Red Circle Tea

Ting Heung vs Sook Heung

In 1995 samples of Taiwanese light roasted oolongs -probably from Li Shan or Ali Shan- were brought to Anxi, China. The farmers and processors were curious about this new tea and it’s popularity and were asked to make a tea that would compete with the light roasted flavor of a sweet leafy green oolong with fruit notes and a high floral fragrance. At that time in Anxi all oolong was roasted “Sook Heung”.  Most were roasted 40 - 50%, but some teas destined for the Hong Kong market were roasted as much as 90%. With the introduction of the Chinese version of a Taiwanese tea, “Ting Heung” was born. Ting Heung is the Anxi varietal that is air dried in cool conditions, or air-conditioner dried during the withering process and from that point on can only be roasted 20-30% to become light roast oolong.

Sook Heung is traditional roasting for Anxi oolongs. It means a minimum of 40-50% roasting. Ideally, 50 percent is preferred and I find it lighter than I would expect. There is the 80- 90% roasted tea that is destined for Hong Kong and Singapore, and when that tea arrives in America, most people refer to it as Monkey Picked oolong.  I think the American market is now used to very very lightly roasted Ting Heung tea and extremely dark roasted Hong Kong style Sook Heung tea. I think it surprises most people to find a properly half roasted tea (our Golden Heart was such a tea – unfortunately we’re sold out of that for this year). Since the High mountain tea harvest has not yet begun and we won’t be buying low grown tea, we’ll have to wait to buy this year’s charcoal roasted high mountain Sook Heung spring tea until after the 25th. What we did buy we are really pleased and surprised with. This year while visiting Anxi we chose a 26 year old TKY that has a complete sweetness, none of the sourness you might find in an aged oolong, and both nutty and plumy notes that are incredibly pleasant. It has been kept in Anxi and impeccably stored. It is dark because it's been re-roasted every few years to remove excess moisture (this process needs to happen less often in Anxi, and more often in HK due to relative humidity.) We think you'll like this as an alternative to Monkey Picked oolongs, and it has an age to it that lends a depth of character other Monkey Picked teas just don't have. We also bought a lovely 2009 Hong Kong style oolong that we hope you’ll enjoy at a local restaurant soon! More details on that are coming.

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