Four Imperial Teas

In a prior blog, we talked about the working-class origins of the British “builder’s tea”, favored by laborers to push through long hours of physical toil. This time, we thought we would take a look at how the other half lived and highlight a few of our favorite teas with royal reputations.

 

Bai Hao Silver Needle (白毫銀針)

Also Called: Baihao Yinzhen, White Hair Silver Needle

Bai Hao Silver Needle Tea Leaves

Bai Hao Silver Needle

This highly prized Chinese white tea is traditionally sourced from either Zhenghe or Fuding, northeast in the Fujian province. It is very lightly oxidized and features only the unopened buds of shoots plucked early in April during the plant’s first flush. These buds are covered in fine silver hairs, giving it its characteristic color. The flavor of this tea is smooth, lightly sweet, and delicately floral. This exquisite tea is said to have been first cultivated during the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), and for centuries was reserved exclusively for the Emperor.

 

Da Hong Pao (大红袍)

Also Called: Big Red Robe

Da Hong Pao Mother Trees in Wuyi

Da Hong Pao Mother Trees in Wuyi

This oolong is grown on the steep slopes of Mt. Wuyi in Fujian. The rocky cliffsides and unique mineral compounds making up the mountain’s slopes give this tea its rich, full, mineral flavor. Due to its rarity, expense, and reputation, Da Hong Pao remains a traditional “gift tea” in China reserved for honored guests or special occasions. According to legend, the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of a deadly illness by drinking this tea; in gratitude, the emperor sent his own royal red robes to cover the four bushes that produced it. These bushes are still be producing tea to this day.

 

Dragon Well (龍井茶)

Also Called: Longjing

Dragon Well 1st Grade Pre Qing Ming

Dragon Well 1st Grade Pre Qing Ming

Dragon Well is one of the most famous teas to come out of China, and is certainly the most renowned of its green teas. Its long leaves are flattened by hand and pan-fried to stop oxidation, and boast a sweet and grassy flavor with light astringency. The highest-prized Dragon Well teas are sourced from Longjing Village in Zhejiang, and must be plucked from the first shoots that appear before the Qingming Festival in early April. Dragon Well tea was granted the status of Gong Cha, imperial tea, during the Qing Dynasty by the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722).

 

Huo Shan Huang Ya (霍山黃芽)

Also Called: Huoshan Yellow

Yellow tea floating in gaiwan

Belonging to the rare category of yellow tea, this tea was produced in Anhui as an imperial tribute during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE). It is thought to have been developed specifically to have a yellow color, in honor of the imperial family, to both its dried leaf and its steeped liquor. The flavor is delicate and subtle, with both floral and buttery notes. Due to its intensive production process and niche position in the market, this tea can be difficult to find. But like all royal teas, its complex and unique flavors make it worth a try for any tea enthusiast.

By: Jen Coate

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Fenghuang Dancong – Phoenix Oolong

A product of Phoenix mountain in Guangdong Province, China

Fenghuang Dancong — Phoenix Oolong

Fenghuang Dancong is one of many oolong teas that comes from Southeastern China. This oolong grows in a highly mountainous region north of Hong Kong and west of Chaozhou in the Guangdong province. The word Fenghuang literally means phoenix, which refers to the name of the mountain where the Dancong is grown, while the word Dancong means single bush.

Fenghuang Dancong History

Oolongs have been produced since about the Ming/Qing Dynasty, somewhere around the late 1600’s to 1700’s. Often called Qing Cha, referring to a blue-green color, oolongs cover a wide range of oxidation between green and black (15-85%) and can be found twisted, rolled, balled and any number of combinations of forms and oxidation levels. Typically have much greater complexity in the overall production process than other teas. Dancong oolongs specifically are twisted in shape and grown in the Wudong Mountains at high elevation.

There is no particular story behind these oolongs, like with many other older Chinese teas. Instead, the important item to note is that the flavors of a true Dancong oolong are complex and offer a wide variety flavors ranging from orange blossom to grapefruit. Dancong are produced from 10 distinct cultivars of the tea plant, without mixing the cultivars together. Instead, multiple days of harvest are mixed together to produce a batch. Dancong bushes are also allowed to grow wild, so plucking them requires a ladder and the flavor is very much influenced by the combination of cultivar, terroir, and other flowering plants and trees nearby.

Fenghuang Dancong Preparation for Drinking

This oolong is lighter in oxidation, so it can be brewed between 170°-190°F for 4 minutes. You need 3 grams for 8oz of water. Steep at least 3 times before discarding the leaves.

If you are willing and have the time, this is a perfect oolong for a gaiwan. Start your stepping times in the gaiwan at 30 seconds and gradually increase by increments of 15 seconds on subsequent steeps. We found that roughly 1.33 grams of tea per oz of water in the gaiwan produces both the expected flavor and mouth feel. Gaiwans vary greatly in size, so use a measuring cup and figure out how much water your gaiwan can hold before measuring in the tea.

This oolong is worthy of your time to explore and appreciate.

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Da Hong Pao – Big Red Robe

Tea Bushes

Tea Fields in Wuyi Mountains

According to legend, Da Hong Pao (Dahongpao) tea dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1300-1600 AD) in China. Supposedly tea plucked from the Dahongpao mother bushes cured the sick mother of a Chinese emperor. The emperor was so happy that he sent giant red cloth robes to wrap the four bushes from which the tea was produced.  The original bushes are still alive today, though recent laws from 2006 prevent plucking the mother bushes. Modern Dahongpao is produced from relatives of the originals, that were grown from cuttings from the mother plant.

Da Hong Pao – Terroir and Growing Region

Grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Northwestern Fujian Province, the original home to Da Hong Pao is a national park.  Larger than Yellowstone, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site that was home to farmers and small communities that grew and produced tea in the region. They were “asked” to move out during the creation of the world heritage site and for the most part now live on the outskirts of the park and still care for the plants, pick, and produce the tea.

Long ago the region was an area of high volcanic activity. The result of erosion has been to produce steep cliffs with narrow low-lying areas which includes the 9 bend river — a favorite spot for taking tourists down the river in bamboo rafts. The rocks that make up the region though continue to erode and produce a unique blend of minerals that get taken up by the root systems of tea plants. It’s the combination of the cultivar, the climate of regular fog and mist, and minerals from eroding cliffs that contribute to the unique taste and mouth feel of Da Hong Pao.

The mother bushes themselves are found in 9 Dragon Canyon along a walking tour. End to end, it’s a bit over 3 miles up and down through the canyon where 25+ varieties of tea are grown anywhere the bushes can be fit and reached for plucking. Many of the bushes found here, in addition to the mother plants, are several hundred years old. They produce very high quality, but very low yield!

In addition to tea the area is home to about 5,000 animal species including many rare and unique species. Designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has resulted in rapid growth of Wuyi-shan. Many new hotels and shops have been built next to the park. China is working on building a new railway station so that tourists can get to the area much faster as the current railway station is about 45 minutes away.  There’s also been an influx of sellers offering Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas and Lapsang Souchong, much of which is fake.

Da Hong Pao – Drinking

This open twist oolong is roughly 35-50% oxidized. Use 3 grams per 8oz of water and steep at 190°F. The first infusion should be steeped for 2-3 minutes while the second infused steep 3-5 minutes. Steep 6 grams of tea in a medium size Gaiwan for approximately 20-30 seconds and pour off into a small pitcher and serve. Infuse 6-8 times adding 5-10 seconds for each infusion.

This rock oolong is worth exploring and adding to your tea cabinet.

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Teas for the Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese LanternsThe Chinese New Year is the largest celebration in China. Lasting 15 days, this holiday is a chance for families and friends to come together and celebrate the new year. Gifts are exchanged and a lot of food is eaten. In finding the right New Year gift, many Chinese choose food items or teas that focus on health and long life. Since the Chinese see all teas being healthy and helping to aid in a long life, it seems hard to figure out how to narrow the field. This holiday is considered the biggest in China and one of the few where gifts are exchanged, so the quality of the tea is going to play a big roll in what is chosen as a gift. Also, with the new year during the dormant period for tea plants, much of the available tea in China will be fall and winter harvest oolongs and aged puerh. So with this in mind, here are 3 oolongs that would would be considered an appropriate to both give and serve as part of the Chinese New Year .

Ti Kuan Yin – This beautiful oolong from Anxi in Fuijan province of China carries the name of Iron Goddess of Mercy. Kuan Yin, or Guanyin, gave guidance in a dream to a local farmer in Anxi on how to care for the tea plant and make this balled oolong. This brought prosperity to the farmer and the village. So this oolong is not only associated with health, but with prosperity. So it covers two of the biggest Chinese beliefs around the new year making it a perfect candidate for giving and serving.

Fenghuang Dancong – This Phoenix Mountain oolong from Guangdong province is plucked from tea plants that are allowed to grow wild in gardens of other plants. These plants are older and larger than the plants kept in a traditional garden. The flavor profile is both sweet and vegetal. These oolongs have been around for centuries and are considered one of the best lighter oolongs from China. Tea from old tea plants is always valued in China and shows a level of care from the giver of the tea.

Wen Shan Bao Zhong – This high elevation oolong from Taiwan (keep in mind China does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country), is also a fall harvest oolong and is prized on the mainly for its light creamy flavor. Taiwan oolongs are considered the best quality, even by mainland Chinese. So this would be both an exotic and highly prized gift.

Regardless of which one you choose, all of these oolongs are worthy of any holiday.

 

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3 Fun Ways to Enjoy Blooming Teas

Flowering Tea in Glass Pot

Lychee Flavored Osmanthus Blooming Tea

Blooming teas are hand tied balls of tea and flower petals that open up into flower designs when steeped in hot water. These fun teas are not just about the tea, but about appreciating the floral creations. Here are 3 suggestions on how to enjoy these pieces of art.

  • Share the blooming tea with friends. Designed for large glass tea pots that serve at least 2 to 6 people, these pieces of artwork are perfect for entertaining guests. The blooming teas use green tea as leaves, so they brew lighter in both color and flavor. This makes them an easy accompaniment to just about any treat you may wish to serve with the tea.
  • Enjoy these teas out in nature. The Chinese believe tea is best enjoyed outside in a natural setting. This allows the drinker of the tea time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being outside. The mind is given time to calm and clear with exposure to trees, birds, sunshine and water. A picnic in China is incomplete without tea. So join the Chinese in enjoying tea outdoors and bring along a blooming tea to your next picnic. Better yet, enjoy your tea in your own backyard during a beautiful spring day.
  • Enjoy blooming teas as center pieces. The Chinese will often preserve the bloom after drinking the tea by placing it in a vase large enough for the bloom to be completely open. They fill the vase with cold water and 2 Tbsp of white vinegar and then submerge the open bloom. The bloom will continue to impart color to the water, so you may need to change it every couple of days. However, the bloom itself typically will last for a couple of weeks a beautiful centerpiece.

This is a fun type of tea to explore and share with friends. Let us know how you enjoy blooming teas.

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