One of the many benefits to living in the Bay Area is the variety of unique cuisines we are privileged to enjoy: Brazilian, Ethiopian, Thai, Persian, Vietnamese and more. And as much as I appreciate the wide range of tastes and flavors, there is always that one cuisine that I come back to more often than the rest. Tea is exactly the same — thousands of different types, with infinite varieties of tastes, aromas, and complexities. Yet through years of tasting teas from all over China, Japan, Taiwan, India, and beyond, there’s one that I find myself reaching for time and time again.
When you drink as much tea as we do, you begin to know your teas intimately — their personality, their character, how they make you feel. Each tea becomes like a friend. You reach out to different ones depending on the mood you’re in. Some you want to be with all the time, others you can only handle so much of. But there is always that one that you reach out for more than the others — a best friend you could say. One you know all too well. One that comforts you in any situation. For me, this friend is Charcoal Fire Roasted Tung Ting Oolong.
This medium/heavily oxidized oolong is dark and robust and filled with character. Yet it’s smooth, round, and deep, with little to no edges or tannin. Its fiery body doesn’t mask the gentle floral nature of this particular varietal. And the dark chocolate finish satisfies every time.
Tung Ting (pronounced Dong Ding) is not only the name of this tea and its varietal — which translates as Cold Summit — It’s also the name of the mountain on which it’s grown. Tung Ting Mountain isn’t part of the three major famous tea mountains of Taiwan, however, it’s well known for its long tradition of supporting artisan tea. At 750 meters up, it falls just short of being categorized as producing true “high mountain tea,” however the mountain still has an ample amount of cloud coverage, protecting the tea from direct sunlight, along with the acidic soil needed for quality growth.
One of the few women tea masters working on Tung Ting Mountain is Mrs. Sue. Women, who generally have smaller hands and more dexterity, are typically tea pickers, while men are the custom roasters and producers. However, man or woman, I believe Mrs. Sue to be one of the most skilled artisans alive. She has more than forty years experience working with the tea. She is meticulous in every step of the process, from sun drying, to wilting, oxidation, and rolling. All the way to the final custom roast, where she selects a particular type of wood to use in her custom built charcoal pit — this step alone takes her over twenty hours to complete.
Charcoal Fire is not only delicious on its own, but pairs well with food and pastries. It comforts my soul, while elevating my mental state, yet keeps my body relaxed and calm.
This tea is a true friend indeed. Something I can reach for time and time again, and never grow tired of. One of my true joys in life.