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Phoenix Oolong: Osmanthus Scented Guihua Xiang
Scented with flowers of osmanthus
This is a scented tea made by scenting classic style Phoenix oolong with fresh osmanthus flowers(osmanthus fragrans). It is not to be mixed up with the original Guihua Xiang, although they are sometimes called by the same name. The latter has an inherent and delicate aroma that is suggestive of osmanthus flower without scenting, while the former can be made from almost any sort of classic style Phoenix, most of the time Milan Xiang or Guihua Xiang.
Quite many years ago, I produced a line of exclusive collection for a famous chef in Japan and a very fine Osmanthus scented Phoenix Oolong was the top of their line. We picked a very fine and soft tasting Guihua Xiang as the base tea (cha pei, the original tea before scenting), scented it with extra proportion of fresh osmanthus flowers and baked it dry with very low charcoal ash fire in bamboo baskets, just like what people had done traditionally. The resultant tea had an intense, sweet and fresh aroma of osmanthus coupled with the accents of the peach and a well baked Phoenix. On contact with hot water the spell discharge all its strength of seduction. One simply cannot walk away without any advancement in the tasting experience. The sweet liquor is classically Phoenix, smooth, yet bright and lively with enough sharpness, and without the issues of over baking found in lots of mass-made scented oolong. The "substance" of the aroma can be so intense that one can feel it between the teeth — a cooling sweet sensation that lingers and brings the tea aftertaste from the back of the palate to the front inside the lips.
simple steps, demanding craft
The "Iron" Chef had a big problem understanding how so much fragrance could have entered the tea. He would not if he had been at the baking baskets. The tiny yet seductively aromatic osmanthus flowers are sprinkled densely between the thin layers of tealeaves in the basket, inducing the power of its spell onto the finely twisted oolong leaves. The warmth of the charcoal ash from underneath, about one foot (30 cm) down but within the encasing of the skirt of the basket, pushes that magical charm right into your face when you open the cover.
Because of the big difference of size between the tealeaves and the flowers, a simple sieving can easily rid the depleted charm carriers. The tea seemingly untouched as the original chapei, except a little browner. I have not been successful to find any reliable reference of the origin of this tradition, but since scenting tea with flowers has such long history, I suppose scenting the locally produced oolongs with the locally abundant osmanthus flowers should have come naturally when the Shé Hakka brought tea production to this region.
Choosing from the market is in itself another art
The price of an osmanthus scented Phoenix is largely dependent on the amount of osmanthus flowers used per weight unit of dried tealeaves and the quality of the cha pei. Therefore, the quality under this same label can vary dramatically according to the price point intended for a specific market segment. This same tradition has also spread to various other types of oolongs, some employing even artificial scent substitutes.