That’s like asking me what my favorite movie is, or what the average flight speed of an unladen swallow is. Answer: I need further context. As with any complicated question, it depends on mood, season, and various other nebulous criteria.
Or so I originally thought.
Then one day, a cute British girl asked me that very question for the umpteenth time, and I immediately gave her an answer, “Castleton Moonlight, Second Flush”. Part of me was just trying to impress her and seem “assured” and confident in my tea drinking prowess. But another part of me was simply shocked I’d given a punctual answer to what had always been a difficult question.
After all, this was how I would normally answer it, “Well, if I were stuck on a desert island and needed to remain happy about my predicament, I would go with a nice oolong. Semi-oxidized teas make me happy. However, if I were worried exclusively about my health, I would go for a nice Uji matcha. If I wanted to feel like a manly man, Lapsang Souchong. All the way! But if I wanted to ascend to another spiritual plane, I would go with a nice aged oolong or five-year-old sheng pu-erh.”
Short version: One would think my perfect tea would have to be powder-pulverized, ancient leaves that’d been lit on fire.
After a day or so, though, I thought back on my answer. I first discovered the Castleton Estate’s Moonlight oolong in 2011, and it just about floored me. Easily, the best tea I had that year. In 2012, I tempted fate again, and – lo and behold – similar results occurred. Pure palatial magic. In 2013, a year that saw some lackluster Darjeelings emerge, Castleton once again delivered a perfect product. With an added chocolate note, to boot. Three years running, a perfect tea resulted…but I was not fully convinced that it was my absolute, end-all/say-all favorite tea. I would need to revisit it again.
Alas, 2014 was shaping up to be a difficult year for Darjeeling estates. Castleton only produced half of their usual yield of second flush Moonlight. And everyone was clamoring to get a hold of it. I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a perfect tea. I resigned myself to the idea that my three-year-long streak of moonlighting with Moonlight would finally end.
Then I heard the Lochan family acquired some. Short of selling off one of my kidneys, I got my grubby hands on some. I hoped Year 4 would keep the winning streak.
The leaves for this offering were just like prior years – green and brown pieces with scores of downy tips in the fray. Their aromatic front, however, differed from last year, and even the year prior. 2013’s chocolaty fragrance was present along with aspects of 2012’s floral perfume. The result was something – well – magical, to say the least. I was almost late to a party because I kept sniffing at the bag.
On taste, it was another dimension entirely. Creaminess was conveyed on first sip, followed closely by sweet white wine grapes, and finishing with a sensation I can only describe as a bed made of lotus blossoms. So much was happening just on that one sip that I couldn’t formally articulate it without devolving into inappropriate analogies. Safe to say that this was worth the wait and – without exaggeration – this was the best year, yet.
In September, I celebrated my 38th year of life. I woke up late, primed the tea kettle, and went about selecting a tea. It had to be something special; it was my birthday, after all. And my hand instantly went for Moonlight.
I can safely say, with absolute certainty, that it is my favorite tea. Of all time. For all time. Can’t wait for 2015.