March 2023 Tea Subscription
Thank you for drinking tea with us.
"Royal Banquet" aims to bring tea drinkers into the world of very fine and exclusive teas. These teas used to be inaccessible to commoners in time gone by, but today we are able to bring it to you via our network of sourcing direct from the farms and our friendship with the producers.
The three teas on feature are a green tea, white tea and wulong tea, namely:
- 2022 Da Wu Ye wulong tea (大乌叶单丛), 6 gm
- 2022 Honey Orchid red tea (蜜兰香红茶饼), 6 gm
- 2021 Ban Tian Yao wulong tea (半天妖武夷岩茶), 6 gm
This month, we bring focus to the southeast of China, where wulong teas and gongfu tea originates. First, let us drink the Guangdong wulong tea. This cultivar presents a longish oval and broader shape with a darker green as compared to the other dancong wulong cultivars of Chaozhou, hence its name of Da Wu Ye (literally “big dull leaf”). Its mother tree grows at 800 m at Da Ping Village (大坪村) at the north of Chaozhou City. Its age is about 120 years old and its descendants would be even younger, as compared to the other better known cultivars of Phoenix Mountain cultivars. For example, Duck Shit Fragrance (鸭屎香) trees are generally at 300 years old, and would thus have stronger characteristic flavours of tree age and moss, known as cong wei (丛味). Duck Shit was also discovered earlier, culminating into more collective experience in tea making. This naturally translates into price differences between the two cultivars (with the Duck Shit fetching a higher market value), and the similarities in aroma notes allow craft merchants to sell one for the other. This is possible because both cultivars belong to the same aroma group under the 10 aroma groups of Phoenix Mountain cultivars. They both are from the aroma group of Cape jasmine (栀子花), better known as gardenia. Two easy ways to differentiate the two cultivars are, as mentioned, the colour of the leaves and the intensity of ‘cong wei’ aroma and aftertaste.
We used distilled water heated to 90°C to brew 3 gm of the tea, in our Parchmen glass gaiwan filled to 100 ml. For 100 ml water, add water to the Parchmen gaiwan until just before it touches the wooden sleeve. We are using gongfu style, keeping each steep to a short time to allow more steeps. Recalling our brewing experience for Ju Duo Zai in November 2022, we kept each steep to 10 sec in a zisha tea pot. With glass, we can allow a longer steep as it loses heat and requires a longer time to extract flavours. Conversely, ceramic retains heat better than glass and requires a shorter steep to prevent over-brewing. Importantly, we will watch out for the absence of bitterness and astringency while we work on the high aroma. To this end, we adopted 20 sec steeping, up to 6 times. Tea colour is golden yellow and turns darker with more brews. Brewed leaves are longish, dark green, sugary, candy-like, honey and floral like honeysuckle, gardenia and chrysanthemum, with a hint of wheatgrass juice. Mouthfeel is smooth and round, with the aroma and sweetness opening up gradually as the tea cools to around 70°C and along with more brews. With this brew recipe, the peak flavour is at the third brew. Perhaps due to its younger age overall, throat resonance and cha qi (tea energy) are both less pronounced. Next, we used the Authority zisha teapot to brew this tea, using the same parameters as the Ju Duo Zai and steeping for 15 sec. The tea has become more rounded and deeper, with stronger aroma and aftertaste, and yet still retaining the sweet, clean and light flavour. It has lesser brews as compared to Ju Duo Zai. We brewed for 5 times, as colour and aroma started to fade by then. Always remember to use small thick cups to drink wulong teas.
The next tea is a red tea made from the leaves of Honey Orchid (蜜兰香). Undoubtedly, this cultivar is the most famous of all Phoenix Mountain dancong cultivars. It is known for its honey and orchid notes, accompanied by lychee aroma. The red tea version from this cultivar is unconventional, as the Chaozhou region east of Guangdong province neighbouring Fujian province is famous for dancong wulong tea since the last years of the Southern Song dynasty, with 900 years of history. Guangdong province does produce red tea, but at a distance of 500 km northwestward at Yingde City (英德市), north of province capital city of Guangzhou. The most famous red tea in Guangdong province was successfully cultivated from the selection of Yunnan assamica wild grown trees in 1959 only. But because Chaozhou is wedged in between two major red tea producing regions of Yongde on its west and Wuyi Mountain on its east, there has been some transfer of techniques. The compressed shape is unusual but convenient, and first started from a customer's order in that region and slowly became a regular item in the farm. The shape is perhaps to facilitate higher acceptance in a region more inclined towards wulong tea instead of red tea. It is not very common for red tea coins in the market and we are excited to savour its flavour.
Again, we are using distilled water to brew in a Parchmen glass gaiwan, using the full coin of 6 gm to 120 ml of 90°C water. For 120 ml water, add water to the Parchmen gaiwan until it touches the wooden sleeve. Normally, we will use lower temperature water to brew red tea, which should be treated much like a delicate green tea. However, its compressed shape warrants higher temperature to break open the shape. It took 1.5 min for the tea coin to start to unwind and we poured out the tea then. The brewed leaves is amazingly intense on sweet floral notes, and we picked up honey and maltose, and curiously also of red wine, cask strength whisky and daijingo sake. The tea colour is golden reddish and the aroma is strong on honey and stewed fruit notes in addition of the usual stonefruit notes of red tea. This is when we are tasting both the cultivar and the processing techniques. We brewed for a total of 4 times using the same temperature and time to enjoy the characteristic notes of Honey Orchid wulong tea on a deeper and brighter base of a red tea process. The tea coin only fully opened up at the fourth brew.
The last tea is Ban Tian Yao, one of the 5 famous cultivars of wuyi rock teas. There are a few ways to name this tea, all pronounced the same way in romanised Chinese but with different characters – 半天妖、半天夭、半天鹞、半天腰. All the names mention about halfway towards the sky, referring to the high cliff on which the mother tree was first discovered. 半天妖 refers to the alluring nature of the tea grown there; 半天夭 refers to the luscious tea tree there; 半天鹞 refers to the sparrowhawk which relates the discovery story; 半天腰 simply refers to the midpoint of the high mountain. The mother tree is at the 3rd peak of a series of peaks at Jiu Long Ke (九龙窠) known as Three Flower Peaks (三花峰）and it is halfway on the cliff. It is said that a sparrowhawk brought the seed to the cliff and it sprouted. It was recorded in the Qing dynasty that the owner of the cliff fought for his rights to the tea in court, costing him thousands of taels of gold. The dry leaves are broad, black and unrolled, and has a faint smell of roastiness.
We used distilled water to brew in a Parchmen glass gaiwan, using 6 gm of tea to 120 ml of 95°C water, discharging the tea 30 sec after adding water. For 120 ml water, add water to the Parchmen gaiwan until it touches the wooden sleeve. The brewed leaves reveal an intensely sweet note of honey, ripe berries and fruits like raspberries, dried cranberries and hints of stonefruits. The usual aggressiveness of the Wuyi rock tea gave way to soft perfumy notes. In fact, it is so alluring in such a ‘girly’ manner no wonder it is named as a ‘Seductive Spirit’. Tea colour is dark amber, quenching to the throat, is balanced, sweet, thick and smooth, with the characteristic wuyi acidity and a slight throat resonance. Rock rhythm of floral aroma in the midst of roastiness (岩骨花香) is clear for this tea. Brewing the tea at 90°C water in an Authority zisha teapot again brings out more depth, in a shorter brew time of 20 sec, for up to 4 brews. Again, we are once again reminded that the fine flavours of wuyi rock teas are seductive but fleeting. Again, remember to use small thick cups to drink wulong teas.
Thank you for drinking tea with us!