Monday, May 25, 2009

REVIEW: Zhi Tea, Royal Gold

Zhi Tea
2008 Royal Gold

There's a sharp spiciness that is quite elusive, which I've come to think of as that Yunnan taste. It's highly unusual and distinctive. In a way, it reminds me of the aroma of a beehive: pollen-sweet, but with a sharp buzz.

I've moved away from drinking Yunnan teas of late, because I had been drinking them so much in years past. I typically tasted a mid-grade bulk Yunnan, which was sort of the benchmark flavor I came to associate with the region's tea. Coming back to it is rather exciting, because it's like visiting a friend I haven't seen in a while.

For those who have never had a Yunnan: It appears as a black tea, though the Chinese would categorize it as a red. It is full-bodied and has an intensely spicy flavor and a distinct aroma that I find a bit hard to describe, but it's what I always think of as that "Yunnan scent." And the flavor has a very unique flavor profile, as well: spicy, sharp, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, dry, smooth. It's the contrasts in the cup that are so beguiling. The Yunnan red teas are often described as earthy, sometimes smoky, malty (a description of mouthfeel, mostly), floral, honeyed. A fellow named "anodyne" on the ChaDao blog did a fairly extensive survey of Yunnans over a number of blog posts, and these were instructive to me as I began to think about this tea today.

These are lovely gold-and-black leaves, tightly twisted (which prevents such quick oxidation of the leaves, allowing them to taste better longer). Upon steeping, a very distinctly spicy aroma comes up from the chocolate-brown leaves, which have unfurled into beautifully long needle shapes. The leaves are quite complete, but no sign of insect bites, which is usually a sign of pesticide-free production.

1 tsp tea leaves to 1 cup near-boiling water, in lined Japanese cast-iron tetsubin.


This tea is sharp and spicy, just a bit bitter. My wife likes its smoothness and the cleanness of the flavor. On the other hand, I find it just a bit dry, and the bitterness, I find, slightly off-putting. The liquor is opaque, and I can't see the bottom of the teacup. There's a sharp spiciness that is quite elusive, which I've come to think of as that Yunnan taste. It's highly unusual and distinctive. In a way, it reminds me of a beehive: pollen-sweet, but with a sharp buzz (if you will) that is quite arresting. And there's a honey flavor within that, which seems as though created by some exotic bee somewhere. That being said, that bitterness was just a bit too much for me. On the second cup of the first steeping, I cheated and put in some sugar to ameliorate it. My wife, on the other hand, loved it and was disappointed that we had run out of tea so quickly.

Much of the powerful mouthfeel has gone out of this Yunnan Royal Gold by the time of the second steeping. The liquor is now a transparent brown, clear to the bottom of the cup. A bright earthiness becomes apparent, almost a metallic taste, though in a pleasant way. The bitterness is gone, as well. I definitely recommend taking this tea to at least a second steeping, because there are nuances that are revealed once the more powerful flavors are given their moment in the spotlight, and now can release the stage to the other actors. There's a slight woodiness, as well, which seems unusual with the more watery mouthfeel of the cup.

I really do like this Yunnan, and it's a good reintroduction into this type of Chinese red tea. Strong, bold, interesting flavors to match the spicy, exotic aroma. Thank you, Zhi Tea, for such a great offering.



Unknown said...

How odd: I just realized I have reviewed this very tea twice in the recent past. Same tea, but slightly different experiences both times, and I liked it both times.

Silly to have reviewed twice, but interesting to see how my palate responded at different times to the same stuff.