Da Hong Pao is the berobed king of Wuyi tea. Its origin legend says a tea farmer saved the emperor of China from a deadly illness with the leaves of this tea, and the emperor showed his thanks by giving unto the tree his robe, hence the name of the tea, translatable into "great red robe" (or "big red robe" by those with less poetry in their translation--"Grand Scarlet Cloak" for those with too much poetry in their translation).
Other origin stories say that the only real Da Hong Pao tea comes from the varietal Bei Dou Yi Hao ("Big Dipper #1" or more poetically, "North Star #1"), "discovered" by a Da Hong Pao researcher named Yao Yue Ming, who spent much of his life trying to determine the origin of the original Da Hong Pao bush. He narrowed his search down to a few locations on Wuyi Mountain, including Bei Dou Peak, took cuttings from two bushes there which he named #1 and #2 after the location. More on his story as summarized by Guang of Hou De Asian Art here. Legends heaped upon legends, two stories of men saving the dying: one man the emperor via tea, the other man the very same tea bushes via his courage.
Excellent tea legendry aside, what Chinese tea wholesalers and retailers then do shows less magnificence and self-sacrifice. Much tea is passed off as Da Hong Pao that simply isn't. Some of it is crap; naming Da Hong Pao one of China's ten famous teas means it's often the only Wuyi oolong variety most Chinese can name, and much low grade oolong is made under the moniker of Da Hong Pao to supply the high demand for the tea.
Others passed as Da Hong Pao are blends, aspirations by the producer or vendor to balance the best aspects of their best teas, hoping for a gestalt. Yet others simply take their best Wuyi oolong and entitle it Da Hong Pao, as to say, "it doesn't get any better than this, folks!"
Yet other vendors, perhaps catering to a more elite or snobby tea clientele, tell customers that Da Hong Pao is just Bei Dou, quickly relate the story of Yao Yue Ming and explain that for this reason they sell Bei Dou and not Da Hong Pao.
And whichever vendor you ask will point to their tea being the "true" thing: all DHP is really blended, all DHP is really bei dou, all DHP is just the best Wuyi on offer.
For those of you familiar with these stories, what's your take?
So, onto my thoughts on China Cha Dao's higher grade DHP (for thoughts on their lower grade DHP, click here).
Fragrant leaves in the bag have a dark dried fruit smell, which turns into a wheaty/grainy roasted smell when the leaves are rinsed.
I was struck by the very smooth mouthfeel and the oil visible floating like a slick on the top of my cup. The roast and grain/fruit flavors harmonized well. It became sweeter in the second infusion but backed off thereafter, combining fruit with a mild sourness to taste like stone fruit, like apricot. A mineral/rocky taste supports these other flavors.
As far as the body traits of the tea, its thick body oddly left with only a medium-long finish. In fact, I would say has a "medium" sense about it: medium-dark flavors, medium acidity, medium-light fragrance, medium-length aftertaste. Very well balanced, and it really shined in longer infusions, never becoming bitter despite using the entire 10.4g sample in my 100ml gaiwan. Its only flaw is a lack of gan, perhaps caused by its lack of bitterness.
Although rather "medium" in strength, it lasts many infusions without weakening, becoming fruitier in later infusions.
A stellar trait of this tea is how it made me feel. It was the only sample with a noticeable qi, and it was a very strong one. It made me tea-tipsy and was a good complement to my newest music download, an oddball percussion album by Slagwerk Den Haag that's 55 minutes of guys hammering on two-by-fours cut to give different pitches, their staccato hammering creating secondary melodies in the overtones. Trippy stuff for a trippy tea.
Given the look of the wet leaves, which show two distinct colors of leaf, I guess this is a DHP of the blended genre. Also supporting that guess is the balance of the tea, which struck me as an achievement of blending rather than processing.
Da Hong Pao AAA+ costs the same as the Golden Key, which is at the high end of China Cha Dao's Wuyi range.
To recap the sampler, I'd rank them:
- Shi Ru AAA+, Da Hong Pao AAA+ (tie)
- Shui Xian AAA+
- Qi Lan A
- Golden Key AAA+
- Da Hong Pao
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