Jin Xuan tea, also known as Taiwanese Oolong or Milk Oolong tea, originates, as the name suggests, from Taiwan, but it has grown in popularity worldwide due to its unique flavor and creaminess.
It was developed in the early 1980s at the Taiwan Tea Experiment Station (TTES) by Wu Zhenduo, sometimes called the father of Taiwanese tea. Out of gratitude, Wu Zhenduo named the variety "Jin Xuan "(officially listed as TTES Nr. 12) using his grandmother's name, which translates to "Golden Daylily".
Milk Oolong tea has light-green, oval-shaped thick leaves, offers a significantly higher yield than other tea plants, and was designed to yield higher immunity against common pests. Unsurprisingly, Jin Xuan tea has become one of the most popular varieties amongst tea farmers in Taiwan and Thailand, its two leading producers.
Taiwanese Oolong tea has moderate levels of caffeine. It is well-loved for its natural taste, a combination of creamy and buttery nuances, which is achieved through a meticulous cultivation and production process supervised by tea masters.
Production of the Milk Oolong tea
While it originates from Taiwan, Milk Oolong Tea is grown to a lesser extent in Thailand. It's worth noting that this variety is distinct from Tieguanyin, sourced from China's Fujian and Anxi provinces.
It's the cultivation at higher altitudes that gives Taiwanese Oolong tea its bold flavor and aroma. In Taiwan, it grows mainly in Zhushan (2,000 feet above sea level) and Alishan (4,000 feet above sea level). In Thailand, it is cultivated in several tea estates in Chiang Rai province, such as Doi Mae Salong (4,600 feet above sea level).
The process of making Milk Oolong tea begins with plucking the leaves by hand and allowing them to wilt before oxidation. Then, the leaves are softly bruised to activate enzymes that react with oxygen in the air, changing the color of the leaves to brown or black. Contrary to its name, Milk Oolong tea does not contain any milk and instead owes its unique buttery milk flavor to the oxidation process. Finally, the leaves are heated to end the oxidation process, then rolled or shaped before packaging and distribution.
Flavor and aroma
Once brewed, Taiwanese Oolong tea has a light yellow color and a fresh aroma. Its flavor is famously buttery and milky, both refreshing and smooth, with subtle sweet undertones.
Different varieties of this tea might have more pronounced grassy or floral notes, depending on their oxidation levels. Taiwanese Oolong is known for its Nai Xiang, a "milk fragrance", which is apparent in the first three infusions before gradually dissipating after further brewing.
Some lesser-quality, lower-altitude teas might not have a potent enough creaminess, so brands might enhance the milky taste by adding edible flavoring to the product. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, and some customers prefer this option, but most reputable producers will make it clear whether they've enhanced their teas. It is also easy to tell flavored Jin Xuan tea when dry by its sweet milky aroma, which overpowers the natural scent of the tea.
If brewing in a cup, use 2-3 teaspoons of tea leaves (3-5g) for every 5 to 10 oz of water, adjusting for how concentrated you'd like the flavor to be. Use water at around 185-200°F (85-93°C) and let the tea steep until the leaves are fully uncurled, for about 3-5 minutes. You can reuse the leaves multiple times.
Alternatively, brew the Taiwanese Oolong tea using the Chinese Gongfu method in a Gaiwan or Yixing pot. Then, based on how much tea you're using and how strong you'd like the brew to be, steep the leaves (we recommend around 7g) for 25-45 seconds initially and increase the time by 15 seconds for each successive steeping. Using this method, 7g of Milky Oolong tea should yield around 6-7 steeps.
You can enjoy this lovely tea all year round, so we recommend you also try it as an iced tea for a refreshing summer drink.