A deep and abiding love of Oriental Beauty

A deep and abiding love of Oriental Beauty

This morning I am trying a sample of something called DA HONG PAO, could it be a real one?

The seller was kind enough to add a couple of samples with my new travel sized gong fu tea set so this morning I am going to try a little red packet of seemingly burnt to a crisp black tea labeled, ' DA HONG PAO '.
As you can see from the instructions on the back, which I will follow, it is to be heated far higher than I would normally do but at least the suggested timing is only up to 8 seconds.
The smell of the dried leaves, although looking like burnt cinders has a pleasant aroma I have not smelled before. That is, of course, not saying anything since I am at the beginning of a never-ending journey into the myriads, the thousands upon thousands of tea offerings the world has to show me.
I don't expect a thing from this one, but it is part of a gift from the universe and it has done its job....to have me NOT 'brewing' a Keurig English breakfast tea pod! That's got to be a win, right?

While waiting for my water to boil here is what I learned so far, thanks to Denny and James at www.teadb.org:

"Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) is one of China’s ten most famous teas, owns a mythic origin story and is as close to a household name as exists in tea. Given this, it is unsurprising that the name Da Hong Pao is a great marketing term for purveyors of tea. The name Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe simply sells. Vendors are well aware of this and tea marketed as Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe is often the only Yancha offering sold by generalist tea vendors. Obviously these teas are not the Da Hong Pao from the original bushes of the legend. So, what are these vendors selling as Da Hong Pao? A simple question, but the answer is complex and often ambiguous.

It is very difficult and takes a discerning palate to actually distinguish between Wuyi teas; Vendors commonly take advantage of this when selling Da Hong Pao. Sometimes “Da Hong Pao” is simply what the seller considers their best Yancha, regardless if it is actually Tie Luo Han, Rou Gui, or some mixture. The most commonly marketed Da Hong Pao (~80%) is a blend using inexpensive and less famous bushes than Da Hong Pao. If you are buying a standard offering from a larger Chinese production, this is likely what you are getting! Some Wuyi oolong cultivars are even grown primarily for blends and are more commonly blended than not! The most common Da Hong Pao blend is composed of Rou Gui and Shui Xian, two of the most commonly grown types in Wuyi.

Da Hong Pao, the Myth, the Legend!

In the Ming dynasty, a tea farmer cured the Chinese Emperor (or his mom!) of illness by serving him Da Hong Pao tea. To show his gratitude the Chinese emperor ordered lavish red robes to cover the bushes. These original Da Hong Pao bushes are located on Jiu Long Ke (Jiu Long Cliff) on Tianxin Yan (Tianxin Rock) deep within the heart of the Wuyi tea-growing region. While this story is likely more myth than reality, what is known is that several of the original Da Hong Pao bushes are still in existence! Tea has not been produced since 2007, as it has been forbidden to pluck leaves from these bushes.
Da Hong Pao Original Bushes
Da Hong Pao Original Bushes. Source: Vicony Teas.

What is Real Da Hong Pao?

The answer to this question is extremely subjective and depends entirely on your definition of what constitutes “real” Da Hong Pao. If your definition means from the original mother bushes, this tea is no longer being harvested, very little of the tea actually exists, all of which is something extremely unlikely to change. Experts disagree as to what the most reputable “Da Hong Pao” surrogate still grown is, the general consensus being that it comes from the leaves of the clones of the mother bushes processed in the traditional manner of Yancha and Da Hong Pao.

Da Hong Pao Surrogates

With the loss of any new production from the original bushes, the closest to the original Da Hong Pao will usually fall into one of these categories. Many serious Yancha vendors (Essence of TeaVicony Teas) will often not even bother selling tea marked as Da Hong Pao and sell a Bei Dou or Qi Dan instead. The three teas are often blended with lower-tier Yancha to make more commercially viable Da Hong Pao. When unblended they are the closest many Yancha vendors get to actual Da Hong Pao. These teas should be produced in the same manner as traditional Yancha, heavy fermentation, medium baking and a final firing. It is also important for these teas to be grown in the Zhengyan region, as the biodiversity and microclimate of the Zhengyan terroir bear a distinct impact on the final product of the tea. Sadly most Da Hong Pao surrogate bushes really aren’t all that old; Older tea bushes will aid in the quality of the tea.
Note: It is much more useful to do price comparisons of these bushes, rather than the mess that is marketed as Da Hong Pao! Simply reducing teas to Qidan or Bei Dou helps to simplify and normalize the Da Hong Pao-like tea.
Note #2: The three cultivars covered in this post being recognized as Da Hong Pao substitutes is a relatively contemporary thought (<30-40 years old). There are several other closely-related cultivars that can be just as good as the cultivars covered here but are far less recognized.
Note #3: With hundreds of naturally occurring cultivars in the Zhengyan region, varietals and cutivars make a very complex subject!
Da Hong Pao Surrogates
Da Hong Pao Surrogates. Qi Dan, Bei Dou, Que She. Source: Vicony TeasSeven Cups.

FOLLOW UP! Ten minutes later.....

Hot bong water anyone? Anyone?

This was not a good time.

However, now that I am learning what it can be, BIG RED ROBE, I am interested in finding out more!