A few months ago, Mindlake Tea offered free samples of their tea so that they could compare feedback from those who lived in areas more prone to having soft water (Japan, Taiwan) with those who lived in hard-water regions, such as the U.S. Because I know well the difference water makes—my mom’s northern Michigan well water (amazing) vs my daughter’s Detroit River water vs my Huron River water—I signed up immediately!
Thus, I received a sample of Sun Moon Lake Ruby tea, from the Ruby TTES No. 18 (Hongyu) plant. According to their website, Ruby is a “hybrid of Taiwanese wild mountain tea and Myanmar large leaf species, and is a Taiwanese tea variety announced in 1999 after more than 50 years of breeding tests.” This tea was produced on a wild tea plantation in Yuchi Township, Nantou County, a mountainous area in the center of Taiwan. The country’s largest lake—Sun Moon Lake—is here, poetically named after its resemblance to the sun on its east side and to the moon on its west side.
I don’t know how I was supposed to provide feedback or what exactly Mindlake Tea was looking for, but here are my thoughts.
Sun Moon Lake Ruby Tea by Mindlake Tea
I love the aroma of this tea when brewed. Its fragrant honey note reminds me of my all-time favorite black teas, one from Java and the other a mountain-grown Vietnam tea. Sadly, neither of these are available anymore, yet I still measure black tea against this high standard.
So how does Mindlake’s Ruby tea compare?
Its matte charcoal-colored leaves are wiry, long, and rolled, yielding a deep red-brown cup with an aroma that’s sweet, fruity, and, as already mentioned, having a lovely honey note.
I found the liquor smooth and warm, well balanced, full-bodied, slightly sweet. Although classified as a black tea, I find its flavor akin to an oxidized oolong.
The spent leaves are largely intact leaves along with some buds.
The first time I tried this tea, my daughter and I brewed it together and for some reason I didn’t note our brewing parameters. I’m quite sure we would have used a standard 3 g in 250 ml of boiling water for several minutes; we brewed the leaves twice, finding the second brew—a more orangey-coppery-red color—also delicious.
Today, with the leaves I had left, I brewed them gongfu style, using 194° water. The leaves opened ever so slowly, allowing numerous infusions. As when brewed western style, the tea is smooth and well balanced, slightly sweet. The light aftertaste lingers for a bit, pleasant, a little sweet, but ending with just the faintest whiff of bitterness.
Over infusions, flavors shifted, with biscuit coming through, a bit of astringency, sometimes a touch of bitterness, many nuances and complexity, but always smooth. Interestingly, Mindlake says the aroma has a “slight scent of cinnamon” but I didn’t really get any spiciness until a couple infusions in, when suddenly, yes it was there.
Although I enjoyed this tea when brewed western style, I found it far more interesting when brewed by the gongfu method.
The Question of Water
I can’t say how this tea compares to how it would taste if made in soft water. The water in our area is quite hard, meaning there are a lot of minerals in it (attested by our need to continually clean and replace our aerators due to the buildup of calcium and so on). I’ve previously discussed the issue of water type (see Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Water When Making Tea. Or Not.), and I know that I simply cannot replicate the superior taste of certain teas made at TeaHaus, where we have a reverse osmosis filtering system for the water.
Mindlake Tea explains that although hard water works well with astringent teas, it also suppresses the tea’s aroma. Aroma is, of course, integral to flavor. According to them, “the higher the hardness of the water, the less obvious the characteristics of tea.” Soft water evidently better showcases the tea, although that includes its bitterness.
I’ve found that in my own home, I might need to use a different brewing vessel for certain teas. A clay teapot may be needed for this tea whereas porcelain works better for that tea. Or I tweak the temperature, brewing time, amount of leaves. However, I’m resigned to the fact that sometimes I’m just not able to get the optimal flavor. This is, of course, part of the adventure, and the frustration, of being a tea drinker!