Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: Tea Hub, Da Hong Pao (lightly roasted) 2008

I recently wrote about Tea Hub's "Organic Da Hong Pao (heavily roasted)," and I urge you to read about it in full. An excerpt:

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.

As with all things, other people have already written about Da Hong Pao at great length, and I love reading information such as this, which I found at The Seven Cups:

In the last 1000 years, hundreds of varieties of tea bushes have been identified as growing in Wu Yi Shan. Out of these hundreds of bushes, Da Hong Pao, Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan, Shui Jin Gui are considered the Four Famous Wu Yi Wulongs. Of the four, Da Hong Pao is unquestionably the most famous. What are considered to be the mother bushes of Da Hong Pao still live in the cliffs of Wu Yi Shan, and are now over 350 years old. Since Wu Yi shan has so many bush types, the famous teas are always produced in small quantities. They will never be truly common products, at least the tea grown inside the mountain range; there are a lot of areas in the surrounding mountains that are producing large quantities of these cultivars. Certainly the most common of the rock wulongs is Rou Gui, a cultivar that some locals rank as better than the more famous teas.

I beg you to read the rest, if you wish to learn about Da Hong Pao.


THE PREPARATION
As before, I made the tea with my patented gong-faux tea stylings, in which I use my very Western tea equipment to approximate as best I can a true gongfu preparation. Namely, lots of leaf, very short steepings. As I've explained elsewhere, tea prepared in this style can be drunk as a book is read: in chapters. Each short steep allows the various flavors to be read separately, rather than all in one as is the Western method of tea preparation. And using a lot of leaf, you have the benefit of many steeps, all with different characters. (I've never tasted a tea yet that allows 39 steeps, but I'm looking!)

1) Rinse
A quick rinse to clean off debris from the leaf, as well as to wake up the leaves properly for a nice first steeping.

2) 1st Infusion: 25s
The tea is transparent and pure, and it has a good mouthfeel. But yet, it's a bit sharp, a touch bitter. I believe this is a fault of my own gong-faux and not that of the tea's. It is ever more clear that I need a competent instructor to help me increase the finesse of what I can get out of the multiple-steeping Chinese tea preparation. In retrospect, for Da Hong Pao, I would start with a quite short steeping-- perhaps 5 seconds-- and then go up from there. This is a tea with strong bones, and it must be respected (even though it is lightly, not heavily roasted).

3) 2nd infusion: 15s
Much more to my liking. Tea is clear, beautifully amber-peach-brown in color. The fragrance is lovely and light, and has a unique minerality that I've come to expect from Da Hong Pao. It is noticeably less "roasty" in tone than the last Da Hong Pao I tasted from Tea Hub.

4) 3rd infusion: 20s
Gorgeous aroma, which makes me think of sculpting clay or slip, perhaps-- a bit mineral, and beautifully rich. It's not a floral aroma, by any means, but it's sweet and sharp at the same time. The aroma seems to carry the flavor at first, but as it cools, the bright, sharp flavors rise up in the mouth, as well. The oolong has a pleasing mouthfeel, just a bit tingly, but with a great presence. This is the best steeping yet, and well worth the price of admission.

(4th, 5th, 6th infusions: No notes taken, so sorry.)


OVERALL IMPRESSIONS
I really do love this tea. It's got bones, it's pure, it's complex, it is nuanced, and the flavor is utterly distinct. The light roasting allows me to taste the tea itself, rather than primarily the roastiness, which I think is a good choice.

Well done, Tea Hub, on sourcing this tea. Thanks!


[And by the way, I'm quite proud of finding the image above, which is a perfect counterpoint to the heavily roasted Da Hong Pao from TeaHub, which I interviewed previously.

>> UPDATE: I corrected the link above, so the picture of the young monks sends you to the right Web site. I hope you'll visit there, because it's a great site.]

9 comments:

Cinnabar said...

I really like that photograph. It looks like Thailand.

Steven Knoerr said...

Burma, actually. Click the picture for more pictures by Felice Willat, of Matador Trips. Beautiful photos, and I wish I were there.

I wonder what the tea drinking culture is like in Burma?

Steven Knoerr said...
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Cinnabar said...
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Steven Knoerr said...
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Cinnabar said...
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Steven Knoerr said...

I've opted to remove references to politics (a subject I have no interest in writing about) in the comments on this post, which I inadvertently prompted. I am sorry for any offense I caused.

Cinnabar said...

Please accept my sincere apology for bringing politics into the discussion. I didn't intend to contribute anything inappropriate or offend anyone.

Steven Knoerr said...

Cinnabar, thank you, and think nothing of it. I very much value your input and knowledge of tea, and I hope to have many profitable conversations with you in future.