Tasting Tuesday: 2008 Da Hong Pao from Old Ways Tea

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Let me tell you a secret: I don’t really enjoy writing down tasting notes. I find it removes me from the experience of a tea and interrupts my enjoyment. But the exercise is an important one to be able to converse intelligently among many in the tea community, so I practice it at least once a week. Yet, my dislike means that often I end up taking notes on teas that I feel more of an academic interest in for these weekly posts, rather than a tea that I find truly exciting.

Well, the other week, I went live with Ezra, known as @the_god_of_tea on Instagram, and had this aged Da Hong Pao and I found it so interesting that I rather regretted that our conversation was so engaging that I barely paid it its proper attention. So I resolved to take notes to share with everyone, and perhaps see if I can make an attempt to quantify what I found so compelling about it. As I’ve said before, Da Hong Pao is one of my favorite teas, from a variety that has quickly become my favorite among teas, yancha. Now, I realize that modern Da Hong Pao is rarely plucked from the original mother tree, and that it is most often blended from different yanchas, particularly Shui Xian and Rou Gui, but as I have tried most of the yancha varieties, I find that Da Hong Pao is most often the one that just has the certain special something that I enjoy. I find it reminds me of fresh cookies or brown sugar cake, a lovely warm comforting flavor.

I brewed this tea in my Chaozhou clay pot, which holds about 80ml of water. I used half a packet of tea from Old Ways, which is about 4g. I brewed at 99C. I warmed the pot and warmed the leaves and was able to detect aromas of leather and wood from the warm, dry leaf. I did not rinse, choosing instead to jump right into brewing.

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The first infusion went for ten seconds. The wet leaves gave off aromas of warm cinnamon coffee with cream. The liquor was a rich mahogany color and had a rich mouthfeel with nutty and creamy flavors. I was reminded of nothing so much as hazelnut tuiles with caramel and coffee buttercream. There was a faint leathery aftertaste.

The second steeping, for fifteen seconds, yielded aromas of cream, honey, nuts, and leather on the wet leaves. The flavor developed a slight tannic bite with a sour aftertaste that I found enjoyable, but with a rich roasted, leathery flavor underneath, and perhaps a slight undertone of sweat. It is a very sensual tea and fills the mouth and facial cavity. I was reminded of how Shuiwen from Floating Leaves Tea calls teas “puffy” and I think it might be something like that.

The third steeping was also for fifteen seconds. The roast aroma came through more on the wet leaf. The mouthfeel was pure coffee and cream, with an ever so slightly lighter colored liquor, perhaps cherrywood rather than mahogany. The flavor still had a pleasant tannic bitterness on the tip of the tongue and a sourness under the tongue that reminded me of the lightly roasted coffee from our favorite artisan roaster. The lingering flavor was coffee with cream.

The fourth steeping was for twenty seconds and yielded aromas of roast and wood on the wet leaves. After that, I simply forgot to take notes on the flavors. The body feel and experience of this tea was languid, like a cat stretched out on a velvet settee. I resumed my attention for the fifth steeping, which I let go for forty seconds. I noticed the wet leaves taking on the “wet paper” aroma that I notice as yanchas start to fade. The flavor, however, was still surprisingly bright and warm.

The sixth and seventh steepings both went for a minute each. The sixth yielded a honey-floral aroma on the wet leaves and flavor that seemed to be a mellowed amalgam of the flavors of the previous steepings, with a brightness that reminded me of a citrusy black tea cutting through it. The seventh aroma continued to fade, but with a surprising sweetness that came through as the other flavors dulled.

I steeped the tea for an eighth time for two minutes and was rewarded with a cup of tea that, while faded in flavor, color, and aroma, still managed to be enjoyable and warming, beyond a mere cup of tinted hot water. And it lacked the wet paper/pasta water flavor I get at the end of a session of other yanchas. The ninth steeping, for three minutes, showed that the tea was well and truly done. It still might have been nice steeped grandpa style, as I often do with my yanchas, but the main session was over and I was confident there would be no new tasting notes.

I think this tasting quantified the enjoyment I got from this tea in a strange way, in that it showed that it is somewhat unquantifiable. If anything, it is likely the complexity of flavors that draws me to Da Hong Pao, particularly aged Da Hong Pao. That leathery undertone in the flavor and aroma draws in a poetic part of myself. Indeed, I believe this is one of the longest tasting posts I’ve written, at least in recent weeks. And I still maintain that my first impression of any Da Hong Pao I’ve tasted is freshly baked brown sugar cookies, fresh from the oven, which is perhaps more of an emotional association than anything else. I’m curious to try the 2000 Da Hong Pao to see if the further aging will change my impression of the tea in general, particularly since it will be the oldest Da Hong Pao I will have tried thusfar.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you are interested in why I switched from tea reviews to tasting notes, read the explanation in this post. If you are interested in collaborating me or contacting me to offer my notes for your tea, please read my contact and collaboration information.