Taiwan "style" oolong (0) is here.
A friend got this tea for me from Chicago Tea Garden last year, by way of Steepster's choice (which is not available now, but is seriously missed). This is my favorite Taiwan style oolong so far. I think there are a lot of reviews on Zealong out there, as it's quite a hit. It is Sir William's review on Zelong series, Mattcha's review on Zealong Pure and the interesting discussions on their blogs that directly inspired me to go over this tea. It's always fun to drink a same tea with other people and compare notes! Discussions on Zealong has been manifesto, so are discussions on Taiwan style oolong in general. That's basically why I started this review series of Taiwan style oolong.
Dry tea leaves:
1nd infusion. I didn't use a strainer. The liquor barely has any tea leaf crumbs.
At the end. If seeing these leaves without any background knowledge, I wouldn't be able to tell this tea is not from Taiwan. In fact, I wouldn't be able to tell from the taste either. This tea uses Qing Xin oolong cultivar and made by experienced Taiwan tea professionals. So the only thing that could make a difference is the geographic factor. But even about that, I wouldn't be able to tell. I didn't find any information about growth altitude of this tea, but it seems the region the plantation belongs to is just about sea level. But this tea has the pure, clean and aromatic taste of Taiwan High Mountain Oolong! I had always thought flavor of high elevation cannot be produced in lower lands. But a friend of mine used to say it can be made by state of art fertilization. Maybe he is right!
The leaves must have been harvested by experienced workers. All the leaves must have been strictly inspected too, as there was almost no crumb. Obviously these people are perfectionists!
I've got all three products of Zealong series, Pure, Aromatic and Dark. I took this one out first, as I guessed this would be my favorite. It indeed is! It has a combination of floral and fruity aroma. The taste is pure and harmonious. So even after several infusions, I infused it for quite a few more times as the liquor was always smooth and sweet.
So far, my impression of reading Zealong reviews from other people is, very few, if any, people said it was not good. I think it's obviously very good. The major source of critique is its price. Although this tea is not as affordable to me as many other teas, I think its quality justifies its price. I've enjoyed reading Alex Zorach's blog, Price and Sustainability: What is Overpriced Tea? Using Alex's framework of price and value, I would rank this tea as very high value and I don't see it as overpriced. Its value is primarily carried by its taste and quality. Besides, in the market, uniqueness is a big value too. This is the only New Zealand oolong (doesn't everyone want to visit New Zealand!) and is a high end product using more than one decade's hard work. Of course I hope this tea can be produced more and more, and the price more affordable, but as the production of this tea is still at its initial stage, I think the current price is quite understandable.
Talking about price, I really appreciate Chicago Tea Garden's pricing on this tea. I love online shopping and I am a deal hunter :-D I am glad to see CTG's price is actually better than the price offered by the producer themselves, after all the tea shipped across oceans to America! I think that's what serious tea drinkers expect a specialty tea retailer/importer to do, sourcing unique teas and using their purchase power to get good deals for their buyers. This is internet age and people get information easily. In the old days, it was almost the industry mode that retailers get products from the same wholesaler and sell it for dramatically different prices. But with today's information technology, wholesalers/retailers no longer hold that much of a secret on sources or prices. Therefore, I believe more and more people will appreciate unique products and reasonable pricing.
About pricing, Yaya from New Zealand had an interesting discussion with me here. She provided some perspectives that I barely considered before. Our discussion makes me think that, (1) Pricing is not only monetary, but also about public relation. When a New Zealand tea is more expensive domestically than in the international market, as a foreigner, I am quite happy enjoying it here in US, but I kind of understand that tea drinkers in New Zealand may feel quite frustrated; (2) I guess the market size and market influence have huge impacts on tea prices. Probably that's why we can enjoy relatively good deals in the States. I personally have dealt with people from a few dozen countries buying tea from US. It's quite amazing, as tea is not produced here. But obviously, US is a relatively big market, and easier to buy from than many tea producing regions. Hence the hub effect and some better deals. (3) With increasing market size, I believe (rather optimistically but possibly wrong) the prices of many teas can get more affordable in future, in US market as well as in many other countries.
2 months ago