Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In this blog, we’ve talked a lot about Wu-Yi oolong (Yancha)(See previous blogs on oolong tea here). One thing we haven’t discussed is the quality standard and how to identify a bad Wu-Yi oolong. Since recently we’ve getting some inquiries from some local tea shop owners on guidelines to quality oolong tea products, today, let’s talk about some signs of a bad Wu-Yi oolong.
What should we rely on when judging a tea? Surprising, there are a official standards that we can count on. Many tea reviewers on Youtube and Instagram claim that the quality of a tea is purely “subjective”. However, this claim is absolutely wrong and ignorant. There are public standards for every tea. For example, in 2002, the Chinese government announced Wu-Yi oolong national standard (in the official document, Wu-Yi oolong is called Wuyi rock-essence tea) including details about tea plant cultivation, producing area zoning, tea-making guideline and etc. Here, we’ll talk about a couple signs of a bad Wu-Yi oolong based on the national standard GB 18745-2002 and GB/T 18745-2006(current version, renewed in 2006).
The fragrances of a Wu-Yi oolong (Yancha) usually give us the first impression and lay down the foundation of a tea. Wu-Yi oolong with a strong charcoal-like burned smell are generally bad tea. Other types of undesirable smells are: sour, moldy/musty, green-leaf aroma and other types of spice-like smells. If you find any of these smells mentioned above, it normally means that something is wrong with its tea-making or the addition of food-additives (e.g. milk flavor oolong).
All Wu-Yi oolong have their unique fragrance IDs. For instance, Rou-Gui has a distinct and sharp “cinnamon” note; Shui-Xian has a long lasting orchid-like aroma; Golden Poeny has a mellow gardenia aroma. It’s impossible that two different kinds of Wu-Yi oolong have the same fragrance. If a Wu-Yi oolong’s fragrance doesn’t match its signature “fragrance ID”, either something is wrong in its tea-making process, or it’s a different kind of tea pretending to be a better one.
Another great way to judge a Wu-Yi oolong is by its tea soup. The tea soup is a tea’s spirit. It should always be clear and bright. It’s never a good sign that a tea’s soup is muddy. This can mean mistakes happened during the tea-making process or something wrong with storage condition. In tea-making, if fresh leaves are not withered in time, or the withering condition is chaotic, the final tea soup can get muddy; or if a tea is stored in a wet and damp condition, roasted leaves would absorb water and turn “green”. This can also lead to a muddy tea soup.
Finally, the taste of a tea is always the most important and most obvious sign of a bad tea. In the past, we’ve talked quite a lot about what bad “flavors” taste like. In general, if a Wu-Yi oolong tastes bitter, dry, plain and watery, it means this tea is made with either low quality fresh leaves or bad tea-making skills. A tea with these defects normally has a shorter life which can last only fewer than 4 infusions.
The fragrances, the tea soup and the taste are three major criteria to judge a tea. If you can master the basic knowledge about these standards, you’ll become a professional in tea-drinking.
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