This Da Hong Pao Clear & Fragrant is made by the same Tong Mu producer as our Da Hong Pao Golden. As far as we know it is from the same tea bushes from the same tea gardens, with just with a bit more processing and more charcoal roasting. It is lighter and different in style and taste from the traditional Da Hong Pao that we sell. We think that it is less austere in nature and might have a delicious appeal to Western Da Hong Pao tea drinkers.
This tea is less oxidized, and has been roasted less compared to traditional Da Hong Pao, which means that the tea delivers more nuance of flavor of the tea leaves and less of the taste of the oxidation and firing. In fact, this tea reveals flavor in the earlier steepings, and stays consistent in flavor intensity over the course of a handful of re-steepings.
We love Da Hong Pao Clear & Fragrant Aroma – it is delicious and easy to steep. The tea liquor is mouth filling and the flavor has a nice returning aftertaste that is underscored with just a suspicion of charcoal roasting. The aroma is appealingly floral and the flavor has an undercurrent of spice and red fruits that floats in and out of different sips. This nuance gives this tea complexity and a charming personality. The leaves are slightly smaller than those of the Da Hong Pao Golden, which makes sense as the longer processing reduces moisture and shrivels the leaves to a smaller size.
If you have never tasted Da Hong Pao, this would be a terrific one to start with. We think that this tea is exactly what a seasonal Da Hong Pao should taste like – clean and fresh and aromatic with a lot of nuance from a good balance of oxidation to firing.
Why is this Da Hong Pao different? Well first, because of the location of the tea bushes. This tea is made from old growth Da Hong Pao tea bushes that grow in Tong Mu Guadun Village in northern Fujian Province. This small collection of villages is the home of several famous hong cha black teas such as Jin Jun Mei and Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.
This area is in the center of the pristine Wu Yi Nature Reserve which is located north of the Wu Yi Shan range. Although the Wu Yi Shan is the most famous place for Da Hong Pao, the primeval bamboo and pine forests of the nature reserve make this a special place for tea bushes to thrive. Visitors are kept to a minimum here – when we were invited to visit the Tong Mu area our vehicle was still required to pass through several gated and heavily-guarded check points on the way up the mountain before we were given clearance to proceed on to the tea growing area.
The bamboo and pine forested soil in the nature reserve is rocky but richer than that of the Wu Yi Shan, whose soil is comprised of layers of limestone shale and not much soil. Tong Mu has a higher elevation and a colder climate, two conditions that encourage tea bushes to grow more slowly while developing more amino acids and hence more sweet, fruity flavors in the leaves. This tea producer most likely felt that lighter processing would be a better match for his fresh leaf than the heavier roasting style of the Wu Yi Shan.
We agree with his choice. While this tea may not have the mineral-rich austerity and penetrating flavor that a more traditional Da Hong Pao is known for, it is neverthless a delicious Da Hong Pao with nuances of flavor that create a quite lovely beverage. There is much obsessing among tea geeks about exactly where in the Wu Yi Shan a certain batch of this or that Da Hong Pao grew and the age of the plants and many other details about these teas. Much of this is difficult to appreciate here in the US because we rarely have many choices for tasting and contrasting Da Hong Pao oolongs as tea drinkers do in China. Thankfully now we are starting to be able to source more interesting ones for our oolong enthusiasts (including ourselves!).
Bob & Mary Lou at the stone marker in Tong Mu announcing this place as the original home of Lapsang Souchong tea
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