Over the course of the summer, I saw repeated updates that frustrated the hell out of me. Tea drinkers, far and wide – from California to New York – were taste-testing a new, Oregon-grown oolong. The folks behind Minto Island Growers had finally soft-launched their own outfit, dubbed Oregon Tea Crafters. They commissioned a gentleman by the name of Balez Oh’Hops Hanger to do the processing.
Here it was, an Oregon-grown and processed tea…and I was the last person to try it. Even new Portlandian transpants were trying it before me. This had to be rectified with due swiftness, and in September, I planned a trip to the source – Minto Island Growers HQ in Salem, OR.
The garden was just as I remembered it from my visit the year prior. It was a garden; it was pretty. One could kill hours just wandering its wilds. A few things had changed, however. Aside from the 1989-planted, half-acre plot of tea bushes of yore, next to the Minto market stand was a brand new tea plot.
What made it different from the old plot was fact that it was cultivar-specific. The one from 25 years ago was a test-plot to see if tea plants could grow in the Pacific Northwest. Whereas the new one focused on which cultivars thrived better than others. It was an exciting development to my phone-affixed eyes.
After an informal walk-through of the new plot, I picked up the oolong and green tea, took a photo of the old tea plot…
Then made my way back home.
Upon my return, though, I realized I had made an error. The half-ounce bags I picked up…?
…Were the same exact tea. I’d failed to fetch the oolong.
God. Damn. It.
So! At the end of the week, I went back to Minto Island and fetched it. The last oolong bag, no less. A week or so passed, and then…another Minto-related update appeared in my various social media feeds.
That’s right. Team J-TEA made a Minto trip over the summer, harvested some leaves and was putting out a Version 3.0 of their Minto Island Black Tea. Of course, I had to get a hold of some – just to complete the trifecta – but I wasn’t making a third trip out to Salem. That and a Eugene trip to J-TEA HQ were not in the cards. I went the wholly-boring (and entirely lazy) route of ordering it online.
After all that effort, how did all three teas fare?
Oregon Tea Crafters Green Tea
I remembered learning that this one was wok-fired, much in the same way Chinese green teas were, but the flavor profile turned out far different. It reminded me of a Darjeeling green tea in delivery – crisp, smooth and not very grassy. With just a bit of a fruit finish.
Oregon Tea Crafters Oolong
It took me a little bit to pin down what this reminded me of. The dry leaf scent reminded me of a Nilgiri at first, but when brewed, the character changed. Approached from a gong fu angle, it was very similar to a higher-altitude, greener-style Ali Shan – if slightly lighter in body. Aromatic with a floral underpinning.
This was far different from the first and second versions of Minto black that came before. The leaves were more oxidized, the aroma was subtler, and the leaf-rolling technique was different. Part of this was because of the later leaf-plucking. Version 2.0 (in 2013) was plucked in May, while this was prepared in mid-summer. And it showed.
While a bit of the Taiwanese influence was still present in its sweet taste, a woodier/mintier character took point this time ‘round. The overall experience was akin to a far subtler Dian Hong, rather than a bug-bitten Taiwanese Ali Shan black. That said, it was as forgiving as ever, putting up with whatever brewing punishment I dished out. Ten-minute steeps and all.
Which tea did I like best?
For taste? Going with the oolong. For ease, effectiveness and overall experience, though? Going with the black tea. Any tea that I don’t have to think too hard on brewing in the mornings is a clear favorite. That and Team J-TEA’s had three years to toy with their technique.
Worth the trips – plural?