NaNoTeaMo, Day 4: “Tea and Sugar – The Weird Way”
In 2013, I was a regular follower of UK-based Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club blog. Two of their employees went on a sourcing trip to Yunnan province, China, and picked up something rather unique. I certainly hadn’t heard of it before, and I try to keep my ear to the ground regarding anything “weird”. The blog entry featured a Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) that had been fired in red cane sugar.
Two things: What the heck sorta process was this? Why hadn’t I heard of it? And what the ever-living heck was red sugar?!
The Dian Hong originated from Feng Qing county, Lincang prefecture, Yunnan province, China. The region was best known for its famous Feng Qing tea factory, which produced many a black teas, as well as cooked and raw puerh. I rather enjoyed teas I sipped from that location, even noting a sub-regional lean towards the burly.
This black tea was also known as Fu Shou Mei, which was a made-up name that literally translated to “Fortune Life Beautiful”. However, I doubted the efficacy of that translation, given that Shou Mei is also the name given to a low-grade white tea from Fujian province. And that meant “Longevity Eyebrow”. So . . . let’s split the difference and say it now means “Fortunate Life through Long, Beautiful Eyebrows” – like this guy.
Even more bizarre was the process for making this tea. While most teas in Yunnan are processed using large leaf assamica cultivars of the tea plant. This was processed from a small leaf cultivar from Fujian province – Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. That’s right, the same cultivar used for traditional Lapsang Souchong, the granddaddy of all black (and smoked) teas.
Unlike its smoky ancestor, after the fresh tea leaves are picked and wilted, they are briefly fried over un-processed tropical red cane sugar.
I read that it’s similar to muscovado. No, I have no idea what that is, either. What do I look like, a sugar expert? (Don’t answer that.)
Team Canton Tea originally found it through Scott “Yunnan Sourcing” Wilson. Like the supplier of all things Yunnan to we occidental tea drinkers. They paid him a visit while he was still based in China, and somehow got him to part with this odd li’l tea.
Years would go buy before I ran into mentions of it again. Then one unsuspecting day off, I was paying a routine visit to The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. One of my favorite local tea folks, David “PDX Tea” Galli was now their resident expert on all things orthodox. When I came in, he gave me a look . . . a rather devious look.
Yeah, kinda like that.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said.
My ears burned a bit. He handed me an unmarked black pouch. I peered inside, noticed small black tea leaves and gave it a whiff. What my nostrils beheld had the aroma of . . . unsweetened Cocoa Puffs.
“Is this . . . “ I started. “That black tea that’s, like, rolled in cane sugar?!”
“Fired in cane sugar, but yes,” he corrected me.
I “SQUEE!”-ed a little.
Over the course of 2014, I think I brewed it up three times. Yet never gave it a thorough sipping session. This morning, I decided to change that. I was up by 9AM on my day off, and needed to postpone the dread of errand-running for at least a few hours. What better way to do that than with a new-ish tea?
For brewing, I approached it like a typical black tea. Boiled water, teaspoon of leaves, ever-ready gaiwan, and a three-to-four minute steep; the usual.
The initial sip reminded me of Jin Jun Mei or unsmoked Lapsang, but that quickly changed as the subtle sweetness crept up my palate like a spider in a top hat. (Not sure where that image came from.) The flavor alternated between malt, really dark chocolate truffles, burnt honey, and shaded forest floor. As my head spun, my heart relaxed. A very pleasant black tea, no matter the process. Well worth the years of research and waiting.
I still need to look up what muscovado is, though.