Sunday, April 27, 2008

Review: Adagio's Ooooh-Darjeeling

At the height of Adagio's clever but confusing naming scheme is the Ooooh-Darjeeling. If you're not sure what either an Oolong or a Darjeeling tea is, you'll have no problems. If you don't know what either an Oolong or a Darjeeling is, you'll find the name delightfully onomonopoetic and exotic. If you DO know what both an Oolong and a Darjeeling are, you'll be very confused.

Chances are your natural affinity for tea and insatiable thirst for a good cup of the stuff has also turned into an insatiable thirst for tea knowledge. Maybe this takes you to a library, maybe to the top of a Chinese mountain. There are many places to find tea wisdom. And whether you're consulting a book or a bearded mystic, you'll eventually find that teas are classified by its primary qualities qualities, sub-categorized green, black, oolong and white teas. Mostly. Sometimes. However loose this definitions may be, it is still a good start.

The student of tea will learn that Darjeeling is a black tea, on account of being very dark and typically astringent. And that Oolong teas, variegated, can still have some flavors in common. So, uh, Oooooh-Darjeeling sounds a lot like an Oolong and a lot like a Darjeeling. Or is it just an extremely good Darjeeling that makes you want to say, "Ooooooooh". So which is it? A Frankensteinian hybrid or an awe-inspiring Darjeeling? I turn to the leading authorities on Ooooooh-Darjeeling to find out.

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"A rare first flush oolong tea from the Darjeeling region of India. While it is fairly uncommon for an Indian garden to produce anything other than black tea, the growers at the Gopaldhara estate have produced this exquisite exception. Steeped in a quality that rivals its Taiwanese and Chinese competitors, our Ooooh Darjeeling is sure to produce both 'ooohs' and 'aaahs.'"


And the clouds parted. There was clarity in communication, and it was good. Oooooooh-Darjeeling isn't a Darjeeling, it merely comes from the same region that happens to be famous for its own exclusive sub-style of black tea which has nothing to do with this Oolong except they're grown in the same general place. Good.

Leaf & Liquor: The Ooooooooh-Darjeeling's rawest form is a autumnal medley of leaves, scattered and erratic, with the same picturesque charm of late September foliage, though darker. If the leaf is a twilight shaded fall foliage, the liquor is high noon in Spring. Light, clear, peach colored with a raw, burning orange rind color, the Oooooooooh-Darjeeling is clarifying, shining tea. It is dark for an Oolong, sure, but it isn't so light as to be skeletal and pale; just dark enough to really show off the tea's curious brightness.

Raw & Steeped Aroma: It took me a lot of sampling, sniffing and head scratching, but at last I conjured up exactly what this tea smelled like: Chicken Picatta. If you dig buttery, citrusy Italian food, you'll love the Ooooooooooh-Darjeeling's aroma. Seriously. It smells like chicken soaked in a butter and lemon sauce with capers, exactly and precisely. And really, it's a bit startling. I honestly don't expect gourmet, continental cooking in my tea, but once I had formally acquainted myself with the possibility it was a stunning smell. It also encouraged my clamoring hunger with the herbal side notes of parsley and even a skoshe of oregano. Also, if you've read about old methods of drinking tea (with salt) Adagio's Ooooooooooooh-Darjeeling with its curiously strong scent of salty capers gives you an idea what that ancient tea might have been like. Alternately, you could just dump some kosher salt in your tea, but this is a bit more genuine.

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Flavor & Palate: The excessive foray into a culinary countenace found in the aroma is absent in the taste, where a far sublter, gentler Oolong greets the tongue. The body is of medium-weight, present more in its palate than in flavor. As with many lighter teas, the beginning of the sip is almost flavorless, but a gentle, slightly toasty Oolong flavor creeps up from seemingly nothing. This, however, remains dwarfed by the inestimably strange aromatic qualities. I guess it is a rather bland taste, foiled by the tea's own outrageous salute to fine Italian cooking, which is sad in a way, but speaks highly of, at least, the tantalizingly unique aroma.

Teas like this make me think how a tea can be good independently of a poor taste. And that is because tea can often be more than just a drink. Tea is a sensation, and if one quality of the tea is intoxicating it is enough to be good without other parts of the tea also being intoxicating, then it is enough to be, simply, a good tea. So go ahead and breath in the Euro-gustatory vapors of Adagio's Oooooooooooh-Darjeeling, for even if the flavor is less than remarkable you can get a remarkable olfactory sensation and a better breadth of understanding for the mystique and wiles of tea.

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