Nuts About Coconut!

On one of our weekly paths to and fro, the kids and I drive past a sign that advertises “Cherries, Coconuts, Fruts.” No, that is not a typo on my part. The hand-painted-on-cardboard sign is wrong. Yet, it has provided the kids and I a steady topic of conversation from “what is a frut, mommy?” to “why don’t they change it?” I love to hear my kids giggle and passing that sign always inspires a giggle.

Then, there comes the inevitable, “Can’t we stop to buy a coconut?” I wish I could pinpoint the moment when coconut became the flavor-of-the-day for my kids. Coconut spread on toast, coconut milk, coconut in cookies or granola bars… they love coconut. The only time they weren’t thrilled with coconut was at the bagel shop when they picked up tetra-paks of coconut water. I managed to drink it for them (because I can’t stand waste), but I really couldn’t blame them. Blech!

Imagine the excitement then when I announced that Compassion Tea would soon be carrying a new tea… Coconut Oolong! Although this oolong, like all other oolongs, has caffeine, this has become an early-in-the-day-only treat for the kids. As we would say if we were still in the Netherlands… LEKKER!

I first tried the coconut oolong at Ed and Wendy’s house when we were all gathered for a Compassion Tea director’s meeting. Chris and Anne were taking us through the intricacies of cupping. Think wine tasting only with tea. First, you inspect the leaves, notice their color, smell, are they curled or cut, rolled or shaped. Then the tea is steeped for the proper amount of time. In a flick of the wrist, the leaves are left on the cup lid and the third step is to inspect the infused leaves asking yourself what has happened to them in the steeping process. How much have they uncurled? If the curl or roll is still fairly tight, you can probably get another couple of infusions out of them. Having done that, it’s time to look at the liquor, the tea itself. Cupping your hands over the cup, take a deep breath. Note the nose. My favorite part comes next! Remember your mom telling you not to slurp? Well, in tea tasting, slurping is necessary! Breathing in, slurp up some tea, let it roll around on your tongue before you exhale and swallow. The full flavor of the tea should hit and linger. Like wine, you can then assess whether the tea has tannins, how it finishes, and eventually what it takes like cooled off.

When Chris and Anne announced the coconut oolong, there was an audible collection of breath, one of those oooooooo moments you might hear from a crowd expecting an amazing magic trick. The excitement filled the air. As we cupped our way through this tasting, the excitement grew. My notes indicated that the leaves had “beautiful curls” and were “consistent in color.” Both dry and steeped, the leaves gave off a rich, chestnutty aroma with a hint of a floral bouquet too subtle to completely identify. But, it is the lingering notes of coconut that make this tea truly marvelous. All of the Compassion Tea directors were making notes and rating the teas we tasted over the weekend. Wendy steered us to a quick way of marking the teas we wanted to carry… smiley faces. How funny it was to watch all 8 of us furiously scribbling smiley faces with hearts and extra smiles in our notes!

I didn’t know much about oolong tea going into this experience. Here is a little of what I’ve learned. Oolong is primarily produced in China and Taiwan, although India and other tea producing regions are beginning to produce it too. Like green, black and white teas, oolong comes from the camellia sinensis plant; the difference is in the oxidation process.

The Coconut Oolong is a tea blend. It’s base is a Taiwanese tea called Bao Zhong flavored with a creamy and smooth coconut flavoring. The Bao Zhong teas are known for their floral character, which comes from a unique natural process. Any time a tea leaf is bruised or cut in any way, it exposes the enzymes in the leaf to oxygen thereby beginning the oxidation process which gives the different teas their unique qualities. In the case of oolong tea, there is a green leaf hopper bug that visits the camellia sinensis plants and nibbles on the tea leaves. Those little nibbles begin the oxidation process before the leaves are even harvested. Once the bugs have left the tea garden, heading for another, the tea leafs, usually a bud and two leafs, are plucked, withered and dried, sometimes steamed, sometimes roasted, often rolled or shaped into pearls, and then finished off before heading to your tea pot.

I should note that we also tasted and are adding Jade Cloud – an organic Fair Trade green tea, West Cape Chai – an organic Fair Trade rooibos that includes ginger, star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, peppermint, black pepper, and ramon nut (a coffee-like flavor) to create a warm and spicy happiness, and the Bai Hao oolong without the coconut flavoring. Stay tuned! I intend to mix the West Cape Chai with some half-and-half and a splash of rum. I’ll tell you how it goes!

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