A pretty heated topic discussed among Taiwanese tea friends on FB these days was about a new tea named “Golden Oolong (黃金烏龍)”. Of course this ‘new development’ caught a lot of curiouasity, unexpectedly after the group tasting more questions were raised, so one took contact with the tea trader with the hope that tea trader could provide more information about “Golden Oolong”.
Here is the exact communication text:
Tea lover: Is Golden Oolong a new tea tree variety or is it a new description in your marketing slogan?
Tea trader: It’s a new tea tree variety – Jin Xian (金線)
Tea Lover: I’ve checked and found only Jin Xuan and Ying Xiang, can’t find anything named Jin Xian. Can you PO me the related information?
Tea Trader: Buy some quantity, can find out its difference when you taste it
Tea Lover: There is no problem to brew a cup of tea. The question is first to find out more information about this tea, so I know what am I tasting.
Tea Trader: You want to research tea or to drink tea? If it is for research, then I suggest you to check with the TRES (Tea Research and Extension Station). If you wanted to drink tea, then can purchase 4 oz. of tea for tasting.
Tea Lover: Just because I could not find this tea from the TRES, that’s why I asked you if it is the name use in your marketing slogan. But since you said it is a new tea variety and I could not find it from the TRES, that’s why I am asking you for additional information
Tea Trader: When you have time, welcome to my shop to taste the tea. Also welcome you to bring you tea to find the right match or you can buy some tea and conduct the research yourself.
Tea Lover: I am now trying to discuss with you, isn’t it?
Tea Trader: You haven’t drank or saw it, so what do you want to discuss with me? I do not understand. This is a business secret. Welcome you to taste this tea in my shop or buy some to taste it at home.
Tea Lover: I am not discussing whether this tea is good or bad, but try to understand this tea is made from which kind of tea tree, otherwise you can simply tell me what’s its TTS number.
Tea Trader: Do you know me? What do you want to discuss with me? Do not understand. When you have time come to taste the tea in my shop or buy some. Do you want to some tea?
There is an unspeakable heart aching when I read the part about “business secret” that I do not know whether I should laugh or cry. I am sure clever friends like you probably understand the problem already by reading the above communication text.
Here is my first impression based on the film I saw:
Observation from the tea leaf
- The color from dried leaves is pretty yellowish green. Apparently it is pretty fibrosis from old leaf.
- There is a significant color different from the color of normal winter oolong which is a mixture of light and dark olive green color with some yellowish color from tea stems.
- Leaves were lightly rolled into half ball shape, the shape is much looser than the normal oolong
Observation from the tea brewing
- In the film, once the warm water is being poured into cup, leaves were opened immediately.
- Leaves were very rough and thick and lack of softness.
- Is it because the raw teas were either aged or too dried, so it couldn’t be rolled tightly as normal oolong so leaves opened immediately once in the warm water?
- When using hands to pull the leaf, could hear a “bla bla” sound, this confirmed the level of fibrosis is pretty sereve, the aged leaf could have already lost a lot of nutrition.
- The color of normal oolong in the first infusion should be in light amber which gradually gets darker with the extension of brewing time. Leaves are opened slowly in warm water. The leaf normally maintains pretty good softness even if it’s been beaten serevely by insects.
Observation from the tea color
- The color of Golden Oolong is very yellowish and in pretty misty, frankly speaking the color is not very attractive and desirable.
- The color of normal oolong normally is in amber color, even with the long brewing, the color probably gets a little bit darker but clarity and transparency are remained in very desirable manner.
Some funny feedback from tea friends on FB
- Totally tasteless with high astringent taste
- It does not taste as tea, on the contrary it’s more tasted as tree leaf
- There is no fine aroma, the taste is like tree leaf on the roadside. The color is like Mancha that I do not want to have the 2nd The first impression that attracted me to taste a cuup of it is because of its price. I swear that I, fortunately, did not purchase this tea.
- Golden Oolong was the remaining from the winter pick, they picked them after the frosting, that’s why it gives a sour taste.
Consumers may have different taste or purchase preferences, but the ethic in business conduct should be unified. It is understandable that tea traders play with different marketing slogans in order to stimulate sales but lying with the information should be condemned.
Because that tea trader claimed it is a new tea tree variety, so I also googled on line and there different interesting names came out:
- Tea Tree from Australia which has nothing to do with tea
- Afterwards someone said he found the information but not specified which information he has discovered
- Another inputs on line was it is a tea tree from Vietnam and asked whether tea tree from Vietnam planted in Taiwan can be considered as new variety. This input has actually accelerated more questions in my head:
- Is it same as the Jin Xien Lian Oolong that I’ve found on line? Jin Xien Lian is Anoectohilus formosanus but not from the family of Camilia sinensis.
- Which plant property is for this Golden Oolong? Since 1991 there are plenty good Taiwanese tea tree varieties being exported to Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Mainland China, how come there was no news or information that we, Taiwan, have imported the tea tree variety from Vietnam? If there is such thing, then they planted this tea tree in which region in Taiwan? Has it be analyzed and approved by the TRES?
So after few days’ discussion, until this moment we still do not know whether it is a oolong made from fibrosis old leaves or is it a herbal tea made from Anoectohilus formosanus. When we compare tea, we should at least select teas from the same plant variety, otherwise it is not a fair comparison.
If someone wanted to enjoy good quality tea, of course we encourage s/he to know more about tea. How can we expect or even think of misleading consumers to purchase or to taste tea blindly? Even if it is a new tea variety developed by the TRES, it is unlikely they will keep it in secret and only transfer such ‘business secret’ to happy few but not to the agricultural associations and tea farmers. Do they intentionally try to create an foggy impression of another ill ethical practice as a political game? The reply from that tea trader was very suspicious.
Let’s face it, there are still lots of consumers know very little about tea. When people purchase tea in tea shops or supermarkets, normally there is no clear indication from tea is coming from under the tea name. Since 1995 I started to promote quality tea and Chinese tea culture in Belgium, I have personally witnessed various practice of faking tea, faking the low altitude / machine picked tea as high altitude / hand-picked tea, untruthful blending tea or aromatic tea in the market. Taiwan Oolong is pretty unique in the Oolong tea family, it is not exaggerated to claim it as top of the cream.
Only translating the name from Chinese to English can already create a lot of confusion, for example Jin Xuan Oolong (金萱烏龍) which is translated as “Milky Oolong (牛奶烏龍) in English. This English translation mislead consumers to think the aromatic oolong tea that has very strong milky aroma is a good quality without knowing it is far from the authentic quality Jin Xuan Oolong.
I met a British tea buyer last year in Paris who told me their company will not purchase any Jin Xuan Milky Oolong because of its excessive aromatic additives, that gave me a chance to explain difference from the authentic quality Jin Xuan Oolong from the aromatic Milky Oolong made from low quality Oolong tea. But, I was not sure whether my explanation could help them to change their mind.
Few years ago I was approached by a tea trader from Alishan, he asked me how many ‘tons’ of tea that I can purchase. I was stunned by his question. Because there are tea traders really believe they can maximize the market share by selling low quality faking Taiwan Oolong tea. What hurt me the most is when I found out some Taiwanese tea traders violated the business ethics practice that hinders the market value of good quality Taiwan Oolong in the market. Because their short sighted business conduct only slash the market value for fine quality Taiwan Oolong tea.
For years I devote my energy and resources to promote quality Taiwan Oolong tea to the world, despite a lot of frustration and limited of manpower and resource, but I am vowed to maintain the original intention and move forwards. Of course, these won’t be possible without cooperation from local and international tea lovers who share the same ethical belief – being truthful and sincere.
The journey of authentic quality tea needs you and I.
©Copyright Mei Lan Hsiao, Belgium Chinese Tea Arts Centre / Belgium Chinese Tea Culture Association