You’ve experienced site specificity in a wine glass, but how about in a teacup? Cynthia Gold, tea sommelier at Boston’s L’Espalier, explains via three recommendations how far-flung morning mists and rocky cliffs add distinct character to the contents of your teapot.
Nilgiri (Blue) Mountains, Southern India
During winter months in Southern India’s Nilgiri (Blue) Mountains, shaded parts of the tea bushes are affected by frost.
These “damaged” leaves are quickly harvested and processed, and they result in a particularly sweet, complex and fruity flavor with distinct muscatel notes usually only seen in the Northern Indian Darjeelings or Nepalese teas. The varying levels of moisture in different portions of the damaged leaf cause the leaves to oxidize at different rates and different degrees, resulting in varied colors to the finished leaves and beautiful complexity in the cup.
Da Hong Pao
“Big Red Robe,” Fujian Province, China
Da Hong Pao is the most famous of the Wuyi Rock teas, which are cultivated on the rocky cliffs of the Wuyi Mountains.
The early-morning mists take quite some time to burn off, giving the leaves a naturally occurring shading for portions of the day, slowing the growth, concentrating flavors and raising the chlorophyll content. The rocky cliffs that these tea plants grow on provide exceptional drainage and minerality.
Well-made Da Hong Pao is earthy and rich, well balanced and incredibly complex, with notes of honey, cinnamon and fruit, and a nutty, fruity and caramelized finish. They say you can “taste the rock,” but I would just tend to say it has a mineral quality.
Oriental Beauty, Taiwan
The high heat and humidity of Taiwanese summers bring about ideal conditions for a leafhopper [an insect] that chews on the edges of the tea leaves, causing a defensive reaction that enhances the honeyed tones of Oriental Beauty tea.
The result is a magnificent Oolong tea that provides a full, velvety mouthfeel and sweet, spicy and fruity flavor notes. And, of course, the distinct sweet, sour and honeyed finish unique to Oriental Beauty or Bai Hao.