mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Milk oolong. What? Is that a serving suggestion? A poetic translation, like "Monkey-picked tea"? (Spoiler: no actual monkeys involved.) Some bubble tea concoction? A new fad where the leaves are rolled in powdered milk?

According to shops, it's so named for its milky taste, but that explains nothing. Does that mean the tea tastes like milk? Does it taste like tea with milk already added? Or does it have a milky quality, like liquidized coconut or soy or rice or almonds or hemp or all the other not-actually-milks?

It has taunted me for over a year. Milk oolong. Sold in a variety of swanky online tea shops, but pricey and available only in the So you need a lot of tea sizes. No matter how curious I was, I couldn't go through a repeat of the lapsang souchong incident, of trying not to waste a large bag of tea, and trying to find a home for a tea I couldn't drink without making it sound like I was trying to pass along an undrinkable tea. (While feeling terribly ungrateful, too, since the bag had been a gift from concertina42Tina. Neither of us expected 'smoky quality' to mean it would trigger an allergic reaction, just like actual smoke.)

But Republic of Tea sent out a sale e-mail, and I'm not much of a tea snob--not enough of one to turn down a good sale, certainly. And there it was, milk oolong, and in a sampler tin at that.
Cup of Abundance - This delightful, hand-processed green oolong is grown high in the Fujian mountains in China. Famous for its “milky” taste and silky texture, the large, tightly-rolled leaves have the alluring fragrance of sweet cream and pineapple. The flavor is smooth with light, orchid notes. Great for multiple infusions.
Look at it, shamelessly tempting me with its multiple infusions.

In the Bag Tin:
Wee wrinkled pellets that smell like the Platonic ideal of peaches. You know the way some oolongs are described as having notes of peach? (Or maybe that's mostly Ti Kuan Yin.) This tea mocks those teas. Sweet cream and pineapple? I won't argue with RoT's writers--a ripe peach all sun-warmed and dripping juice isn't far off from sweet cream and pineapple to me.

The Steepening:
Eyeballing pellets when you're used to loose leaf is a pain.

For the first cup, fresh tap water straight from the boiling kettle over an eyeballed allotment of wee wrinkled pellets, steeped about two minutes (it's easier to steep longer next time than fix a too-bitter first impression) and served hot and plain. I thought at first I'd added too many pellets, because the steeping pot was packed with green and red leaves, all rumpled and looking like a very misplaced salad. Then I noticed those wee wrinkled pellets had unfolded into the biggest damn tea leaves I have ever seen. The leaves of other teas? Mocked. We're talking capsule-into-spongeosaurus expansion.

The resulting liquor was a touch lighter in color than expected, but it packed a lush floral scent that filled the room and waved a baseball bat at the neighbors.

"Light, orchid notes" is misleading: the flavor is like sitting down to tea in the middle of a hothouse in full bloom. The flavor-scent of orchid isn't the assault on the senses that strong lavender and rose can be, though, so it's a gorgeous sensation, with a good whiff of natural fruity sweetness underneath. What others refer to as a milky taste I would describe as a natural mildness in the flavor, as if the tea were served with cream, and a rich, almost luxurious mouthfeel. Even the aftertaste, a slightly dry perfumed pucker, is delicious.

The second cup got a few minutes more to brew. (Resteepings should in general, but I also wanted to try the tea a little stronger.) It held up well in scent and flavor, and I chilled some for later testing. Cold, it's a little fruitier than floral, with less mouthfeel but more aftertaste, like a fruity herbal tea but without the hibiscus dilemma.*

The third cup is still fruity and floral but noticeably weaker, low on that lovely mouthfeel, and as it cools, more of a standard green tea flavor--but pleasantly floral green, like a favorite cousin to jasmine. I don't think I can squeeze more resteepings out of this batch of leaves tonight (summer, mold, ick!), but I intend to jump back into testing on a smaller steep soon.

The Verdict:
I may have a new contender for Best Tea Ever.


* Hibiscus is a popular filler in flavored teas for its fruity twang. In herbal teas, it can add a fullness and body to an otherwise weak fruity cup, and cover up a bit of unpleasant earthiness or bitterness. Some herbals, if served without a strong tent pole ingredient like hibiscus, taste weak and watery. On the other hand, herbals with a strong tent pole ingredient like hibiscus often taste most strongly of that ingredient, which is annoying if you hate that ingredient and/or expect your herbals to taste like the herb(s) in the name.

I call it the hibiscus dilemma, but it could as easily be "Goddammit, this is rooibos."

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