Dahongpao, or Big Crimson Robe

My school’s colour is crimson, which is a kind of red.  Dahongpao, as you probably all know, is a famous tea, and a very good one at that.  So, I thought it fitting, in 2004, to buy a little dahongpao to keep for the occasion of graduation.

You can see a sea of crimson robes out there.  They’re puffy.  I thought it’s fitting.

Unfortunately, I’m not the one graduating, but fortunately, my wife is (or rather, was).  So, it gives me an excuse to break out the box I’ve been saving up.

This is a Best Tea House “1st generation transplanted” dahongpao, which is supposedly from a tree that is only one generation removed from the original three dahongpao plants.  Truthfulness in advertising aside, it’s a good tea.  So, I duly cut opened the seal of the bags (the tea was double bagged).  The bags were not vacuum packed.  Interestingly enough, upon opening the first bag, you can already smell the tea.

Looking like good dahongpao leaves.

I usually brew dahongpao with a heavy hand, but since we had a guest today, I tried it lighter so it wouldn’t be overpowering to the point of discomfort.  The tea is very sweet, and since I haven’t had this tea for years, I forgot that it is actually only medium fired, at most.  The roasting is actually quite well done, without being too heavy but just enough to kill the greenness that you sometimes find in newer yancha.  Also, there’s a hint of fruitiness in the tea that I don’t remember.  Perhaps it’s because I brewed it ligther, or perhaps because after five years of storage, the roasting has dissipated just enough.  There isn’t a whole lot of aged taste yet, confirming my theory that an oolong stored in a sealed environment won’t change much over only a few years — if you want real change, it either has to be stored in a jar with a minimal amount of air exchange, or be stored for a long time.  This is, basically, a slightly aged oolong.

The qi (I noticed I have not mentioned this word on this blog for months…. if not literally years) of this tea is quite decent.  Not a bad tea at all, and certainly didn’t disappoint after all these years.  I rolled up the bags, taped them up, and closed the box again.  Next time I open it, you can call me Dr. MarshalN.

Dahongpao

I got this as a sample from Danica when I was in LA

It comes in a nice little box, two packs to each box. There’s actually no real need to package good Wuyi tea this way — they keep quite well on their own and doing this can actually only stop it from potentially aging. There’s also my usual complaint — packing teas in small packs means that I cannot actually adjust the amount of tea I use for my brewing. You have to adjust to its amount, and change your teaware, instead of the other way around. Mighty inconvenient, if you ask me.

This is the entire contents of the bag

Which translates to this much in the pot

And made tea that is coloured thus

The tea is a light to medium roast yancha, unfortunately made a little weak because I didn’t quite have enough. It took two infusions to get a decent “rock aftertaste” to come out from the cup, and then after a few more, it faded… I don’t think it was a fair session with this tea, as I think it would be better if I had more (or a smaller pot I can use). Alas, I didn’t. I learned the “stuff the pot” way of making Wuyi tea from friends in Hong Kong, and have found it to be generally true — if you don’t stuff the pot, it won’t come out right. I don’t know if it’s just me being used to that amount of tea, but in general, if too little tea is used, the flavour tends to be thin and a bit elusive. It works better with less tea if it’s a low roast tea, but I just don’t like low roast yancha….

A wedding and a tea meeting

Weddings are sometimes fun, but tea meetings with like minded addicts are always enjoyable. It was nice escaping to the clear blue skies of LA, going to the wedding of my cousin who gave out jasmine blooming tea balls as wedding favours, and then, on Sunday, meeting with a few of those from the LA tea group whom I’ve corresponded with before.

Two of them I’ve already met — Jason and Phyll — but the others I’ve only emailed on a number of occasions and exchanged teas with, but never met. It’s always good to know who is sending you leaves in sealed foiled packs. It gives me a little more confidence in drinking stuff coated with mysterious white powder sent by them :).

We started with two greens, each different and rather interesting, especially when we experimented with the “mineral rocks” (ch. maifanshi) that you can get from Asia which are supposedly used for adding minerals to water. They do seem to make a difference, even when there’s only one rock in the fairness cup and thus the water is only exposed to the rock for a short amount of time. I’ve always been rather skeptical of the ability of these rocks to do much of anything, mostly because they are exposed to the water for not very long periods and I wonder about the solubility of the minerals in these things… but I must say I’m sold.

After the two greens, we had two aged oolongs (one of mine from the Candy Store, and one an aged baozhong). The little rock still did the trick there, as we tried our tea with and without the rock…. when it’s in the fairness cup, the tea tasted better. Odd, and possibly placebo…

I think we ended with two Wuyi teas, one is simply called “Laoshucha” or “old tree tea” from Will, and another which is a dahongpao. The laoshucha clearly does have some nice qi.

If I seem to be short on the description of teas… that’s because I wasn’t paying all THAT much attention to them. It was far more interesting to meet old friends again, and in some cases, meeting friends whom I’ve only known through the cyberspace until now. Tea, after all, is a social drink, and it is nice to be able to do it finally in its proper setting — among a group of friends, instead of drinking alone. It might be nice to finally be able to live in a city with more than a plurality of tea drinkers whom I can regularly meet with again, but until then… there’s always this blog.

Having tea outside

It was nice having tea outside yesterday. The weather was perfect — not too cold, not too hot, not too sunny. Having a way of making water while outside frees you from electrical outlets and lets you make tea anywhere you want…. that’s always a plus.

The first tea we had was a tieguanyin I got from Beijing about three years ago.

You can tell it’s not that fresh anymore, and now that I’m tasting it, I don’t think it was very very good to begin with. Very average stuff, in fact, and probably not even tieguanyin — maybe this is benshan.

For the purpose though, it worked well enough. It was a tea that’s light and not too hard to make. Easy going enough.

The colours are pretty

We then had a beidou #1, also from Beijing. It’s interesting what two or three years of drinking does to you — stuff that you used to think is good no longer seems so good. The beidou is only ok — then again, it’s quite cheap. Compared to the rougui I had two days ago… it’s no match.

What was nice though was to drink outside at all — listen to birds, watching the deer walk by, etc. It’s just not the same.

Rougui from Taiwan

Moving away a little from my aged oolongs a bit, I pulled out something else I hunted down in Taiwan — a rougui, oddly enough. This was a shop that I specifically went to before I discovered the treasure trove that is the candy store (and other stores around it). I remember this being a tiny place, and I went there quite late in the day, almost getting dark. It was a long walk from the subway to the shop, and I passed through, among other things, the big computer shopping area as well as an open farmer’s market where they were also selling tea. When I finally found this place, I was drenched in sweat — a hot, Taiwanese summer evening.

The shop was only occupied by the owner and his daughter, who was probably around five or six. She was doing her homework, and the shop owner seemed to have been making dinner or some such. I thought I was interrupting, but he asked me to go in. I poked around, as usual, and looked through a bunch of teas, mostly puerh. At that point I was still in puerh hunting mode. I did, however, notice that he had a lot of tea canisters on the wall — and all of them were Wuyi teas. I asked about it, and he said this, not puerh, was his specialty. Puerh was there just to appease people who are in the fad.

Ok, Wuyi tea. I like them just as well, so we sat down and tasted a few of these. You can probably hunt down my entry for this visit if you really feel like it somewhere on this blog (probably August 07). I remember they were all quite expensive, and I only walked away from the shop with a cake of puerh and a can of this rougui. I still have most of both.

Opening the can again today, a rush of Wuyi tea aroma immediately rushed up. It was pretty obvious and pretty strong. I like teas that announce their presence, even when dry.

I rarely get the cinnamon taste that is supposed in rougui, but today, I did. Is it the tetsubin? It’s not the pot, because it’s the same pot I’ve been using for two years now for Wuyi teas. I know I’ve been singing the tetsubin song for quite a while now, but I really do think that whatever it is, it is doing something to my water and helping me make my tea better.

Strong, cinnamony, dark, yet a bit fruity with a good aftertaste…. solid Wuyi tea. Yet, I find myself missing that sweet sensation that I get from aged oolongs. This tea is brasher, obviously younger, and less refined. Maybe I’ve gotten used to the aged oolongs, but they do have a unique calming quality that most other teas don’t. Old puerh certainly do, but only if well aged. Adolescent or younger puerh simply can’t do that kind of thing.

I brewed the tea until there’s basically nothing left in it, which took maybe 20 infusions. I realized that my definition of “nothing” is probably much lower than most other people’s… I am quite willing to go to extreme lengths to get another cup out of a tea. At least this tea is up to the task.

I wonder if I should buy more of this stuff when I go to Taipei again, and store it for myself. I think this tea should do well with age.

2006 Dahongpao

One of the best things to result from my reorganization of my tea closet is that, finally, I can actually find a tea I want to drink without having to rummage through piles of bags, mostly unmarked. I separated everything into different categories, and the categories all have their own shelf. Now when I want to drink something specific, such as the dahongpao I bought from very early on in 2006 during one of my earliest trips to Maliandao, I can actually find it.

If I remembered correctly, this tea is actually not cheap, although not too expensive either. The tea is, supposedly, used by one of the national banquet halls as a tea that they use to treat foreign dignitaries. My understanding is that the shop owner (who is also the person who owns the factory in Wuyishan) has some guanxi with somebody who is connected to the banquet hall, and got the tea in there. It’s a nice marketing tool though, and ensures higher prices.

Is the tea any good?

I remember when I first tried it, it was decent. The price wasn’t so high that it would deter me from buying any. I don’t, however, remember it to be spectacular. It was merely very solid, very representative of a dahongpao, and quite nice overall. When I brewed it today, I had very few expectations, since I haven’t really tried this tea since late 2006 (or, for that matter, haven’t had a Wuyi tea for at least a month). When I first sipped it, a rather pleasant rush of flavours flowed into my mouth, as if enveloping it entirely and then made its way down my throat. It is a nice surprise, since the tea seems much better than I remembered. Wuyi teas, or roasted teas in general, should be rested for at least a few months after roasting before you drink it. I seem to remember the roasting taste was much stronger when I bought this tea, but right now, I can’t taste any of it. Instead, it was a very pleasant “rock” aftertaste that lingers for a long time in the mouth, staying around and delivering that flavour and feeling that you look for in a good Wuyi tea. I think it is things like aftertaste that really help me determine whether or not a tea is superior or merely good, and this tea is, I think, superior.

As a side note, I just realized, looking at my album of tea pictures, that for the most part the stuff I’m drinking these days all look rather similar, especially in terms of liquor colour. I wonder if it’s sort of pointless to post such pictures anymore. Originally I had intended such things for record keeping purposes, but maybe it’s not even worth keeping such records.

Before I decide to ditch such things, however, I will continue with things like this

Which is not quite like the other stuff I’ve been drinking, since it is notably greener, I think, than my usual fare these days. Despite its colour, the taste is hardly green. I probably should’ve gotten a little more of it, but then, I already have too much if I am only going to drink it once every two years.

Sample H

Sample H today

This tea was a little hard to identify. Looking at the dry leaves, I thought it could be some dancong, because of the long leaves and the relative greenness of it. Brewing it though

Revealed a yancha taste. So, yancha it is, but…. what kind? It might’ve been shuixian, one of the lighter roasted kinds. But then, shuixian is typically a little weaker than this — this tea was fairly strong, with a good amount of yanyun and a nice, full body, but a taste that I couldn’t quite identify. It was roasted right — not too little, and dare I say it, not too much. I am usually not a great fan of the lower roastings of Wuyi tea, because I tend to find them a little too green, but this one was enough so that the nasty greenness was gone and preserving a nice honey taste.

Talking to Will, I found out that this tea is actually called Changqingteng, literally evergreen cane. Never heard of it. Googling reveals nothing. My guess is this is a newfangled invention of the tea maker whom he got it from. Not a bad tea, I must say. Not something for everyday, but I think this tea can probably age well.

One interesting thing is that the leaves are extremely large — suggesting, perhaps, that it uses older leaves for the tea. I wonder if that’s what gives it the rather unique flavour.

Mystery Wuyi

My tea closet is full of little bags, not so little bags, and big bags. Many of them, especially the little ones, are unlabeled. That’s because they are samples from one place or another, and they always come in faster than I can drink them. More often than not, they’re from tea shops, or from people I meet, or whatever, and they just shove you a sample and you take it home. You throw it in the box where all the other samples are smouldering…. and there it lies, waiting for you like a little puppy at an animal rescue center, until you pick it up and give it a new name….

Today’s lucky tea:

I have no idea what it is. There are no indications of any kind as to where this came from. I know this is a Wuyi tea by its looks and smell, but that’s about it. Probably not a shuixian — maybe a dahongpao? But I don’t remember getting a dahongpao sample. Maybe one from my friend L in Shanghai? I have no clue.

There wasn’t much, so I threw it into my Wuyi pot and brewed.

Sour in the first infusion, but the sourness went away after the second cup. Good. Solid rosated Wuyi taste, probably something inferior, not quite good dahongpao quality. Maybe a low grade one, or one of the other varietals. I don’t know… but it is aged, somewhat. It’s not new, as it has that aged taste coming on in the later infusions. Not very old, because it’s not very prominent, but it’s there. Lasts many, many infusions, as a Wuyi should.

Broken leaves, but that’s partly the product of it having traveled around the world with me. Maybe I’ll call this tea Max.

Shuixian from …. 1988, supposedly

At the store that I took a picture of, I picked up some of this tea as a sample.

It is supposedly from 1988 — there’s a little piece of paper in that big bag of tea that says ROC year 77 — which translates into 1988. I don’t know if it’s real, but the chances of somebody asking for that particular tea is so slim, and the price is too low, for the ticker to really work. It also smells aged.

I didn’t use enough leaves today

The tea turned out weaker than I imagined. It’s a bit on the thin side, but that might very well have to do with the fact that I didn’t use enough leaves. I should’ve made it in a gaiwan, but didn’t. It’s got that aged taste, but instead of the Taiwan finish, it has a very strong “yanyun”, or rock afterglow, that is typical of Wuyi teas. It’s actually much stronger than some of the more recent shuixians I’ve had. I wonder if it’s because teas in the 80s were just… well, better. I should give this another try before deciding. No sourness, which is always a good thing.

The leaves don’t look that bad, but nothing too interesting either.

Some sort of wuyi yancha

Yeah, I don’t really know what I drank today. More precisely, I can’t remember, as is so often the case, what it is that I drank today.

This is a sample from Aaron Fisher when I visited. He gave this to me, along with a few other things. I know this tea is a Wuyi tea of some sort, fired quite high by an old (since 1890) Taiwan shop. But I can’t for the life of me remember what it is exactly. Since I am not good enough to tell all the varietals apart, I will rather not guess. I don’t think it’s a shuixian though, nor is it a rougui. A dahongpao? Maybe a beidou? Not entirely sure.

He did give me a lot of it though, so I used up a good bit

On second thoughts, I should’ve used less, because the tea is rather broken up. Wuyi teas get broken up when they roast it and re-roast it — naturally, obviously, as they have to move the tea around while roasting. This is probably also remains of a much larger bag, and as usual, the stuff nearer the bottom will be more broken.

The resulting tea was therefore strong

It was by no means nasty, although a bit of sourness came through, probably because I haven’t stored it very carefully since I got it (and weather was very humid with typhoon and rain). It tastes like a dahongpao. Solid, roasted flavour, some age, not a lot though, and some sweetness. The tea turns more mellow after a few infusions, and becomes nicer and sweeter. Sourness also toned down. The broken nature of the leaves probably contributed to the very strong first few cups.

I’ve been meaning to go visit some older shops, but on the weekends when I have lots of time to go, the weather inevitably turns nasty, and many such places don’t open on Sunday (in fact, many places in general don’t open on Sunday). That complicates things. I’ll have to find a weekend to head out and look.