Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
A new Oolong Tea at the Deli brews a delicious cup
Thanks to the hard work and passionate pursuit of excellence of longtime Deli staffer Jackson Konwinski, we have this lovely new oolong tea that’s only recently arrived from China. The Ben Shan is a delicate and delicious Tieguanyin (aka, “Iron Goddess of Mercy”) oolong—partially oxidized, so maybe I’d say about 40% of the way along the continuum from the unoxidized green teas in the direction of the full oxidized black. It’s made in Fujian province, in the Min Nan region, about a hundred miles by sea west of Taiwan, and about halfway by road between Hong Kong and Shanghai. The province has a prominent place in tea history—it’s the home of the oolong tea-making methodology.
Jackson has done a ton of terrific work to bring new teas into the Deli. Here’s his take:
Our selection comes from the mountains of the Shantou region in AnXi county, Fujian province. The name, Ben Shan, literally translates to “Source Mountain,” indicating this tea’s geographical provenance. This lot was made by Mr. Lin using a traditional small leaf Fujian tea cultivar. This particular selection is abundantly floral despite not being a scented tea. The magic comes from the terroir and expert leaf manipulation.
For brewing, Jackson recommends “Short, relatively cool, steepings—2 minutes at 190°F after a brief rinse. It yields an amber liquor that is sweet and floral: reminiscent of lilies and orchids in a clean spring rain.” Like most good Chinese teas, the Ben Shan can take multiple steeps and is very good brewed in the old Gong Fu method (tiny pots filled with tea leaves getting a series of six or seven very short steeps). I’ve brewed it Western-style in a larger pot, using as Jackson suggests, water that’s a bit below boiling temperatures and have been very happy with the results. In fact, I’m sipping some now as I write.
If you know a tea drinker who’s up for something special, calming, well collected, grounded in history, and steeped in tradition, buy them a bag of this great offering. What we have is a current crop tea from the spring of 2020, so it is still wonderfully fresh and lively in the cup. It’s got light green leaves. Subtly citrusy, bright, light, and vibrant in its flavor. Restorative and refreshing with a bit of sweetness in the finish. The aroma makes me think of spring, much the way I was while reflecting on honoring Gary Snyder’s birthday in May. Given his time and work in Asia, I have a feeling he would enjoy its very floral, elegant, excellence.