Red Circle Tea
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Recent Tasting Notes
This tea epitomizes what Red Circle is about: bringing the most rare, unique, and high quality teas straight from the tea artisans to the western world. This a tea they actually worked with a Taiwanese monastery co-op to produce—it took them years to persuade them to produce the tea especially for Red Circle! The resulting tea is really fascinating… it’s not a flavor everyone could enjoy, but the quality and complexity is apparent. It’s a tea that no connoisseur should pass up.
The tea is a fully oxidized black (or “red”) tea, which is unique in and of itself for a tea coming out of Taiwan… Sina & Carnie (Red Circle co-founders) explained that this tea is a hybrid between a Taiwanese oolong varietal of tea plant and a Burmese Assam plant!
The flavor is somewhere in between as well. The tea is extremely malty, but also smooth like a Chinese black tea. Along with that comes this amazing minty menthol note that you might find in a puerh tea. However, this is mixed with a sweet fruity aftertaste. It’s balanced, complex, and totally different than any other tea I’ve ever tried.
The leaves are beautiful too. Long, twisted, and unevenly oxidized, indicating the hand processing. Oh yes – that’s one more thing that is unique about this tea. It’s entirely hand-processed, in a traditional style that died out years ago.. it took 100+ hours to make a few pounds of tea.
It’s great to hear Sina & Carnie talk about how the monks cared for the teas too. The tea is organically grown, and the monks fertilized the plants with only soybeans and honey. They carefully applied fly tape around the bushes as the only form of “pesticide.”
Perhaps some of this story is part of why I enjoyed the tea so much, rather than the flavor alone. But that is also part of enjoying tea – feeling connected to the larger world you are in, and appreciating the cultures and people from which tea comes. Appreciating this tea is my way of honoring the work and love that these Taiwanese monks poured into making this ancient yet also modern tea.
I wasn’t sure how to categorize this tea. Liuan/Liu An is not a puerh, but that might be the closest flavor profile it resembles! However, this Liuan Jasmine that Red Circle introduced me to is really like no tea I’ve ever tasted.
It was almost sad to drink this tea, because it’s a soon-to-be extinct masterpiece! As Sina and Carnie (co-founders of Red Circle) explained to me, this tea used to be consumed by the locals in the region where it was produced (Anhui province), but people don’t really appreciate anymore. The farmers who knew how to make it have passed away. The only (very old) living farmer who knows how to make it won’t do so anymore, saying that no one knows how to appreciate this tea anymore.
This tea had medium body and a strong “grains” aroma to it, like smelling freshly baked whole wheat rolls.
Despite the name, the tea does not use jasmine flowers, or at least not the ones we normally think of in association with tea—instead, the tea offers tiny scarlet orchid flowers, picked from the Anhui region. The flowers add a gorgeous aroma and sweet flavor, a little like bing cherries. It is a very grounding tea, and extremely smooth.
This tea is a real treasure, and even moreso knowing that it is soon to be extinct! A tea like this Liuan Jasmine is a refreshing change, where a tea lovers gets to push the limits to experience what a rare, quality tea can really be like.
Red Circle never fails to impress me with their teas. I always think I know what most tea profiles taste like.
If I say “well, I don’t like xxx type of tea very much” they say, “Are you sure? Have you tried our special reserve xxx?”, and they introduce me to new tea flavor horizons that I could never have imagined. These horizons are always amazing to explore, especially with two enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides Sina and Carnie (Red Circle’s co-founders)…
On to the tea. This tea is not sold on their website, but they sell it by request and at their tea tastings around San Francisco. I am not usually a big fan of Phoenix Oolongs.. too much floral aroma and not enough body. However, this tea is one of the few exceptions to that generalization for me.
First of all, the leaves are much less oxidized than the common Phoenix Honey/Milan.. each leaf is huge, about 3 inches long, and they really do look like little yellow sticks in the gaiwan.
The tea itself brews to a rich yellow, and has a soft floral aroma similar to other phoenixes. However, this one has more substance. Rather than just being an ethereal jasmine or almond blossom scent, this smells like earthy cooked peaches.. peach pie and plum jam! Yumm.
These flavors translate into the liquor as well. Lots of rich fruity flavor, complemented by an unexpected peppery finish. It’s not black pepper – it’s more of a white pepper note that you’d find in Hot Sour soup at a Chinese restaurant. It’s random, but it somehow goes perfectly with the roasted stonefruit notes of the tea.
I’m still getting to know this one.. it’s quite complex. Each time I brew it, it keeps revealing a new layer.. this tea is one of the many treasures that I enjoy discovering at Red Circle :)