Monthly Archives: October 2012

2011 Da Hong Pao – Wuyi Star Tea

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective, but I’m recording it here as well for reference.

Dark twisted dry leaves that look like the leaves on the trees outside on this chilly fall day. The aroma is pure warmth, like sweet wood smoke.

The liquor is a beautiful autumn leaf blazing red that glows in the lamp light.

The first infusion was without a rinse, so I allowed it about 45 seconds (a fair number of leaves were in the pot). I detect a subtle sweetness on the tip of the tongue, but a whole lot of smoke and earth. There’s a walnut shell or raw cacao effect: dry and textured. It really tastes like the smell of a walk in the woods on Thanksgiving day.

For the second infusion I returned to a more standard 20-30 seconds. The effect is similar if a bit more drying. But the next one packed quite a sweet punch like a really good toasted almond. The body gets lighter, but that crispness on the tip of the tongue does not fade.

This tea was the only one I purchased at the Ningbo tea expo. I’ve written about our adventures in Ningbo previously. We had tasted many different teas from many different booths as we were guided around by our tea friends. There was pretty much everything represented there, including a whole section (in a separate building) for Taiwanese tea.

The booth that sold this tea was one of the last I passed. Much of the visual draw for me was the fantastic (but expensive) teaware that various potters had displayed. This booth had no pottery at all, but they clearly had spent some money on packaging and advertising their products. Little colored tubes set up on a table really spoke to my love for the exotic. Each tube contained a different tea, and as I remember there was quite a nice selection.

Even though my initial reaction was along the lines of, “how nice looking, but I doubt they really know their tea”, I was intrigued. The same must of been true of my friends, as before I knew it they had all purchased one tube or another. Now, even excited as I was to be at a tea expo in China, influenced by the purchases of my friends, and attracted to the appearance of this booth, I have a fairly strict rule of not buying tea that I haven’t had a chance to taste. It was the proverbial straw that broke my will when I learned that in buying one of these tea samples, the customer was given a free gaiwan and set of cups. I suppose I am more of a sucker for teaware than anything else.

By the time I decided to get something, we were already on our way out, so I hurriedly excused myself from the group, ran back to the booth, and grabbed a tea I thought would be a rare taste on our trip (since we were enable to visit Fujian or Guandong), reliable Da Hong Pao.

As it turns out, the free gaiwan was not very strongly built, nor well packed. By the time I made it to Shanghai, the fine porcelain was cracked and punished into a pile of silt. I did manage to save some of the cups, but the real treat of this experience was the tea itself. It turns out that Wuyi Star appears to match their quality with their style. Quite a number of infusions (upwards of 7) were my reward along with a rich, nicely textured flavor that blessedly was free of over-roasting (as is often the case with similar Wuyi Yan Cha).

I hope to attend more tea expos in the future.

2011 Rou Gui from Shanghai

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective, but I’m recording it here as well for posterity.

This tea came from Ming Qiu Cha Yuan, a shop in a Shanghai tea market. Pumpkin orange in the cup, there’s a lot of Autumn in this tea. A fairly strong roast to the leaves gives much of the Wuyi oolong character to this tea, although there’s a subtle sweetness and fruitiness that lies just under the surface. In fact, the more I think of pumpkins, the more similarities I can see. Mouth-filling and full with a starchy texture and a creamy sweetness behind the earthiness of a harvest field, this 肉桂茶 makes quite an impression on this rainy October afternoon.

The name of the tea means “cinnamon bark”, perhaps referring to the wonderful aromatic roast of this tea. When I arrived in China, however, I was only vaguely aware of this particular Wuyi oolong. The first character, Ròu, when used by itself can mean “meat”, and when I first encountered a shop selling this tea I was more than a little repulsed by the idea of a “meat tea”. Reassured by my friend that Ròuguì has no connection to dead animals, I was pleasantly surprised to find this mysterious tea which seems to lean back and forth between the depth of Da Hong Pao (大红袍) and the sweetness of Feng Huang Dan Cong (凤凰单丛).

The shop in which we found this tea was in one of the large tea markets of Shanghai. If you have visited a multiple story indoor mall, the setup is much the same except that all the shops have some sort of connection to tea or teaware. We visited similar markets in Kunming, but the Shanghai variety seem to be more urban in style, with fewer outdoor regions and a more modern appearance with, for example, escalators.

As this was the first tea market we visited on the east coast of China, we weren’t sure what to expect. Consequently, I sat and drank tea with the women who ran this shop several times over the course of a few hours, leaving frequently to explore the rest of the market. The selection of teaware on offer was remarkable, and upstairs from this particular shop I even discovered what appeared to be a tiny music school for my favorite instrument, the Guqin. Either that or it was a teaware and art store run by Guqin devotees.

The kind woman who served us tea was very patient with my comings and goings and allowed us to examine and taste several of the teas she had available, stored in large metal tins on the wall. One of the teas we picked, I think perhaps a Da Hong Pao, was a bit too expensive, so I settled on this unique selection, having never owned a Ròuguì before. Two seasons later I am very glad for my purchase!

I infused this tea in my wonderful new small Petr Novak teapot, gong-fu style. Attempting to follow the advice of Stéphane, I did not rinse the leaves first and instead increased the time of the first infusion to about one and a half minutes. The result was quite a roasted cup, which was probably more than I was attempting to invoke. For the second, shorter infusion and thereafter, the sweetness really shone through (starting with about 30 seconds and going up from there).

Xie Xie, Ming Qiu Cha Yuan.