Tuesday, January 8, 2013

California Tea House Dian Hong: A Tea Short and Stout

Hello, all tea connoisseurs, appreciators, Tea Partiers who accidentally stumbled here looking for fiscal-conservative views, and true tea masters who would do better somewhere else!

As you can see, we've been in hiatus for a while. Honestly, I ran out of things to talk about, and spiffy images to accompany a blog about tea when brown leaf juice just doesn't seem that photogenic all the time. I had allowed drinking tea to become a bit of a chore, because everything I drank required an essay. And even for a person who types 90 words per minute (on a good day), there are only so many ways I can say, "Wow, this is great tea! Go buy some, and don't make me come back there!"

So I'll return, methinks, to the original idea of this blog: To help me keep track of the teas I'm drinking and to share discoveries with whomever is still out there, reading this little blog of mine.

AND I HAVE A SECRET PROJECT, which I'll let you know more about in the days ahead. It's tea-related, it's fun, and it'll only cost you your life savings. Or maybe some pocket change. TBD.

So today, I think I'll talk about Yunnan Golden Buds, also called dian hong, brought to you by California Tea House. I've had this sitting in my tea cabinet for a while, and with a new gaiwan to replace my broken one, I thought to break it in with something easy to prepare and simple for the palate to discern. This seemed just the thing.

This tea is hefty, hearty, rich, malty, with a thick mouthfeel and a pub attitude. I put in perhaps two teaspoons into the gaiwan and served gongfu style, meaning lots of leaf, short steeping times. But even with short times, this tea maintained quite a kick. I wouldn't call it a deeply subtle tea, but earthy and robust.

The closest thing analogy can think of is like taking a good Guinness stout and drinking it hot. (I know, it's a horrifying idea, hot Guinness, but no analogy is perfect.) If a tea could have a head on it, this would. I got through three steepings before I started to taste some of the subtler tones; the earlier ones tasted like hot chocolate, like malted milk, like thickness in a cup. Not your delicate, lady tea, this. No, it's the kind of thing to wipe away a gray Chicago afternoon, kick you in the teeth, and get you going.

I'm on my fourth steeping of this quite nice tea now, and an astringent, almost lemony flavor is starting to dominate as the malty notes recede into memory. This is much more to my liking, as I enjoy lighter, more subtle teas than bonk-you-on-the-head-and-take-your-wallet types of vintages. Though the flavor is more one-dimensional than it was at the start of the steeping series, the lightness and fruity quality are quite enjoyable.

California Tea House seems to be taking their teas pretty seriously, giving rather specific information about origin of the teas they're procuring for their customers. This is a good thing for any tea appreciator, because it allows us to understand what we're getting, so we can make informed choices later. Well done, CTH, and I look forward to more of your tea in the future.

Thank you, tea friends, for continuing to keep me in your thoughts as I slog through life and occasionally try to write something useful about this wonderful drink and the culture surrounding it. I'll drop in occasionally and write something, but I'll try to keep it light so I don't become oppressed by the requirement to write about everything, which seems to ruin it for and make me avoid the blog entirely. Oh, and by the way, I actually spent time making the above image of the tumbler of Guinness with a teacup handle, which took me longer than writing the tea review (such as it is). Please appreciate my mad Photoshop skillz!