Chinese Restaurant Tea Extraordinaire – a Tea Review

While searching for a replacement to the Teavana Iron Buddha Oolong tea I could no longer get, there were other discoveries along my journey. So many teas to drink! Which is just fine since I love tea and there are some that I’m rather pleased to have tried.

Next up is an Oolong which, to my happy little taste buds, is very much like the kind of Oolong found in many Chinese restaurants. (Naturally, it depends on what the restaurant serves as some have other options like Jasmine.)

When I purchased Iron Buddha tea in the first place, I was actually looking for Oolong similar to what I’ve tasted at a number of restaurants over the years–a rich, earthy oolong. Iron Buddha tea turned out to be a wonderfully delicious poor match and it became a favorite. But I still enjoyed the restaurant kind and came to realize that this was a more fermented and roasted Oolong.

According to some resources, Chinese Oolongs tend to be less fermented and therefore more green, while Taiwanese or Formosan Oolongs, more fermented. So my findings go somewhat completely against that as I found the more fermented Oolongs to be a better match for the kind served in Chinese restaurants, while my favorite replacement for the lightly fermented Iron Buddha Oolong turns out to be from Taiwan. Individual results may vary.

The closest tea I’ve found so far to match the taste of Chinese restaurant tea is [roll the tea kettle whistle], Wuyi Organic Oolong ($22.99/lb or about $2.88/2oz), purchased in “bulk” at Wegmans, sourced from China.

For comparison, Teavana’s Eastern Beauty Formosan Oolong is also very yummy. It too is an oolong which is fermented longer and is a darker (less green) Oolong. Eastern Beauty [which has now also been discontinued] is more delicate, lovely, but missing some of the heartier notes of Wuyi. It’s just not the same.

General Information: Wuyi, as it turns out, is oft advertised as a “weight loss” tea. I can’t comment on the weight loss claims, but I’ll let you know if that changes. Since it is more fermented than Iron Buddha, however, I do feel the higher level of caffeine, so that alone may burn an extra calorie or two.

Genuine Wuyi is grown on the Wuyi Mountains in Nanping prefecture, Fujain China. (I don’t know if what Wegmans carries is genuine Wuyi or just a similar style, but the label reads “Wuyi.”)

Leaves: The loose leaves of Wuyi are mostly all brown with hints of darker green, gold and charcoal here and there. The leaves are longer, looser and appear to be lightly twisted as opposed to rolled into pellets. They don’t expand terribly much in the 190-200 degree water, but tend to take up more room per dry weight in a storage container than the greener oolongs. I want to call this “fluffy” versus dense. If Iron Buddha Oolong is dense, Wuyi Oolong is fluffy.

Flavor & Aroma: It has a lovely flavor which instantly reminds me of a good version of the tea served in many Chinese restaurants. There is a distinctly similar taste. This is what I was looking for when I’d gotten stuck on Iron Buddha. The flavor of Wyui is not the drinkable perfume that is Iron Buddha, but earthier, heartier, maltier, with a natural sweetness, a slight metallic base and lightly chestnutty roasted flavor. There is somewhat of a warm peach aroma. It isn’t as strong or dark as black tea, but clearly more intense than green tea with virtually zero green or vegetal taste.

It works well for a couple of infusions, but not as many as Jade Oolong, Iron Buddha, or Monkey Picked Oolong.

Wuyi Oolong is completely yummy if you like this kind of tea and would do well to help wash down a heavier meal which is probably why it, or something like it, is served so often in restaurants.



In Search of the Iron Buddha: A Tea Review

Iron Buddha Oolong tea from Teavana was one of my all time favorite teas! Teavana sold it at $10/2oz for many years, and I thought it would never end. It did. Teavana discontinued it, instead offering only Monkey Picked Oolong (good, but expensive at $25/2oz) or various flavored and scented Oolongs. Those are fine too, but are no Iron Buddha Oolong! And I’m no tea expert–my teacabulary is at noob level, but I have been drinking tea for most of my years and I know what my taste buds like. They like good tea–it can be green, black, oolong or herbal, but there are some which absolutely sing in my mouth and I have a hard time getting enough.

Now, alas, I can’t get any more Iron Buddha Oolong and so began a quest. I’ve tasted quite a lot of teas along the way. Side-tracked by greens at times to be sure, I thought Ti Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy also sometimes called Iron Buddha) might be a good replacement because of the word “iron” in the name. Ti Guan Yin is very good too, but there is a much better match as far as flavor and that’s what matters to me.

Drumroll please… actually lets make it a kettle whistle. [Kettle whistle]

The winner is Jade Oolong Tea ($53.99/lb or about $7/2oz) sourced from Taiwan and purchased in bulk at Wegmans. Oolongs can vary a great deal in their amount of fermentation so that some are closer to green teas and others lean toward black. This oolong reminds me of a Chinese green in appearance and it’s very similar to Monkey Picked in many ways (only less expensive), but there isn’t anything quite like it (except other teas which are like it). Wegmans was a nice choice for experimentation since they offer bulk teas which can be purchased in small quantities. That way I could easily and relatively inexpensively taste all of their oolongs, of which they had quite a few, and compare to my last remaining bits of genuine Teavana Iron Buddha.

Color and flavor: Jade Oolong Taiwan brews up a light golden amber with a complex orchid yumminess. Not as overtly single-note floral as jasmine teas, this has the clean, clear complexity of a fine daytime perfume in teacup form. There is a pleasant amount of astringency, only the slightest waft of grassy green and almost no roasted flavor at all. It is anchored with a hint of earthiness. Delicious!

While some may find this or Iron Buddha too strong, I say (hopefully politely), “You’re doing it wrong!” Perhaps complaints of the strength is part of what prompted Teavana to discontinue Iron Buddha. It may seem obvious, but if it’s too strong for you, be careful not to over steep–use less tea or brew for a shorter amount of time. Since this tea works exceptionally well for multiple infusions, you may enjoy the second or third infusion best. I love the first brew, but if you don’t, consider pouring it off and chilling for iced tea. Subsequent infusions tend to bring out the mellow, earthy flavors. Each one is different. I like them all.

Leaves: The leaves are a deep jade green that are rolled tightly like pellets, but not as tight or fully round as, say, gunpowder green or jasmine pearl teas. Small before steeping, they unfurl elegantly in the 190-195 degree water as they release their flavor–transforming into beautiful, detailed, full, large leaves. These will quickly expand to fill a tea ball or even a tea strainer if you’re not careful. Cramped tea leaves results in less flavor, more wasted tea and the inability to visually enjoy the leaves as they unfurl. I suggest using a really large tea strainer or adding tea directly to the pot and pouring all water into cups after brewing for 3-4 minutes. The large leaves are easy to strain.

This tea is lovely through multiple infusions as subtle nuances evolve.
Time for more!

Copyright © 2010 Deb L. Kapke