Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Big Red Robe Supreme (Da Hong Pao) 2009, JINGTea

Recently, I bought a simple gaiwan, as well as wensienbei, the Taiwanese-style aroma cup set. I tried them out on this Big Red Robe by JING tea and had a great time. (Sadly! I broke the gaiwan and still haven't replaced it. I will, I will, I promise.)

I have come to love Big Red Robe oolongs. At least, the ones I've tasted have been uniformly delightful, and JING tea's is no exception.

I steeped the tea with the best gongfu I could muster: I filled the gaiwan a little less than about a quarter of the way with the leaves, and used just-under-boiling water throughout the steeping sequence. By using a lot of leaf and many short steeps, I am able to drink tea in chapters, opening up the flavor of the leaves without having an overly weak cup. A good gongfu session can last an entire afternoon, with many many steeps. I recorded a few of them here, but I kept steeping well after I had run out of time to take sipping notes.

Steeping 1: 25s
The leaves are a rich, dark color, of what seems to be a medium-roasted DHP with a high level of oxidation. Leaves are beautifully resilient, with a sharp aroma that has high citrus notes. Quite brilliant.

Steeping 2: 20s
The aroma cup carries this intense, sharp aroma I describe as Christmas berries-- spicy, citrus, light, sharp. A slightly bitter edge that could easily be attributed to my inadequate gongfu.

Steeping 3: 20s
Almost a vanilla aroma arising; berries and pine, again making me think of Christmas after breakfast. The taste is... okay, not fantastic but good. It's slightly bitter, but again, I think it's my fu as I get used to my new equipment.

Steeping 4: 20s
Less sharp and intense, the bitterness abating (from the roasting process, most likely), I now start to get to know the tea itself. Woodsy astringency. My, but my table got wet. There is an attractive roughness to this tea, a hard-elbowed quality I rather like. It's the huigan that carries this lovely quality-- the rising sweetness that makes me think of burning sweet applewood, say; ever so slightly smoky, fruity but not fruit (again, applewood, not apple).

Steeping 5: 35s
Aroma: sweet sushi rice, applewood. The aroma seems to dissipate more quickly. The deep brown-gold color has become a lighter orange-amber. Beautiful sweetness, but with a burn in the throat that catches the attention and is sharply at variance with the lightness in the mouth. There is a lovely mouthfeel, substantial even at the fifth steeping. A slight minerality develops in the mouth, like iron perhaps, as the more prominent, roasty flavors are in retreat.

Steeping 6: 45s
Most surprising here is the huigan, which rises up a couple minutes after drinking. Complicated flavors that remind me of a bonbon thing I once had at the Russian Tea Cafe, in Chicago: as it melted, different flavors would appear (first the pomegranate sorbet, then the ice cream, finally the orange-scented white chocolate). Here, a progression. The flavor is now quite muted, but still enjoyable. Learning to burn myself a little bit less on the gaiwan.

Steeping 7: 55s
Finally, a bit of floral brightness appears in the aroma. Flavor receding, but the mouthfeel-- not as dry now, but substantial-- is quite good. I don't know what I think Qi is, but I feel quite energetic and alert, without a hint of anxiety or jitteriness.

Steeping 8: 65s
The aroma is now like a candy at the front, in the high notes, with a hint of tobacco following. And then very little aroma following through.

A very nice DHP, with a robust character that carries through a number of steepings. Complex and quite interesting.