Single-Source Taiwanese Oolongs with Tillerman Tea Company

It’s all about regional specialty with Tillerman’s select collection of Taiwanese oolong teas.

The Tillerman Tea Company is based in San Francisco. Canadian David Campbell started the company after spending 30 years in the wine industry. Tillerman Tea Company’s focus is on a limited selection of single-source oolongs straight from the producers.

Taiwan is famous for its oolong production. I’ve seen it quoted that Taiwan produces about 20% of the world’s oolongs—I wasn’t able to corroborate that before this post, but let’s just work under the mutual assumption that Taiwan produces a lot of oolongs, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to making a really A+ oolong tea. You’ll also sometimes see oolongs from this area referred to as ‘Formosa,’ Taiwan’s former name.

Packages received from Tillerman Tea Co.
Packages received from Tillerman Tea Co.
Tea received from Tillerman Tea Co. (Top Row L to R: Tieguanyin, Ali Shan; Bottom Row: Bai Hao)
Tea received from Tillerman Tea Co. (Top Row L to R: Tieguanyin, Ali Shan; Bottom Row: Bai Hao)

Muzha Tieguanyin Oolong Lin Dashi Spring 2016

Tieguanyin, otherwise known as ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy,’ is a style of oolong tea. Spring tieguanyin is the highest quality pick for this tea process. Muzha is a district in Taipei City and Lin Dashi is the grower. The tea has a medium oxidation of 35% and is dried and baked over charcoal.

These dark brown rolled leaves almost looked like tobacco. On steeping, this long, almost peanut-buttery taste filled my mouth. In my tasting notes, it says, “Hugs cheeks.” There’s also a dark plummy vibe here. Muzha tieguanyin is different from Anxi tieguanyin in that it has more of a roasted/nutty character, and has a more reddish liquor.

Preparation: Gaiwan, 90˚ C water, multiple steeps. First steep 50 seconds, second steep 40 seconds, then adding around 10 seconds more each time.

Find the Spring 2017 Muzha Tieguanyin Oolong Lin Dashi at Tillerman Tea Co.

Alishan Oolong Tea Chen Chung-Jia Spring 2016

Ali Shan (Ali Mountain) Oolong is grown high in the mountains of central Taiwan at around 1,100 metres elevation.High elevation means hardy leaves that have a high concentration of flavor-producing components.

The tea was light, slightly vegetal with an orchid-like aroma. There was no astringency, and the tea was ‘super smooth,’ according to my notes. There were soft floral overtones or summer wildflowers and dandelion.

Preparation: Gaiwan, 90˚ C water, multiple steeps. First steep 40 seconds, second steep 30 seconds, then adding around 10 seconds more each time.

Find Alishan at the Tillerman Tea Co.

Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) Hsu Dashi Summer 2016

This was really the fun one of the bunch. Unusual in that it’s a summer harvest, these thin, wiry, multi-coloured leaves are 70% oxidized. When tea growers harvest the leaves from Hsinchu County in the summer, they include the withered white tips, leading to its unique appearance and flavour.

Tasting notes: “Like a rich woman’s perfume, earthy on the tongue, floral in the nose. Super light, almost like a Darjeeling. A darker, almost malt-like undertone with a hint of sweet honey. So light.”  This is possibly the fanciest set of tasting notes I’ve made in a while. Ohhh, la la.

Tillerman also included a cute tidbit on their website:

“…the story (certainly apocryphal) goes that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, enjoyed this tea so much that, when she ran out of her Darjeeling, she dubbed this the “Oriental Beauty.”

Preparation: Gaiwan, 90˚C water, multiple steeps starting at 30 seconds and slowly working your way up.

Find Bai Hao Hsu Dashi Summer 2016 at the Tillerman Tea Co.

Three Tillerman Tea oolongs, liquor and dry leaf. From left to right: Tieguanyin, Ali Shan, and Bai Hao.
Three Tillerman Tea oolongs, liquor and dry leaf. From left to right: Tieguanyin, Ali Shan, and Bai Hao.

*Since I put together this review last week I’ve received a brand new batch of Spring 2017 oolongs from Taiwan! The cold weather in Taiwan kept the tea from arriving earlier, but I look forward to trying these fresh oolongs and reporting back.

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