I’ve had some time to seriously evaluate this tea. When I first tried it, I did not care for it in the least, but it has grown on me to a certain extent. I think that it is a tea with which one has to be realistic and evaluate it for what it is.
First, let me be clear. This is not a Zheng Yan Da Hong Pao. It is a Ban Yan Da Hong Pao that comes from an area of Fujian Province just outside of the Wuyi Mountains. That should be obvious. If this tea were a true Zheng Yan Da Hong Pao, I would not have been able to acquire 1.76 ounces of it for $6.50.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After performing a quick rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 195 F water for 5 seconds. I followed this initial infusion with 10 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were 8 seconds, 11 seconds, 15 seconds, 22 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute 15 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes. My steep times were a little weird because I kept getting distracted, but overall, I found that this method worked well enough.
Prior to the rinse, I noted that the dry tea leaves produced a musty, slightly vegetal aroma with pronounced hints of char, minerals, wood, and tobacco. After the rinse, I noted strong aromas of limestone, burnt molasses, wet wood, moist earth, leather, and tobacco with hints of nuts and flowers. The first infusion produced a similar, though slightly more floral, fruity aroma. I found that the mouth did not follow the nose. The tea was initially bitter, offering a wash of bitter chocolate, burnt molasses, black walnut, hickory, leather, fresh tobacco, pipe smoke, char, wet wood, and moist earth chased by limestone. Subsequent infusions grew gradually lighter and somewhat sweeter. Aromas and flavors of dates, raisins, yellow plums, chrysanthemum, and marigold began to express themselves as the earthiness, leatheriness, bitterness, and char began to fade a tad. The limestone presence seemed to increase on each subsequent infusion. By the final couple of infusions, a mild, mineral-laden nose was chased in the mouth by dominant flavors of limestone, wet wood, bitter chocolate, nuts, and tobacco, while fleeting impressions of flowers, dates, burnt molasses, and raisins were just barely detectable beneath them.
So, as far as Da Hong Paos go, I found this one to be rather odd. I have been a bit spoiled when it comes to this type of oolong, as I have grown accustomed to sweeter, more layered examples as of late. Comparing this tea to something like the Da Hong Pao offered by Whispering Pines Tea Company (which is the most recent tea of this type I have consumed) makes an interesting, albeit unfair comparison. This tea is sharp and to the point. It lets you know more or less exactly what it is about up front and it proceeds to present you with subtle variations with each infusion. By the time it finally fades, you’ve known where it was going from the start. The latter was more nuanced and mellow. It offered new, intriguing, and often highly pleasurable twists and turns over the course of a session. This may sound pretentious, but in my mind, drinking these two teas and then diving into a back-to-back comparison kind of struck me like listening to something like Marquee Moon by Television and then jumping straight into something like Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall. I went from a tea that was poised, sophisticated, and nuanced to something that was at times harsh, jagged, repetitious, and confusing, but not without its own charms. Getting back on track here, I can say that I ended up rather enjoying this Big Red Robe. It was interesting and oddly satisfying in its own weighty and slightly prickly way. Perhaps strangest of all, I could maybe see myself drinking a tea like this more frequently than something presumably higher grade just because I enjoy its quirks.
Flavors: Char, Chocolate, Dates, Floral, Leather, Limestone, Molasses, Plum, Raisins, Smoke, Tobacco, Walnut, Wet Earth, Wet Wood