Monday May 29, 2006

The story goes like this: The Qianlong emperor, ever the playboy, was on one of his money squandering trips down south where he could enjoy better food, better scenery, better weather, and better women than he could ever dream of in Beijing. He was stopping by the Wuyi mountains in Northern Fujian, I suppose, and was served some tea. You know the rest of the story — he thought the tea was mind blowing, and asked what it’s called, and where the tea trees are. The peasants (or more likely, the local county magistrate sucking up to him) told him where it’s from — three trees on the cliffs of the Wuyi mountain reputed to make good tea. He bestowed a red robe on these three trees, and thus Dahongpao was born.

I don’t know if it’s a true story, and I suppose I could check by looking into the Qing Shilu. Then again, I couldn’t care less, and it makes for a nice story to tell.

Dahongpao is the most famous of the Wuyi bushes. When drinking them, what you’re looking for is that “rock” taste, or more properly, aftertaste that it leaves on your tongue and, to a lesser extent, your throat. It looks somewhat like a dancong. Just looking at pictures, it’s not always possible to tell one from the other, but when you brew it and taste it, the tastes are a world apart. Dahongpao is very robust in flavour, but at the same time there’s a softness and mellowness in it. Dancong, on the other hand (and it really depends on what kind you’re having — same with Wuyi rock tea) is more fruity, floral, and maybe you can call it fickle.

Nobody drinks from the original dahongpao trees, unless you wish to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to win that auction every two or three years when they sell a jin of that stuff. I have a box of the “first generation transplanted dahongpao” from Best Tea House, which I think means that they are branches that were taken off from the original plant and tacked onto other tea trees. I’m keeping that though.

What I had today was the dahongpao from Tea Gallery in NYC. Their Dahongpao is on the lighter side — fragrant, mellow, but not necessarily giving you that big bang type of taste that you might get with a stronger version of it. For dahongpao, and most rock teas, one should fill about 3/4 of the vessel with leaves (as pictured). Yes, a lot of leaves, but as long as you keep infusion reasonably fast, the result is very, very good 🙂


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