2021 Xing Cun Scarlet Robe 星村大红袍 50g
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The Scarlet Robe (Da Hong Pao, 大红袍) was a tribute tea during the Qing dynasty. The historical Scarlet Robe has been discovered by monks from Yong Le Tian Xin Monastery (天心永乐禅寺) inside Wuyi mountain, at Jiu Long Ke (九龙窠) Tian Xin Cliff (天心岩).
Story goes that in 1385 during the Ming dynasty, a local scholar called Ding Xian (丁显) from Jian Yang (建阳) at the south of Wuyi Mountain was travelling north to the capital Beijing for his final examination. While passing by the mountain, he fell ill and was picked up by the abbot of Tian Xin Monastery. The monk nursed him by simply feeding him tea brewed from leaves plucked from a particular tea tree at Jiu Long Ke. The scholar recovered in a few days and promised to repay the gratitude if he emerged from the examination with a title. Indeed, he was awarded top scholar (状元) by the emperor. Ding Xian went back to Tian Xin Monastery and the abbot gave him a cannister of tea leaves from the same tree. Ding Xian headed back to the capital Beijing and heard the news that the empress was sick without a cure. Recalling how the tea had once saved his life, he presented the leaves to the emperor, and surely the empress promptly recovered after drinking the tea. As a show of gratitude, the emperor instructed the scholar to return with a scarlet robe to hang around the tea tree, thus starting the trend of calling that tea by that name. 35 years later, the emperor then officially crowned the tea as Scarlet Robe.
Today, Wuyi Mountain is a double UNESCO World Heritage Site for culture and biodiversity. The most famous sight within the mountain is the six Scarlet Robe tea bushes growing off the cliff far from reach of the tourists. However, records show that the historical Scarlet Robe has been lost in the sands of time. The concept of Scarlet Robe has been evolving. It was historically a famous variety (名丛) but today, the six stocks at Tian Xin Cliff are taken to be the authentic Scarlet Robe, of which Tian Xin Cliff #2 is the known cultivar of Qi Dan and thus taken to be pure breed Scarlet Robe (纯种大红袍).
Today, Scarlet Robe could also refer to Scarlet Robe blend (拼配大红袍) done by various tea masters or merchants using proprietary recipes of famous varieties. Following this rule loosely, all tea products from Wuyi Mountain can then be called Scarlet Robe. Such products are often made for profits and as a means to dispose off old or substandard teas, and these are termed Commercial Scarlet Robe (商品大红袍).
This tea was grown and processed in Wuyi Mountains, Xing Cun ("Star Village") where it is said that "tea is transformed aromatically entering into Xing Cun" (茶不到星村不香). This hints at the supremacy of the tea roasting skills in that village. Xing Cun is located within the UNESCO protected areas, which includes the nature reserve and the Wuyi Mountains tourist sites, the latter commonly called the authentic cliffs (正岩). Surely, all available land within the UNESCO tourist sites are already tea farms, and these farms bask in the limelight of mystery, history and constant fame. This explains why prices of these teas remain exceedingly high and inaccessible to the common market due to scarcity of supply. The rising demand for Wuyi teas have accelerated the development of neighbouring lands outside the tourist sites, notably Xing Cun and Wu San Di (吴三地). Tea masters in the neighbouring tea lands manage to hone their tea processing skills and create tea of superior quality at much lower rates as compared to those of the 'authentic cliffs'.
Our Scarlet Robe is a superior Scarlet Robe tea blend from famous tea master Wang Guo Xing (王国兴). He is among the prestigious first batch of China government-appointed custodians for “Intangible Cultural Heritage” for the techniques of “Scarlet Robe” (国家级非物质文化遗产“武夷岩茶(大红袍)制作工艺”传承人) in 2006. Someone who loves tea deeply, he was asked why the tea he makes has no branding. He answered candidly that there is indeed a difference between a tea master and a tea merchant. He was a privileged member of the team which made tea from the six Tian Xin stocks before 2006 when the government decreed to stop harvesting them.
We are brewing this tea using “Compass” zisha tea pot. If you have very small and thick-walled teacups about 50 to 60 ml, they could give an added dimension of roundness and smoothness to the tea, accompanied by a strong and lingering aroma. Using 6g of tea leaves to 150ml of 95°C filtered water for 30 sec, it can be brewed up to three times to a dark amber but transparent colour. Clean and light, it has a complex aroma from hot to cold reminding us of yellow flowers, cream, condensed milk, sugar cane, crème brulee, nut spread, mint, with hints of berry jams and brown spices. It is sweet and quenching with tantalising acidity, has smooth mouthfeel, slight roastiness accompanied by throat resonance. In short, an excellent Scarlet Robe blend epitomises “Rock Bone and Floral Aroma” (岩骨花香), a representation of the superiority of rock grown teas of Wuyi Mountain with the “rock bone” minerality and the floral aroma accorded by the wildness and great biodiversity of the terroir.