Tag Archives: camelliasinensis

Cacao and Berries: A comparison of Yunnan Hong Cha

Ever since I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks wandering around Yúnnán Province in the South-West of China, I’ve been in love with that region’s unique black tea (or more specifically 红茶 – Hōng Chá). When I came back from that trip I brought with me several hundred grams of tea made in the Lincang region (specifically Fengqing) which sated my thirst for a good two years before the last leaves were spent. And then: such sadness!

yunnan2-bridgeIn the time since I’ve naturally been trying to replenish my supply, and fortunately during my last visit to Camellia Sinensis tea house in Montréal I picked up two examples of this lovely style. I was planning to only buy one, of course, but it was difficult to tell from the descriptions which one I would like more. What’s a tea lover to do in that situation? Get one of each and hold a tasting, of course!

So today I’m comparing the Jin Die Organic and the Yunnan Da Ye, both from Camellia Sinensis’s vast catalogue, and both harvested this year!

First off, I have to say that these teas are really very similar. If I had to try them blindfolded, I might not be able to tell them apart. Especially after the second steeping, the differences in flavor and mouthfeel nearly vanished. They are both excellent examples of a Yunnan Hong Cha.

yunnan2-cupsThat said, after four infusions, I think I have a slight preference for the Jin Die. Very slight. While both teas have the characteristic Yunnan woodiness and cacao sweetness, the Jin Die consistently had a thicker mouthfeel and a more milk-chocolate taste. The Da Ye, in comparison, was somewhat thinner and dry in the mouth with something of a blackberry sweetness.

The cacao and berry flavors are what really draw me to these teas. Compared to other Chinese black tea, those from Yunnan have a special characteristic of dry grass and earth that is usually very distinguisable. In many ways this makes sense, as the leaves used to produce these teas are from the same regions (and maybe even the same plants) as the world’s Puer supply. Drinking a young Sheng Puer from Menghai I notice the same sorts of flavors and textures. Even closer is the taste of Mao Cha, the raw leaf used to make Puer, so I think the character is just inherent in the leaves of that particular province.

While my preference for the Jin Die was pretty much by taste and not strength of infusion, it’s probably worth noting that its leaves were almost entirely whole and unbroken while those of the Da Ye included quite a few broken pieces. This made the Da Ye infuse ever so slightly stronger and faster than its competitor. Storage and transportation aside (the broken leaves could have easily been the result of the bag I stuffed them in), probably the main reason for the wholeness of the Jin Die is that the dry leaves are rolled into beautiful tight curls. I suspect this small detail protected the leaves from the more destructive parts of their journey from China to my tea table.

For the first two infusions I used 95°C water for 45 seconds and at the third I increased that to 1 minute for both teas. I easily managed four infusions this way and I suspect I could have continued for another three without losing the flavor. By the fourth infusion, however, the teas started to taste very much the same, and so the comparison became less important.

This may be the first time I’ve had a preference for a certified organic tea when tasted side-by-side with a non-certified cousin, which was pleasing in itself. Organic certification is an ongoing (and expensive) struggle for many small farmers in China and I believe that it’s only thanks to the support given by big Western importers that has enabled tea like this Jin Die to be produced and sold at a reasonable rate with that certification intact.

yunnan2-sunsetAltogether I can easily recommend both of these Hong Cha for the lover of Chinese tea. I know that I’ll be drinking them frequently and reminiscing of the beautiful Yunnan sunset with every cup.

Bai Hao Tuesday

My friend Andrew is visiting Bai Hao tea fields in Taiwan as I write this, so it’s small magic that my fiancee, when asked to choose a tea, picked out my bag of 2012 M. Xu Bai Hao (東方美人茶) that I picked up several months ago in Montreal (courtesy of the fantastic folks at Camellia Sinensis).

I’ve written about this tea before, but I have to say that this time through I felt as though I was drinking a different tea.

The first thing I noticed was the color of the dry leaves themselves. My fiancee did a good job of describing them as “multicolored”. There was bright green, dark green, tan, gold, and dark. It’s rare I’ve seen such a change in hue within one tea, perhaps only in a First Flush Darjeeling with their particular early-season processing that makes for such a nuanced flavor. I tried to capture the colors in a photo. Maybe you can see some of it for yourself.

bai hao_leaf

When I poured the first infusion, I was struck by how the liquor reminded me of apple juice, right down the the small bubbles on the surface. It’s possible that first impression might have colored my later thoughts, but I don’t know.


What I do know is that the taste was a wonderful crisp sweetness with a round body to match. I have to say, this tea is aging well for what I heard was a bad harvest year. The aroma was cloying. I was reminded distinctly of a cup of apple cider as the first drops touched my tongue. After that I couldn’t shake the apple connection. The toasty, crisp cider character pervaded everything.

I guess the next time someone asks for an Apple tea, I should produce this Bai Hao.