Hello tea-drinkers! Luckily my finals are over so hopefully I will be able to post more often in these next few months. I have some very interesting stuff planned so stay tuned!
A few weeks ago I got very into researching African tea. I had previously seen African teas on What-Cha (in fact I reviewed one here) yet many of them sold out before I could try I them. After a lot of digging I found a website which has several interesting African teas which I plan to review later this year.
During my research, I came across these two teas sold by Upton Tea Imports. They are both from the same region of Usambara in Tanzania. Upton didn’t give much information about these teas, with most of the description info describing the taste, so I had to do a little research myself on this region.
The Usambara Mountains are located in Northeastern Tanzania, southeast of Kilimanjaro but obviously west of the Indian Ocean. They are characterized by sprawling tropical forests, many of which have a variety of endemic species.
I am very excited to taste these, as they will be my second taste of African teas and they are from a rather lesser-known region, compared to the main tea giants of Africa: Kenya and Malawi.
Upton Tea offers both an oolong and a green tea from this region, so I purchased both for reviewing purposes. For both teas I used a glass gaiwan and followed the brewing parameters given on the packages (190F for the oolong and 170F for the green). So, without further ado, on to the tasting!
The first of the two that I tasted was the oolong.
The dry leaves smelled very different than what I was expecting. They smell nutty, of raw almonds with a hint of floral fruitiness that I would compare to honeysuckle or melon. There are some sweet, molasses/brown sugar notes as well and altogether this tea smells a lot like a first or second flush Himalayan black tea.
The steeped leaves smell intensely malty, definitely more akin to a black tea than an oolong. However, there are some roasted, fruity notes that are analogous to some highly oxidized yanchas. There’s a little bit of a marine, sea salt scent as well which gives it some pronounced mineral qualities.
The tea itself smells quite light – the melon and honeysuckle notes of the dry leaves return with the malty notes of the steeped leaves to create and experience very, very similar to a second-flush Himalayan black tea (in particular a Darjeeling).
A first steep of this tea is quite flavorful – it’s full-bodied without being cloying. It’s got lots of melon fruitiness common to both white teas and early flushes of black teas, and there is a very present malty flavor which leans this particular tea towards a second-flush. There is a very light, honeyed sweetness which reminds me a lot of the Kenyan Rhino White Tea I reviewed a while ago (I linked it previously in this post). What’s unusual about this is that I don’t get any flavors that I commonly think of when I think of oolong, whether it be a lighter oolong or a darker one.
Since this tea is remarkably similar to earlier flushes of black tea from the Himalayas (Darjeeling, Sikkim, Kangra, Nepal, etc), I did a little research. Apparently earlier flushes of black teas from specifically Darjeeling undergo less oxidation during processing, and I think that happened with this tea. I imagine this was classified as an oolong simply by the oxidation level, and not by its processing.
Next I tasted the green tea.
The dry leaves are quite dark and wiry, which makes them look a little more similar to green teas I’ve had from South Asia (ex. the Bhutanese green tea I had). The smell, however, is almost like a combination between Japanese gyokuro and Chinese taiping houkui. There is a savory, marine scent of gyokuro with the nuttiness and subtle toasted scent of taiping houkui. I was very surprised, because I would’ve never expected that scent from a tea this dark in color.
The steeped leaves definitely smell more like a Japanese green than the dry leaves do, which is interesting because judging by the shape and look these were processed very differently from a Japanese green. There are very pronounced, intense marine notes along with a toasted nuttiness which is almost reminiscent of smelling cooked shellfish. There is a definite savory note as well which reminds me a lot of a gyokuro in particular.
The tea is smells very light in comparison to the dry and wet leaves. There is a more pronounced grassiness here with just a little bit of the marine scent I experienced with the wet leaves.
The texture of the tea is quite noticeable – it’s rather light and crisp and goes down just like water. The flavor, however, is a little more elusive. The tea had a beautiful, light green-yellow color yet it tasted very underwhelming. There are very subtle notes of roasted nuts, with a little bit of vegetal grassiness and a hint of toasted seaweed. There wasn’t really any astringency which I liked and since this is a green tea I decided not to resteep it.
I was surprised at how light this green tea was – the scents of both the dry and wet leaves were incredibly strong so I was expecting something with a lot of flavor. This tea ended up a lot lighter, with the flavor profile and general intensity of flavor being a little lackluster for me. The little bit of flavor that was there, however, is more reminiscent of a higher-quality green so at least it doesn’t taste cheap.
Overall, I am quite impressed with these two teas. They were both very different from what I was expecting but I see them being very similar to teas from other regions. My only problem with these two teas is that the green tea was quite bland (and I followed their parameters!) and it lacked a more pronounced depth of flavor that I’m used to having with the green teas I normally drink (taiping houkui, liu an gua pian). I also wish I knew a little more about where these came from, rather than just a general region.
These are quite interesting and if you’re looking to try some teas from more unusual regions than I would definitely recommend these. However I suggest thinking of the oolong as a black tea and maybe going a little higher on the temperature and/or steeping time than suggested for the green. Who knows, maybe you can get more flavor out of it than I can.
So although I didn’t love the green tea, I liked the oolong quite a lot and I do give major props to Tanzanian tea growers for growing some good quality tea in comparison to most of what comes out of that region, which is a lot of CTC and teabag stuff.
From: Upton Tea Imports
Usambara Region, Tanzania