckwheat infusion I tasted in Sichuan. The Sencha base is smooth and balances the rice very well.

The rice floats but the tea sinks. If you brew this directly in a mug (or bowl, as I did), you’ll end up chewing on too many toasted pieces of rice: they arrive in your mouth before the tea does. Instead, I suggest brewing the tea gongfu style and nibbling on the rice when you’re finished drinking, once it’s soft.

Genmaicha is a fun tea. I love breathing over the bowl and inhaling Genmaicha‘s nutty cinema-foyer aroma. The popped rice brings earthiness and a hint of sweetness, and the Sencha brings a smooth, steamed (read ‘kelpy’) taste to balance it. Despite being one of Japan’s cheapest teas, it’s certainly one of the most popular Japanese teas among non-Japanese. ★★★

Oolong tea: Dong Ding

Dong Ding Oolong

Very slightly tangy. Alert yet aloof.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, 
Also known as: 冻顶乌龙茶

Dong Ding has the characteristic ‘buttery sensation’ (of course, without a buttery taste) that underlies all good oolong teas. This arises as the tightly-knotted leaves unfurl and change the mineral composition of the water.

This particular oolong is special for its subtle notes of tangy orange, peach and lychee. There’s a very slight acidity that tickles your mouth and leaves you feeling very refreshed (I’m tempted to replace ‘tangy orange’ with ‘lemonade’). The caffeine and catechin content is very high in this tea, so it makes you feel alert but not shaky. Dong Ding oolong tea makes you feel effortlessly energetic yet slightly automatic. It’s perfect for work.

I used to drink this tea when I taught 8 noisy English classes in China. Between classes, I’d go to the hot water machine and re-fill my mug of Dong Ding oolong tea. (Chinese tea stores can pack your chosen tea into convenient 7-gram packages).

Eventually, this tea loses its fragrance and gains astingency. Brewed gongfu style, the second and third brews are the most pleasant because the flavours need several minutes to unfurl out of the leaves. Unfortunately, for $380/kg (1300 RMB per 500g), I would expect fewer stems—or even none at all—and many more buds in the mix. On the bright side, the stems and rugged tertiary leaves in this pluck allow you to brew it all day, at the end of which, you’re drinking an inexhaustible broth of tea-stems with barely any colour. Dong Ding brews forever. It makes you work harder, and it makes you keep drinking. Take it to work. 

Green tea: Gorgeous Geisha

Quality Japanese Sencha masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★

For me, ‘sweetness’ is an inseparable part of ‘fruitiness’. We can’t bear to eat fruit unless it tastes sweet. But after pleasing the nose with its punchy strawberries-and-cream (I’ll call it a “Wimbledon”) aroma, Gorgeous Geisha disappoints the palate by failing to deliver on its promise of fruit. This tea doesn’t taste of fruit—it’s not even sweet— and it doesn’t contain any real fruit despite listing “strawberries” in the ingredients list. Lying Geisha.

Disappointing taste aside, Gorgeous Geisha at least makes you feel good. the fruity overtones are carried on a good-quality Japanese Sencha which brews with light body and no bitterness.

If nothing else, Gorgeous Geisha is a lesson that we should always try tea before we buy it. Real fruit infusions should be very sweet and slightly sour, served in tiny cups and, as the name suggests, made with real fruit! Gorgeous Geisha is a quality Japanese green tea masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion. And I disapprove. Drink a fruit infusion instead. ★★

Oolong tea: Fenghuang Dancong

Fenghuang Dancong

Tastes naturally of honey and expensive flowers. Exquisite bouquet.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Guangdong » Mt. Phoenix, ★★★★★
Also known as: 凤凰单丛, Phoenix Single-Bush, Oolong Dancong

Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Single-Bush) has hints of honey, vanilla, osmanthus and pomelo over a lightly-oxidized oolong leaf. This tea is grown on the protected slopes of Mt. Phoenix in China’s Guangdong Province. Like champagne, only tea produced in this region can legally be called Fenghuang Dancong, making this tea special, rare and expensive.

I generally like the greener, fresher, less-oxidized oolong teas—in fact, the more oolongs resemble green tea, the better, in my opinion. But Fenghuang Dancong is special: despite its purple-brown leaf colour, the brew doesn’t taste particularly oxidised at all. It tastes smooth, light and floral, and there’s no bitterness. It’s extremely fragrant, not just with flowery overtones, but with fruity undertones (think about peeling a warm pomelo with honey on your lips) that are soothing and slightly warming to drink, as well. It’s a sexy tea.

I love how the level of sweetness matches the level of fruitiness. It delivers the same amount of fruit to the palate as it promises to the nose. Don’t brew it too cold, as the flavours need to be persuaded out of the leaf (by 85 degree water) and there’s no bitterness to be afraid of. This is my favourite tea. Goldilocks. ★★★★★

Book: The Power of Happiness: A Comprehensive Guide to Daily Joy and Well-Being

Yellow is a happy colour. Think of Bruno Mars’ and Jack Johnson’s album covers. This yellow-covered ebook brightened my day.

All-rounded day-course syllabus in happiness—with homework!
192 estimated pages, ★

The Power of Happiness is excellent value. For $5, I got an ebook, a 32-page PDF workbook, and a series of timely email updates from the author. Compare this $5 ebook package to a day-long coaching seminar, which could set you back $200 or more and cover about the same amount of material (with refreshments included). If you motivate yourself to do the assignments at home (and make your own tea), you could feel a lot of the same benefits (clarity, positive thoughts, direction, knowledge and laughter) for a fraction of the price of a coaching seminar. The Power of Happiness is more than just an ebook—it’s an entire syllabus on happiness.

The PDF workbook asks you to complete ten assignments, such as an eight-point “happiness wheel”, and a list of 99 things that make you happy (very difficult). It also gives you CBT-style exercises based both on your own life and on realistic fictional examples. This book discusses happiness from so many different angles that most readers will not only find comfort in re-reading familiar disciplines, but also discover new slants on happiness, which interested readers can then explore through the abundant references.

The Power of Happiness combines a wealth of research from Buddhism, neurobiology, scientific studies, and self-help guides into a resource-rich home-study syllabus. My most memorable lesson is that happiness is an inside job—that happiness depends on your internal well-being, not on your external circumstances. This lesson is Buddhist by coincidence. The Dalai Lama is quoted in this book as saying, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions”. The Power of Happiness explains how transient pleasures such as money, food, and job titles are incapable of making us happy because lasting happiness cannot come from things that can be taken away.

Another ‘Buddhist-by-coincidence’ lesson was the five types of thinking that make you unhappy: Attachment to Things, Expectations of Others, Expectations of Yourself, Attachment to a Different Time, The Idea that Things Should Be Different Than They Are. Much of this has also been confirmed by neurobiological studies.

This book is not aimed at treating depression. This book is aimed at elevating the majority of us, who are somewhere between ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’, further up towards ‘happy’. If you fit into this category (and I certainly do), then you’ll find this happiness syllabus well worth your time. Study it diligently, do all the exercises, and you’ll feel lifted. Great value for $5. ★★★★★