Friday, July 24, 2009

REVIEW: TeaHub Organic Spring WuYi Da Hong Pao (heavily roasted), 2008

TeaHub Organic Spring WuYi Da Hong Pao (heavily roasted), 2008

Created in my patented gong-faux style. Please do not try at home. Trust me.

Da Hong Pao is one of China's famous oolong teas, and is one of the world's greats. It's known in English as, "Big Red Robe," named when a Chinese emperor was so overwhelmed by the tea that he gave his robes of office to an underling and commanded that they be placed at the roots of the tree that produced this great thing he was tasting. It's been cultivated primarily in the WuYi mountains forever, and the volcanic rocky soil produces the tea's very unique flavor.

For the reader who is not as familiar with Chinese tea preparation, the gong-fu style of tea involves a large amount of tea leaf and a series of short steeps, rather than one long steep, as is common in British-style tea. When I drink Chinese tea, I have not been trained in Chinese gong-fu preparation, so it's obvious that my tea will not get the best results you would find with seasoned tea masters. Nevertheless, I try to be as careful as I can, paying close attention to the water, the pot, and such things as I an pick up by reading masters on the Internet. Thus, I am pretty certain I can make a pretty decent, if not mind-blowing, cup of tea.

Gong-fu tea is like reading a poem broken into multiple stanzas, or a book with a number of chapters, or a play in several acts. Or a multicourse French meal. Or some other metaphor divided into smaller, baby-sized submetaphors.

TeaHub's Organic Spring WuYi Da Hong Pao (heavily roasted), 2008, is a good example of how this can work to provide an interesting tea experience. You don't drink the tea to get a huge whallop of caffeine and go on with your day. Instead, you slow down just a bit and read the progression of the tea as it transforms slowly across the "Acts."


Introduction: 25-second infusion
In the play's introduction, you get to know a little bit about the characters, and what type of story this is. Is this a drama? Comedy? Are the characters strong, weak, conflicted?

Strong, roasty flavor is predominant, with a high note of sweet honey and something sharp but difficult to define, sort of a buzz, up among the clouds. Suzanne, my wife, says, "It had a weight to it, without being bitter or heavy." Very pleasing, full mouthfeel, which coats the mouth and throat.

Act 1: 20s
Now we get into the story itself. A plot arises. The conflict emerges.

I taste a bright, hard edge, with very complex roasty base. Mm, second infusion better than first. A bit of charcoal, slight drying in the mouth.

Act 2: 20s
By the second act, we would get to the sexy love scene and maybe a murder or two.

The tea is much sweeter now. Still, there's this tingling buzz in the mouth, which is likely my response to the particular combination of astringency and sweetness in this cup, which has an unusually complex manifestation. The drying compliments the richly smooth mouthfeel.

Act 3: 30s
Ah, to the meat of the play. The conflict naturally moves toward its climax.

Roasty, sharp, excellent, best yet. Beautiful, exciting flavor that is complex without being overbearing, light but strong.

Act 4: 40s
And the finale, the conclusion, the dessert course.

Flavor profile receding, probably could steep longer. More mineral taste developing.

Exeunt: 50s
At this point, the main action is over, and it's all about getting the bill, the after-dinner mint, and hitting the streets.

Now the tea is weak enough that the mouthfeel has subsided almost entirely, and we've entered the realm of new decisions. How long do I want to drink this tea, as its flavor slowly fades into a whisper? For this tea, it would be difficult to push this terribly far, but interesting enough, perhaps, to try it. I'll probably keep steeping this into the afternoon, just to see what happens and how far it can go, but it won't have the same punch as those early infusions.

UPDATE: Now includes link to to TeaHub Web site, above.


Anonymous said...

I like all kinds of reviews about different teas but I'm partial to ones just like this in particular. These dark-roasted Wuyi teas are my favorite right now. Maybe for a while I'll sample different Da Hong Pao teas from various online mail order merchants. I came up with a saying that "Big Red Robe is my superhero." I'm not going to be able to do Gong Fu like Steven Knoerr, but I'll make a good-enough cup. --Jason

TeaHub said...

Thanks for such a well thought out, well written review,Steve. Where did you find the "girls in red robe" picture? In my opinion, the picture actually reflects what DHP has to offer - complex, powerful with elegance.

Your observation was right on. The 3rd and 4th infusion (act 2 and 3 per your blog) are the best. Like you said, the first infusion is the introduction. You get to know the roast level at the first infusion. The second infusion is where the real story begins. The aromas are released by the second infusion. By the 3rd infusion, you have prepared yourself for the DHP experience, and tea becomes more complex in taste.

Just a quick question, what kind of tea to water ratio did you use?


Jamie D. said...

Wonderfully written review! I love the comparison of gong-fu to a play, with each act rising and falling with the plot. Very artistic.

Sounds like a lovely tea as well. It's been a long time since I've had time to sit and do a session like this. I may have to *make* some time this week.

Unknown said...

Thank you all so much for reading. I'm responding to this while overseeing my seven-year-old son's piano practice, so pardon is piano metaphors find their way into my comment. I'll try to restrain myself!

I read on Imen Shan's Web site,, recently, and she suggested that the best way to develop your palate is to devote yourself to one type of tea for a while, and drinking a variety of tea. In this case, say, Da Hong Pao, for maybe two weeks or so. Drink only that tea, from a variety of sources, a variety of price levels, a variety of qualities and places. Then you will eventually start to be more aware of the subtle differences among them, as well as the characteristics that you find in all the teas, no matter the quality, which is what makes this type of tea characteristic.

Jason, when are you going to take your tea musings out of the realm of a mailing list and publish some on your blog? Or maybe I should just suck it up and submit myself to your mail list! But nevertheless, I'm sure the comments section of your blog would be an intriguing place to think.

LINDA (TeaHub)
You must be so happy to have such great teas to offer to your clients! I found the image online via a Google search, and if you click the picture, it will take you to the source blog. Yes, I agree, the image, to me, seemed right. It's quite sexy, quite lush, and it fit the idea of variations-on-a-theme, or a multiplicity in one cup. One thing I find is that Westerners like me, who were raised on the British (or far worse, the American) style of tea brewing, make a pot all in one steeping, and we don't really unravel the story the tea has to offer. This type of Big Red Robe would probably work well as an instructional tool for Americans, because it has the full mouthfeel and strong flavor we most associate with a cup of tea, even while the cup is deconstructed into its various steepings.

As for tea-water ratio: I filled a cup about 1/4 to 1/3 full, and infused with water not quite to the top. So perhaps somewhere between 1/3 to 1/4 tea to water (though I think I was on the scant side for this steeping).

Thank you so much for coming to the blog and participating in the discussion about this enjoyable tea. And taking the time for a gong-fu (or in my case, gong-faux) session is enjoyable, because it helps me to slow down and listen to what my senses are telling me.

Honestly, this tea session was completed in the very un-zen household environment I have, between running a small business and trying to help my wife with our baby and little boy, the house, the cooking, and so on. I know you're supposed to sit on a tatami mat in complete silence, except for perhaps the wind across the bamboo and the tinkling of water in my koi pond. Alas, 'twas not to be, but the tea was great anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to publish a blog but rather am going to only comment on other people's blogs and sites that want conversation about tea. I of course have considered my own blog but it's not the right thing for me.

Unknown said...

Linda (TeaHub): I just added the link to your product page. Sorry I omitted it earlier. It would be nice if I remembered everything the first time! Perhaps I need to make a checklist to go through before hitting, "Send."

Jason: Ah, alas. I'm glad you're here, though.

TeaHub said...

Thanks for the reply and for adding the link:)

I like you thoughts about it as an instructional tool. What we have noticed is that many of our customers who like it are also wine drinkers. Maybe its complex taste is a draw.

Back to the tea to water ratio thing, I generally use less water for that amount of tea. It is a personal perference but may worth exploring. I feel the "Yan Yun" or rock flavor is more prominent that way.


Unknown said...

Linda (TeaHub), would you please describe the Yan Yun, or rock flavor? Is it a mineral sharpness? I notice this with Da Hong Pao, but I do have a difficult time putting a finger on what I'm trying to describe.