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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Exploration of Terrior

My previously posted entry on this mysteriously vanished into thin air, and now I am left with the task of recalling into memory what I have already written before. This must be divine retribution for doing tea-related work. *shakes fist at the work gods* But anyway, such is life...at least it gives me a chance to actually mull over what I write, instead of furtively sneaking around doing it...

Terroir, a concept pretty important in wine enjoyment/production, has found usage in tea drinking as well. I believe that it makes a difference in any kind of plant, not just tea (and it shows because produce from California beats produce from most other states in my opinion). But how much of a difference does it make, when you stack it up to other factors such as farming techniques, processing, storage, etc. I never really thought much about terroir that much when buying tea, that is, until I started researching pu'er.

From what I've read, single-estate cakes a relatively recent (recent being a relative term, of course) phenomenon. Back in the day the state-controlled factories picked leaves from all the different mountains, and blended them together. Now, in the post-DXP world, privately owned factories could make their own productions; however, they lacked the resources (or maybe even the legal right) that the larger factories had, and could only create single-estate cakes. It seems that these estates all have their own special characteristics, but the question remains of how these single-estate cakes will age, and whether their regional characteristics will stand the test of time, or will they all converge somewhat, and to the a point a Nannuo is no longer distiguishible from a Jing Mai. Since there's no historical precedence of single-estate cakes, no body knows.

But moving on from pu'er to what I'm most curious about: terrior in oolong. This is very interesting, because we have the opportunity to taste the same varietal of plant, Wuyi Shui Xian and Anxi TGY, grown in two different regions. So this is a good opportunity to see how terroir influences the same varietal in different environments.

I've sampled a fair share of Taiwanese Shui Xian and I've also had my fair share of Chinese Shui Xian. These two taste nothing alike, and the difference between these two is like night and day. But why is this? Well, Taiwanese Shui Xian is not processed traditionally like the Wuyi version; instead, it's a medium roasted Bao Zhong. I'm not saying that it's bad...but it's Shui Xian in name only. So maybe this shows that terroir is a big deal, but let's not be too hasty. The processing techniques of these two are way too different, and their differences may not be attributed mostly to terroir, but mostly to processing differences.

Okay, so let's turn to traditional roast TGY, which is done both on the mainland and in Taiwan. I could be wrong, but their processing techniques aren't going to differ as much as the difference between Wuyi Shui Xian and Taiwanese Shui Xian. Sadly, I haven't had the opportunity to taste these two side by side...but actually, now that I remember, a friend is sending me a sample of some traditional roast Muzha TGY. Now if only I could get my hands on some Chinese traditional roast TGY (looks at WY). But at least according to WY, who's tasted a fair share of traditional roast from both sides of straights, says about Muzha TGY, "there's something missing..." (I believe I'm paraphrasing him correctly here)

So maybe that "missing something" is terroir? Or is it processing differences?

Also, how much does terroir matter within the same genre of tea? Perhaps characteristics amongst the single-estates is more noticeable, because pu'er processing is more or less uniform (correct me if I'm wrong here), where as with oolong, things like roast and oxidation can muck things up. Will different Shui Jin Gui exhibit more similarities than it does differences? By the grace of...well, WY, I have in my possession four different samples of Shui Jin Gui, and I have ordered some from Seven Cups. Will they have more similarities than they will be differences?

Even though I may not have the palate to actually come to some sort of conclusion by the end of all this, at least I get to drink some tasty tea.

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