So I think this was the first artisan black tea that I’ve had since becoming interested in tea. I suppose I was sort of sucked into the oolong world and never really came back =). I had never really cared for bagged black tea, usually sticking to chais and other flavored bagged teas before transferring over to loose leaf teas. This being said, I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for, but I was in the mood to broaden the range of teas I was familiar with. So with that, I bought a small amount of Zhu Rong from Verdant on my last order.
As soon as I opened the package I was a fan of Chinese black tea. The dried leaves are so pretty with the deep black-brown contrasting so vividly with the tight twists of golden brown. And the aroma…so aggressive and heady, full of scents of burnt hay, caramel, and tons of spice. Just invigorating. I measured some into my gaiwan and did a quick wash. The infusion was such a beautiful golden amber and gave off such an incredibly powerful aroma of cocoa, a hint of spice, and that “pure” tea scent.
I hurried to get the first steep out and was greeted with a liquor of a deep, russet red tinged with gold. I took a sip of this ambrosia and discovered a very pronounced honeyed sweetness with a chocolate and malt body, and undertones of pure tea flavor and oak wood. Whoa. I moved on to a second steep. The sweetness somewhat subsided, chocolate flavors began to diminish, while pure tea flavors and oak wood rose. Wait, this stuff has complexity, too? The increased woody notes created a very slight bitterness, which I had not even noticed the lack of in the first steep. This was certainly not turning out the way I had anticipated. And I was certainly happy about it.
Into the third steep, the spices appeared. The natural spiciness blended so well with the sweet honey flavors and chocolate. The more bitter notes of cocoa and oak moved into undertones and created a fantastic balance and great character revolving around a full body of the malt and pure tea notes. Into subsequent steeps, the malt/pure tea body remained stable as midtones while the sweet notes and bitter notes flipped back and forth every other steep, making the experience seem like some wonderful dance.
Although the overall flavor is hearty, after a sip it evolves gradually through the mouth without any bursts of intensity. It calmly expands and slowly recedes like a huge, slow wave. The liquor is extremely smooth and somewhat silky. The aftertaste is very clean, malty, with a cocoa flavor and a smidge of fruitiness. My only gripe is that if too cool of water temperature is used, the mouthfeel becomes waxy and a bit unpleasant.
Finally, I’m amazed by the amount of steeps I can get from this tea. The first time I tried it, I reached close to eleven, something this oolong lover was very happy about. However, I was certainly not used to the caffeine levels of black tea…I was buzzing all over the house after that much tea.