For my first tea review, I have unintentionally chosen a tea that blew me away. I say unintentionally because this was the first tea sample that I received as a part of my subscription to Global Tea Hut's monthly Tea and Tao Magazine. For a full descrition of Global Tea Hut and my moving experience visiting their headquarters in Miaoli, Taiwan, see my post here.
When I first started writing about the amazing tea in Taiwan, I hadn't yet tried Ruby Red, Taiwan's reputed black tea from Sun Moon Lake, and I focused solely on wulongs (oolongs), which dominate production in Taiwan. After somebody pointed out my omission, I admit that I still didn't really have high expectations for Ruby Red. All of this changed the moment I had my first sip.
The taste of Ruby Red is like nothing I've experienced in a tea before. So far, this is the first time that I have fallen in love with a tea the moment I tried it. Other fine Taiwanese teas, such as Oriental Beauty and Dong Ding, grew on me after a few sessions.
The ability to identify flavors in tea (or beer, or wine) is an acquired skill, and one that I am still working on. In the past, I thought it must be somewhat psychological. For example, when I drink red wine, a drink I rarely consume, no matter which kind I try, it just tastes like…red wine. Cheaper ones taste grosser to me, and more expensive ones are smoother. After I read the labels, purporting things like “notes of figs and dried cherries accentuated with vanilla,” it's a bit of a stretch, but I can actually pick up those flavors if I really try mentally.
But it is proven that over time a person can really fine-tune his or her ability to detect and name the subtlest of aromas and flavors. For example, France's “noses”, professional scent experts who work in the perfume industry, are able to isolate thousands of smells, and this ability is the result of a lifetime spent sniffing things.
And so as an amateur tea drinker, for the sake of practice I usually try to avoid reading descriptions of teas before I taste them, so that I can make my own observations before being told what I am supposed to taste in or feel from this tea.
Aromas and flavors aside (to be discussed below), one notable thing that occurred the moment I had my first sip of Ruby Red is that I actually said, “Wow” out loud. My experience was later reaffirmed when I read Wu De (the founder and head teacher of Global Tea Hut)'s introduction to Ruby Red in the March 2016 edition of Tea and Tao Magazine:
“It (Ruby Red) unfolds in a complexity that few red teas are capable of. And your exclamation of “Wow!” is probably not much different from the first farmers who recognized the new cultivar.”