Friday, April 4, 2014

Rou Gui Cha (premium) • 肉桂茶

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After first sampling Rou Gui cha at Kkik Da Geo, I was so taken by it that I dreamed that I'd returned to the tea shop with a giant tortuous and loaded its back with as much Rou Gui cha as it could carry (it had a traditional Korean "jigae", an wooden A-frame usually used for carrying wood on your back, customized to fit its shell), then slowly lead it out the door.
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Repeating the dream to Prof Ahn, he laughed, then told me that the one I'd tried was medium quality and they'd just received a shipment of top grade Rou Gui cha. If the medium grade Rou Gui was already one of the most expensive teas I'd ever bought ($1.50/g), I figured there would be no way I'd be able to buy the premium one, but to my delight they were packaged in 7 gram portions. It still works out to $2/g, but $14 didn't hurt.

I was very curious how much of a difference there could be between the two grades. The medium grade was already one of the best teas I'd ever had. As I mentioned previously, rou gui is the Chinese word for dried cinnamon bark, and the tea is named after it because the aroma and tingling sensation in your mouth and throat are so similar and the medium grade leaves had this exact sensation.

Intending to make this small sample last as long as possible, I prepared my 25ml Biao Zhun pot that I usually only use for Da Hong Pao. While the pot heated, I admired the leaves. The first thing I noticed is that they were much lighter, with several green and rusty-brown leaves. They reminded me a bit of Phoenix dancong leaves. Transferring them into the warm pot, a beautiful herbal and flower aroma arose which only intensified with a quick rinse. Carefully steeping the leaves for 15 seconds, I took a long whiff of the tea. Already, my mind was blown. A small sip and it instantly knocked all other teas from my mind. There was no other I've had that could compare on any level. I could divide its characteristics into different categories and make isolated comparisons to other teas, but as a whole it stands alone in my experience. The rich, bold sweetness and floral, perfumy bitterness wove themselves together into a seductive, realm-melting spell. It is by far the most amazing tea experience I've ever had.

From what I can tell, the medium grade Rou Gui was produced using the traditional method of a medium oxidization and a heavy roast, whereas these leaves where produced using a newer method of high oxidization and a lighter roast, bring out the spectacular floral aroma.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

the scent of Dian Hong

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At Kkik Da Geo, last week, I asked about their red tea selection and realized that they actually have a huge variety in stock but just don't push them as much as they do their aged sheng puer and classic oolongs.

Inspecting their Dian Hong, I could see no discernible difference in quality to what I had, and the aroma was equally impressive. It was even packaged in the same gold foil, which made me think it could have been from the same source.

I mentioned to Prof Ahn that I think it has a nice citrus scent. He replied with a friendly smile, "It smells like red tea."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ying De Hong #9 • 英德紅茶

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With my order of Dian Hong cha, Daniel included a sample of Ying De Hong #9, which made me wonder of perhaps I should have made an order of this one. Given my difficulties with figuring out Dian Hong, I kept this one aside until I had a bit of a clue what I was doing. It was actually with this tea that I finally unraveled the secret of hong cha and became an instant fan.

Ying De Hong is a relatively new tea, first introduced in 1959. It is harvested in the city of Ying De, in Guang Dong Province (famous for Phoenix Dan Cong oolong), but made from broad-leaf plants brought from Yunnan (Puer country but also where Dian Hong is from). Ying De Hong #9 is the premium grade and has won several awards in China and internationally, including Winner of Chinese National Black Tea Competition, in 1980, and Paris Food Tourism Association Gold Award in 1986.

This particular sample is from Bai Zha factory and was harvested in May, 2011. Red teas don't always age well, but this one does, so three years has added nicely the flavours very nicely. It's mostly made of tips and the first two leaves. The leaves are very dark contrasted by bright the golden tips.

Letting the boiled water cool and following the same 20-15-20-30-40 second steep schedule, I was totally amazed by the delicious sweetness of the tea. I'd heard this tea compared to cocoa, which I didn't really notice, but found it in perfect accord with Daniel's description of "quasi-longan", very sweet and fruity. Though I'd like to try a few other black teas first, I'd much like to get a larger portion of this tea in the future. It was simply lovely.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Premium Dian Hong Cha • 滇紅茶

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I honestly can't say that I've ever had a tea that I flat out didn't like, but I can admit there are some types of tea that I get more or less excited about than others. Red tea (black in the West) being one of them.

In all fairness to the red/black tea family, most of my experience with it has been cheap tea bags but aside from the taste, the high-end Indian and Sri Lankan teas I've had gave me the jitters, which is exactly why I don't drink coffee.

Upon learning that China actually had a long history of producing red tea, I figured I ought to try it out. Looking through the selection on The Chinese Tea Shop's site, I was immediately seduced by the images of Dian Hong (Golden Tips Red Tea or also Yunnan Gold). I'm not usually one to judge a book by its cover, but with nothing else to go on, I figured at least if I don't like it, I'll have fun admiring the long, slender golden buds. The description sounded just as appealing, though, claiming the tea to have a "peach" flavour.

When the box arrived a couple of weeks later, the first package I opened was the Dian Hong. I was immediately greeted by a warm, intensely sweet scent that I found more citrus than peach but amazing none the less! I thought, if the brew tastes anything like the scent, than I chose well. 

What I was actually in store for, though, was a lesson in how untalented I am at brewing red tea... I remembered Prof Ahn's wife, Mrs Kim, telling me that green and red teas are both very difficult to learn. Not sure exactly what I did wrong, I began a long process of trail and error until eventually, several months and most of the package later, I realized everything. I'd started off treating it as an oolong, lots of leaves, very hot water, when all along the hint was in Mrs Kim's teaching. Using just a couple grams of leaf in a glass pot and letting the water sit in a 'suku' (cooling bowl), as I do with green tea, until it cooled to about 80°C, I was finally rewarded with a cup of Dian Hong that tasted very nearly to the delicious smell of the leaves. I followed the same steep schedule as green tea, 20-15-20-30-45-60... and found it just right. A very pleasant, sweet fruity taste and clear, bright orange colour.

Compared to Indian black tea, I found Dian Hong to still have a strong surge but a more manageable one.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A traditional way to brew Da Hong Pao

This is a technique that I very seldom use but thought it would be worth sharing. I think it's especially useful if you must be conservative with your stash or are down to the last few grams and have a lot of fragmented leaves and stems. Just to be clear, we are still talking about tea, here...  At least Da Hong Pao isn't know for buds!

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First, get a clean piece of paper and fold it in half, In the fold, place a small amount of leaves. You don't need much, just enough to cover the bottom of the pot, um teapot. Now, I can't believe I'm going to say this, it's hurting my fingers just to type it, but gently crush the leaves inside the folded paper (this is where I should reiterate, we're still dealing with tea!) and slide the broken leaves straight into the heated pot. This is way I recommend this technique when your near the end of your leaves and there are already several crumbs. I feels sacrilegious to destroy perfectly whole leaves, especially Da Hong Pao leaves.

Don't expect to squeeze much more than three steeps from the leaves, but for the small amount of leaves used you will get three surprisingly potent servings. The small fragments may clog up and make pouring slow, but I am for a standard 15-10-15-25 second pours, but may leave the forth steep for as long as I feel. As I mentioned, there really isn't much left by this time, anyway.