Jingualiau Organic Hong He "Golden Melon" Baozhong Oolong Tea - Winter 2018Taiwan Sourcing
The varietal of this Baozhong is probably the oldest domesticated varietal we've encountered, existinh since the 19th century. Back in the day this varietal became known as "Red Rice" because it's harvest coincided with the time of year that farmers would undertake rice transplanting. Farmers back in those days did not only have to plant tea, but also had to plant multiple agricultural products to maintain their living. As a result, this tea also has been called "Rice Transplanting Tea" (播田茶), which is a less elegant name compared to "Red Rice", so name "Red Rice" is more commonly used today, even though this tea is not common at all.
Once we learned about the existence of this rare varietal, we immediately arranged a time to meet the farmer who was still planting it and discussed the details of processing it into our "traditional style". When the date of harvesting arrived, we drove all the way into Jingualiau, (which literally translates to "Golden Melon Village") to oversee the processing and stayed there for a full night. To reach Jingualiau you have to drive into the deeper part of Pinglin, and trace along the source of "Golden Melon Creek" for quite a while to finally reach it. The elevation of this village is not high, but thanks to it being located in a remote valley inside Pinglin, the environment is clean and fresh to say the least.
We already knew this was a very primitive varietal to work with, but what we did not know was how "tricky" this tea was to work with. Normally tea maker can know when to wave the tea and when to proceed to the next stage by observing the aroma of the raw material. One can easily notice such traits on varietal like Qin Xing Oolong to make their decision, but not on this varietal. This "Red Rice" varietal refused to show any of those indication during the withering process, and this forced us to pay extra attention and energy to observe the transformation of the tea.
We did not sleep so well. In fact we could not fall asleep at all, but the tea would not care whether you had a good sleep or not, as we must stay awake to check the condition of the tea during processing. Once again, normally the tea mass should show a very thick fermentation aroma at this stage, however it is not as thick as our past experience suggest, so we were very curious to how the taste of the tea would turn out.
Interestingly. this tea tastes something like raw puer tea at the very beginning. The later character and aftertaste will show it is an oolong tea with some similarities to raw puer tea. We extrapolated that was because the primitive characteristics inherited from Taiwan's ancient past. Eventually the tea was sent to our charcoal roasting master for the refining process, he also expressed the exact same thought, and also said that this is his first encounter of this tea despite of his rich tea experience.
This tea provides us a unique window into Taiwanese tea history. Despite it being mostly forgotten now, this tea is still very much alive deep inside Pinglin area. This tea delivers a interesting hint of melon skin in its character which resonates with where it came from - the "Golden Melon Village. So we think "Golden Melon" will be the just right name for it. if you would like to explore deeper into the past of Taiwanese tea with us, "Golden Melon" is a Baozhong for your collection.
Harvest Season: Winter 2018 / 冬 貳零壹捌
Varietal: Hong He / 紅禾
Elevation: 400 M / 肆佰 公尺
Region: Pinglin / 坪林
Fermentation Level: 30% / 分之 參拾
Roast Level: 1 / 壹 分
This tea is quite the treat! The smell of the leaves is reminiscent of sweet, lightly toasted, delicate pastries mingled with steamed greens, and a subtle flora/fruity character. Is produces a tea soup that is sweet and almost creamy conjuring up thoughts of pure sugarcane juice. As was mentioned, it does somehow taste a bit like a sweet raw pu-erh devoid of bitterness and astringency. This is a unique offering that I highly recommend sampling.
I brewed 4 grams in a small 60ml gaiwan. Light oxidizing adds some heartiness for a baozhong. It has a rich and warm mid range sweet and fruity character. Definitely a curious experience all around. This doesn't really fit my experiences with different Baozhong.
"Golden Melon" is a very different oolong from anything else. An old dog guess this might be the oldest varietal in Taiwan because how it tastes is just too unique. Wu Yi varietal is an old varietal in Taiwan, however this "Red Rice" varietal might be even older than that for its incredibly unique taste. Our roasting master Mr. Zhuang said it is kind of like raw puer, while an old dog thinks it also has a flavor of the skin of sugarcane. In conclusion, although "Golden Melon" is not a tea that will stun you or subvert your understanding of Taiwanese tea, it will nonetheless add more flesh to the bone of Taiwanese tea with its mysterious past.