Teas For National Orchid Day

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Dearies, April 16th was National Orchid Day. I bet you didn’t know that! I found out while examining the kitchen calendar. I love orchids, aren’t they just so beautiful? They may be challenging to grow, but their unique shape and vibrant colors are absolutely worth the effort! Kat actually has an orchid plant that she’s lovingly taken care of for years. It often blooms toward the end of the winter time, and it just brightens up the whole house. Just when Kat starts complaining that winter will never end, the plant gifts us with a burst of springtime color. Dearies, did you know that many oolong teas have a natural orchid aroma and flavor to them? You can bring the beauty of blooming orchids right to your cup.

In fact, there’s even an oolong tea that’s called ‘honey orchid’. The aroma and flavor comes directly from the leaves, and is not an added flavor. Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong is literally honey orchid oolong tea. The orchid flavor and aroma is quite prominent. This tea is grown in the Phoenix mountain area which produces beautiful aromatic oolongs. The tea is fruity, honey sweet, and quite floral. A definite must if you haven’t tried it before.

Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) is one of my most favorite oolong teas, and it has a powerful floral aroma. One sip will transport you to a lush, exotic garden. A good quality oolong will leave your palate remembering that floral flavor for quite a long time.

You can also find oolong teas that have been scented with flowers to recreate that orchid scent. These are of course lovely to drink as well, especially if you are looking for a very strongly scented floral tea. One sip and you’ll imagine your house is filled with vases of gorgeous flowers.

Oolongs range in flavor and can be very light, similar to green teas or much more heavily roasted. I love that you can pick an oolong based on how you’re feeling. Do you want something light and floral with heavy orchid notes, or something more toasty and nutty? If you’d like to learn more about oolong teas, the best way is to taste as many as you can. Prepare them, taste, see what you like. I wrote a post all about oolong a little while back you can find it here.

Kat and I have decided that we love these oolong teas so much, we’re not going to just have them around this floral holiday. We’ll be toasting National Orchid Day all spring and summer long.

Behind the Leaf: Oolong Tea

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I think the first time Kat had an oolong tea was in a Chinese restaurant. She wasn’t very taken with it because it was a dusty bag of low grade oolong. But when a close friend brought back tea from her trip to China, she had a chance to taste a delicious roasted oolong. It was so different from the generic stuff she’d had in the past, she couldn’t believe it was in the same category. Oolong teas have a wide range of flavor and quality based on where it is grown and how it’s processed.

Oolong translates to Black Dragon (Wu Long) in Chinese. This supposedly refers to the black snakes that would sometime wind around the tea trees. These snakes were often referred to as black dragons! I try not to think about that. The tea originated in the Fujian province of China back in the 17th century. Oolong can usually be found in two main different leaf shapes- ball-shaped rolled leaves, and thin wiry leaves.

Oolongs have a wide range of flavors because they can be oxidized and roasted for varying amounts of time. Oolongs are considered semi-oxidized teas, and fall between green and black teas due to this level of oxidation. The oolongs that are closer to green tea have delicate floral notes. Oolongs that are closer to black tea are more woodsy, fruity and sweet.

There are many varieties of oolong produced in China and Taiwan, and it would take me ages to discuss them! Dearies, Kat will be home soon and I need to make sure I’m ready to create her next cup of tea, so I’m going to focus on a few types based on growing region.

In Southern Fujian, Ti Guan Yin, or Iron goddess of Mercy (named after the Chinese Goddess of Mercy) is one of the most popular types of Chinese oolong tea. The leaves are tightly rolled and will start to unfurl as you steep. This tea can have a range of flavors from floral to a bit vegetal and woodsy. It is a very popular type of oolong tea.

In Northern Fujian, Wuyi oolongs are produced. This tea is called ‘rock tea’, and it is grown in the Wuyi mountains of Fujian. These are heavily roasted teas, dark and woodsy. The leaves usually have a long ‘strip’ style, or slightly twisted shape and are not rolled. The rocky terrain in the growing region creates certain minerals in the soil and transform the flavor in the tea. Some of Kat’s favorite Wuyi oolongs are Da Hong Pao, and Rou Gui.

In Guangdong Province (Phoenix mountain), Dan Cong oolongs have a rich brown color and can be quite sweet and fruity. These teas usually have a medium to heavy roast.

Taiwan produces a few varieties of oolong. Tung Ting (Dong Ding) is the most well known and is floral, buttery, and fruity, yet delicate and sweet. Quite a pleasant tea.

These are just a few of the many wonderful oolongs to discover. The best way to learn more is to find as many different types as possible, and get tasting. Buying sample sizes is a more cost-effective way of trying these teas. Many tea shops have sample sizes available.

If you are using whole-leaf tea, the best way to get the full tasting experience is to use a large amount of leaf in a small teapot or gaiwan. Don’t forget to reuse those leaves! As I mentioned in a previous post, oolongs can be steeped numerous times and the flavor begins to change and develop with each steep.

Sips of these delicious teas will bring you to verdant mountain tea gardens coated in mist. Each steep of oolong has a new story to tell. What are some of your favorites?