Alas! I have reached the end of my box of China Oolong Tea, a treasured gift from a while ago which I have eked out to make it last for as long as possible.
According to the box, oolong tea was first produced near the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). There is something extraordinary about being able to enjoy a drink that has such a long history.
For those used to drinking only either black tea or green tea, a taste for oolong is probably an acquired one: it is something in-between. I prefer mine with milk, yet others would raise their teacups in horror at the thought. Each to our own.
Oolong tea grows in the Fujian Province of China. After picking, the leaves are semi-fermented under carefully controlled conditions; placed in muslin sacks and gently rolled in order to avoid breaking the leaves. It is this process of oxidization that gives the tea a slightly rusty tinge.
I find it a pleasantly fragrant, light, tea with a distinctive aroma and a slightly bitter after taste. It is best appreciated when sipped slowly in peaceful surroundings – my garden is perfect for that!
The Ten Virtues of Tea
Tea has the blessing of all deities
Tea promotes filial piety
Tea drives away all evil spirits
Tea banishes drowsiness
Tea keeps the five internal organs in harmony
Tea wards off disease
Tea strengthens friendship
Tea disciplines body and mind
Tea destroys the passions
Tea grants a peaceful death
— Attributed to Japanese Buddhist priest Myôe (1173–1232), who had the words inscribed on a tea kettle.
Source: Fowler Museum at UCLA Curriculum. Steeped in History: The Art of Tea
I grew up drinking Ceylon tea as the only option to coffee. Later I encountered Rooibos tea and then on a trip to England was introduced to Earl Grey – that will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say I became hooked on tasting and collecting different teas. While my teapot collection has grown by accident, the aromatic collection of teas in my kitchen cupboard has grown by design. I scan every supermarket shelf in different places I visit for teas I have not yet met or have run out of. My recent trip to Cape Town meant I could replenish my stock of loose leaf Lapsang Souchong … sheer heaven. Thank you to friends and family who contribute to this collection of teas!
Prince of Wales is my focus today though for I have just enjoyed a pot of it and savoured every moment of the experience. It is a medium-strength tea with a rich and inviting colour. I find it to be robust with a well-rounded smooth flavour that invites one to sit quietly on one’s own and contemplate (or watch birds) or to share with someone special. It is definitely not a gulp-down-quickly and get-back-to-work kind of tea at all. I find it perfect to enjoy at any time of the day and serve it well steeped with a little milk. The tea has a naturally sweet taste, I think, so requires no sugar.
Delving into its historical connections, I find it is traditionally a blend of Keemun China tea with green tea and a hint of Oolong tea developed to suit the taste of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward III. The actual combination of teas will depend on who makes it I suppose. The brand most readily available in my town consists of a blend of Ceylon and African teas. Some sources add that the addition of lemongrass essential oil is important too. Whatever the actual blend, Prince of Wales is a complex tea packed with flavour that can be assured of a lasting place in my tea cupboard!