It is said that the sense of smell has the strongest connection to memory of all our senses. It is safe to assume, therefore, that it also has the strongest connection to our emotions and sentimentality. It can bring back long forgotten experiences and transport the mind to far away locations with one deep inhalation. Tea in general is famous for the wide range of aromas it can produce. Many teas are world renowned specifically for their delicate, complex, and enchanting smells. Many teas these days are artificially flavored or scented in an attempt to grab the attention of the consumer and tap into this primitive mental connection. To the true tea lover, however, nothing can make the synapses fire like the smell of pure, unadulterated tea leaves. And as far as pure, high quality tea goes, nothing can match the aromas of well crafted Taiwanese oolongs.
Zin Hsuan Oolong (pronounced Jin Shwan) is only produced in the mountain regions of central Taiwan. A product of cross breeding by Taiwanese researchers in the 1980s, Zin Hsuan is a fairly new addition to the tea world, but its popularity is ever increasing. Most of this particular tea’s fame comes from the unique milk smell it can produce. To those who have never had Zin Hsuan, this might sound a bit strange. A tea famous for its aromatic similarity to the milk from a cow? Yes, that’s right, it is beloved because a slight roasting of the leaves imparts this tea with an aroma unmistakably similar to milk. Often, tea traders will artificially increase this milk smell with food additives in order to play up a teas milk fragrance (nai xiang in Chinese); however, the milkiness of a natural Zin Hsuan should be very subtle. Despite its subtlety, the nose-brain connection never fails and that nai xiang is unmistakable. It is hard to describe in words – creamy, fresh, clean, and slightly sweet. With out having a cup of it under your nose, it is hard to conjure up the smell of milk. It is not something we normally describe the aroma of much less describe other things as smelling like, but when you stick your nose into a pot filled with already brewed Zin Hsuan leaves, your brain has little trouble making the connection.
The Ali Shan region of Taiwan is famous for its small gauge railway, its wild wasabi, its gorgeous mountain scenery, and its otherworldly sunrises. It is also renowned for growing teas with smooth, creamy, tropical flavors. Our 2011 Mei Shan Zin Hsuan and our soon to arrive 2012 winter Ali Shan Zin Hsuan are no exceptions.
The Ali Shan and Mei Shan, a small town located on the back side of Ali Shan, areas are prime tea growing country. Steep slopes, dense and lush vegetation, thick humidity and cool evening temperatures make the perfect environment for great tea. This ideal setting and the Zin Hsuan’s divine gift of aromatic brilliance are a perfect match. The characteristic creamy Ali Shan flavor combined with the milk fragrance of the Zin Hsuan varietal produces a tea that is rich, captivating aromatic, and full flavored.
As Liao, our Taiwanese supplier, said when he first described this tea to us, when you “close your eyes and feel the rich and delicate of flower perfume, you will drop in [to] the Fantasy Paradise.” Fantasy paradise can only begin to describe the rich, tropical flavors and aromas of a fine Zin Hsuan grown in the Ali Shan region.
Here is a very brief video of us exploring the Ali Shan region by motor scooter back in 2009. Enjoy!
To see exactly where these teas are from, visit out new tea atlas, here.
To purchase these, or other oolong teas, click here.