Imperial Da Hong Pao - 2011 Spring Wu Yi Oolong Tea
Name: Da Hong Pao
Alternate Names: Big Red Robe; Emperor’s Long Red Cape; Emperor Tea
Harvest: Spring, 2011
Growing Region: Wuyi Shan Scenic Area, Fujian Province
Da Hong Pao (English: Big Red Robe) is by far and away the most famous and revered of the four most famous varietals (四大名樅, Si Da Ming Cong) from the great category of oolong known as “Wu Yi Yan Cha,” or Wu Yi Rock Teas. It was hand harvested and processed in the Spring season of 2011 inside the Wuyi Shan National Scenic area at an altitude of approximately 800 meters above sea level. The roast was performed traditionally over charcoal for a total of approximately 20 hours.
The name of this tea comes from a legend with many different variations. The main drift of these legends is that someone in the royal family, usually the Emperor, fell ill with a potentially fatal illness of some kind. To cure this illness, the Emperor was served a brew made from the leaves of a particular group of tea plants from the Wu Yi mountains in modern Fujian. The Emperor was so moved by the mystical life-giving powers of these unique tea plants that he had fine Royal Red silk robes, a sign of their divine status, made for the trees to keep them warm and protected during the cold mountain winters.
Three of the original Da Hong Pao trees are still alive in the Wu Yi mountains today, and they are a huge tourist draw for the region. Leaves are still harvested from these trees on an extremely limited basis, and are by far the most precious tea leaves in the world. These rare productions from the original Da Hong Pao trees are considered Chinese national treasures and are reserved exclusively for the highest Government officials and visiting dignitaries. In 2004, 20 grams of tea produced from the original trees were sold at auction in Hong Kong. The selling price for this 20 grams was approximately US $21,000, or well over $1,000 US Dollars per Gram!
Appearance, Flavor & Aroma:
This tea’s dry leaves are the long and twisting shape and dark greenish red-brown color characteristic of traditional Wu Yi Yan Cha. The fragrance of the dry leaves is predominantly of dried fruit and roasted barley…gentle but rich.
The flavor of the thick and almost oily reddish-amber infusion has bittersweet, woodsy and toasted barley or other sweet grain type flavors that are balanced out nicely with interesting fruity elements. The tea flavor is definitely assertive, and the aftertaste is lingering, profoundly woody-sweet and builds steadily in the mouth over a series of infusions.
We strongly suggest Gong Fu style preparation with this tea. Rather than sticking to a specific weight of tea leaves to water volume measure, we recommend simply filling your gaiwan or Yixing style teapot 1/3 to 1/2 full of dry tea leaves, use water just under a boil and a series of short steepings. If you prefer to use a weight to volume measure, try starting with 8 grams of leaf in a 150 ml gaiwan or teapot.
For Western-style steeping, start with 2-3 grams of leaf (it’s hard to give a volume measure in teaspoons because of the large leaf style) per cup. Use water under a boil (195 degrees F), and steep for 3-5 minutes. Adjust the amount of leaf, steeping time, and water temperature used according to your preference.
I also highly recommend either using aroma cups with this tea or at least remembering to smell the lid of the gaiwan or your empty drinking cup. The aroma that lingers on the surface of the ceramic surface is amazing and well worth savoring.