What is it about the word “freak” that so fascinates us? Partly, it’s the sound, those drawn-out e’s that shape the mouth into an almost-smile. But mostly, it’s the thought that the thing being described is truly one-of-a-kind, something unusual and unique, which makes it especially compelling in a world that has become increasingly homogenized and stream-lined. Freak of Nature Tea, a singular Oolong tea, is just that thing.
Chinese Oolongs, which reside in a caffeine space between the mild green teas and the stronger black ones, require a particular long-leafed tea plant. Processing begins right after picking, and the distinctive flavor comes from wilting the tea leaves slightly in the sun, followed by a partial oxidation – exposure to the oxygen in air - leading the tea leaves to twist and curl as they dry. By carefully stopping the oxidation at a specific point for each Oolong varietal, the tea master achieves a rich and lingering flavor that does not overpower the taste buds. By contrast, the potency of black teas comes from being fully oxidized, while the green teas are exactly that – green – with no oxidation whatsoever.
There are several theories on the Oolong name, which is translated from the Chinese as Black Dragon Tea, slightly misleading since these teas are not black at all. The dragon is a traditional Chinese symbol of good luck, power and strength, but the Black Dragon name refers to the tea leaves’ long, dark, curly appearance. Qing Dynasty poems offer some evidence that the name simply comes from a specific area of the Wuyi Mountains region of China, where the tea is said to have existed first. A more fanciful origin tale, however, is that the name is a corruption of the name of Wu Liang, a distracted farmer who created Oolong tea by accidentally allowing the tea to start oxidizing, but stopped the process midway when he realized his error.
Freak of Nature Tea itself is an Oolong variety wreathed in mystery. This tea is amazingly rare – a scant quantity was produced for sale this year - and its cultivation so secret that the tea broker ever so politely declines to share the Chinese name for this rare breed. Its unique flavor is a direct result of the location in which it is grown, an area where the temperature changes from 80 degrees to 20 degrees then back to 80 degrees within a short amount of time. Not unlike Santa Fe, although the extremes here are definitely not so dramatic!
The plush flavor and subtle complexity of Freak of Nature are ideal for an enjoyment of this tea unaccompanied by food. Many Oolong drinkers feel that way about all Oolongs, due to the subtle flavors of these varietals. One dose can withstand 2 to 3 infusions when properly brewed, so each serving can last an hour or more in the company of a good book. Its buttery overtones make it a gentle companion for the Teahouse Vegan Apple Crisp or a slice of the moist Teahouse Gingerbread for those who have a yen for dessert.
The 10 lbs. of this freaky – in the very best sense of the word – tea that The Teahouse was able to obtain this year are a treasure chest of unique flavor. Take a pleasant hour one afternoon to taste this natural wonder, either here at The Teahouse or infused at home - because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
At Home: Ideally prepared in a quality tea infuser. Steep 5 grams per an individual serving for 2-3 minutes at 203-212° Fahrenheit