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Friday, March 23, 2012

Number 37: Red Blossom Tea Company's Aged Oolongs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Red Blossom's 40-year-old Tung Ting oolong, $28/2 ounces. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Red Blossom's 40-year-old Tung Ting oolong, $28/2 ounces.

SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition


The Bay Area's coffee roasters may get scads of national press, but our tea merchants, too, have become a force in their own realm of connoisseurship. Among them are Red Blossom Tea Company's Peter and Alice Luong, who assumed control of their parents' 35-year-old Chinatown apothecary and tea shop a decade ago. Starting in 2005, the sister and brother have redecorated and rebranded the shop (original name: Yau Hing) and taken the store online. Red Blossom's selection of teas has more than doubled, and the Luongs scout out rare and gorgeous teas from China and Taiwan, helping translate a 3,000-year tradition for American tea drinkers.

One of the most distinctive elements in Red Blossom's tea selection: aged oolongs. SFoodie has heard tell of 30-year-old pu'erhs, but SFoodie had never encountered anything like Red Blossom's 1970s-era Tung Ting oolong until visiting the shop last month. Peter Luong says that he makes a point of asking the growers and merchants he encounters on his scouting trips whether they have any old teas sitting around, and one Taiwanese tea seller responded by bringing out this tea, which had been in his possession for decades.

Taiwanese oolongs are are known for their fresh, blue-green hue and floral aromas, but this purple tea, in its first steeping, smells like stepping into a cedar-lined closet. In its second steeping, the woodsy aroma is joined by the smell of umeboshi, or salted plums, and the oolong grows tart and fruity. When you steep it a few more times, spice and fresh mint begin to waft out, and each sip begins to leave a haunting sweetness on the lips.

It is like nothing SFoodie has ever tasted. "Aged teas are very unique," Luong confirms. "Each aged tea is handled differently and comes from a different source, and age does different things to each tea. They turn out to be drastically different from one another." And their pleasures are fleeting: Once Red Blossom sells out of this 40-year-old Tung Ting, you will never taste its like again.

Red Blossom, 831 Grant (at Clay), 395-0868.

Other favorites in this series:

38: Broken Record's crawfish grits

39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar 

40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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