Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Hong Cha

There Once Were Two Teas from Huiming

Sometimes, in my search for new teas to try, I get drawn in by mentions of particular producers.

Image owned by Camellia Sinensis.

This is Wei Zhong He. I first learned of him through my dealings with Kevin Gascoyne (Camellia Sinensis Tea House’s “Darjeeling guy”), and he particularly caught my attention for one reason. He experimented with using Darjeeling first flush production styles, and incorporated them into a Chinese hong cha (red/black tea) process. But there’s more to him than that.

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Nan Nuo Revisited – Still My Favorite Mountain

Of all the tea blogs I’ve written, none have possessed the traction that my Nan Nuo Mountain coverage displayed. And I don’t mean in terms of viewership. (Let’s face it, what viewership?) But rather the enormity of vendors that specialize in single origin teas who’ve contacted me in its wake; I think the count is up to three? Point being, for that reason alone, it’s my new favorite post. Because of it, I wouldn’t have run into So-Han Fan.

Said wacky gent is the proprietor of West China Tea Company, which (I’m guessing) is a fairly new outfit. I’d never heard of it before, and I’ve been around. (Er…not like that.)

So-Han’s primary focus is – as the company name implies – teas from Western China, with a strong emphasis on Yunnan. He contacted me via my “normal” website, and mentioned that he carried two unique teas from Nan Nuo Shan (my favorite mountain, remember?). That and he also mentioned digging my tea fiction. Way to butter up the blogger, S-H. *heh*

Point being, I was more than excited to experience other teas from Nan Nuo, but when they arrived…there was a dilemma. I couldn’t tell the two apart. S-H had mentioned in the e-mail that I’d be able to identify them easily…but my blind eye-‘n-taste-testing skills weren’t that…uh…honed.

Both looked (and smelled) like loose sheng pu-erhs.

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Sure, one smelled grapier than the other, but I needed a bit more of a walkthrough with these. S-H gladly got back to me about the two teas. When he finally identified them, my mouth was agape.

One of them was a black tea.

Unroasted Yunnan Hong Cha

The process – as described to me – for making this tea was…confusing. As far as I know, the leaves don’t go through a standard quickening of the oxidation process. (I.e. No cooking, roasting, pan-frying, kill-greening, speed-drying, what-have-you.) Instead, the leaves are…uh…massaged every two-to-three hours after picking to hasten the drying/dying process. In other words, old school oxidation by way of hand.

As I mentioned above: When I first received this sample, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular loose sheng pu-erh. The only thing that differed was the color of the leaves themselves – ranging from green-brown to black. However, the aroma was indiscernible from a sheng, which probably can be attributed to its “raw”-ness.

For brewing, I decided to do as the West China Tea Co. website suggested, and went with a gongfu-ish prep. They recommended a pre-wash…but I always end up drinking the pre-wash anyway. So, three steeps to start – each at thirty-to-forty-seconds.

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The results were dark amber infusions with earthy-to-floral aromas. Nothing special was leaping out at me, yet. Then I took a sip. Holy whoah. It was like someone decided to see what would happen if a high altitude black tea made sweet-sweet love to a young sheng pu-erh. Flavors present were flowers, fruit, earth, sweetened wood, and…blanket.

Yes, blanket. This was one heckuva relaxing black tea. I just wanted to curl up with it, and talk about our future plans together.

Nan Nuo High Mountain Immortal Dew 2009 Loose Sheng Pu-Erh

Probably one of the most unique aged shengs I’ve come across. It was made in a small village called Duo Yi, at the summit of Nan Nuo.

Duo Yi Shu

Photo taken (and owned by) Villie Jokinen

No paved roads lead to the village, and many of the tea trees in the area range from 700-to-900 years old. This Nan Nuo sheng wasn’t commonly prepared for export, but rather used for everyday drinking for the Hani folks that prepared it.

The leaves were just as long and twisty as the Nan Nuo hong cha, but greener and wider. Plus, the scent they gave off was straight grapes. I’ve only ever encountered one other pu-erh that had that aromatic effect. Said smell also helped me tell the two teas apart.

In a typical gongfoolish fashion, I brewed about a tablespoon of the long leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan – using boiled water. Each infusion was roughly thirty seconds. To be honest, I wasn’t keeping accurate count.

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The result was three starter steeps of bright green-to-amber liquors wafting springtime scents of lemon and grapes. On taste, the grape lean continued even stronger. There was a winy note to the pu-erh, one that comes with at least five years of age. The sensation was like tasting a heated Riesling. In more oblique terms, it was like being fed grape juice that was pulverized by the feet of a goddess.

Nan Nuo pu-erhs still have no equal.

Favorite?

I have to be an indecisive schmuck again. Everyone’s a winner here. I’m so beyond ecstatic that I got to try such a rare black tea from the mountain, and even more stoked that there was a new style of Nan Nuo pu-erh I hadn’t tried yet. The only thing that’s settled is that Nan Nuo Shan is now on my tea-do vacation list.

Paved roads or no.

We don't need roads

I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Not Oolong

Norbu Tea has been one of my go-to hookups for weird teas for – well – almost as long as I’ve sipped. Greg Glancy seems to have a palate similar to mine, or at the very least an unrelenting geek-ish lean for teas with stories behind them. I finally had the pleasure to meet the man behind Norbu at World Tea Expo in June. Finding his booth was like hunting down a Wonderland rabbit-hole, but once I did I was glad for it.

Greg in garb.

Greg in garb.

One of the strange, new items I picked up from the Tsou-Vayiyana booth he was co-hosting was something dubbed, “Ali Shan Hong Cha”. It already had my attention for having my favorite Taiwanese tea mountain – Ali Shan – in the title. The leaves were ball-fisted like an oolong but darker in appearance. The aroma it gave off reminded me of unsweetened chocolate and oak barrels.

It was one of the first teas I tore into when I returned home.

Without exaggeration, it was unlike any black tea I’d ever tried. When I brewed it Western-style, the first characteristics that emerged were malt and (the aforementioned) unsweetened chocolate. With further infusions, the sweetness kept creeping up until it was indistinguishable from a black tea from that region. A bit of oolong minerality showed up by the third steep. Yes, this lasted three strong, Western-style steeps.

I also found that the longer I steeped it for, the sweeter it grew. Even more so than a Ruby 18. There were quite a few times when I infused this sucker before taking a shower, came out fifteen minutes later, headed off to work, and it was still good. Nary a tannic overtone.

Western-style

Something was amiss about this so-called “Hong Cha”.

Greg informed me via Twitter that he and the growers had agreed to redub the tea “Ali Shan Red Oolong”, and asked for my thoughts on it. I put my teasnob cap on (more of a metaphoric fez, really), and asked if it was fully oxidized…or only mostly oxidized.

Max

He informed me that it was the latter – 90% oxidized, just shy of being a “Hong Cha” of its prior title. This prompted me to experiment with it some more. I had yet to wrongfu the heck out of it.

One particularly low-key and experimental day, I decided to do it “gongfu-ish”-style to see what would happen. I dusted off my ol’ gaiwan, took about a teaspoon of the ball-fisted leaves, boiled some water (then let it sit for a minute), and played with multiple infusions.

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Done this way, the oolong-ish characteristics really showed through. Not in a typical Ali Shan-ish sorta way, though. Far from it. A first infusion gave a medium-to-full-bodied brew like a brandy oolong, while further infusions darkened, felt roastier on the mouthfeel, and developed an alternating palate of wood, leather and…well…more dark chocolate.

If I were a choosing man, though, I would say I preferred the Western approach. It was just dark enough to handle the longer steep times, and more of the flavor was imparted per cup. That…and it handled lazy brewing perfectly.

My kinda tea.

Lazy Teapot

Teapot Image Mooched from Yanko Design

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