I’m revisiting this tea now after having set it aside for several months. I wasn’t feeling it then – perhaps because I didn’t love the Zhu Rong Yunnan Black base – and was curious what I would think of it now. I have struggled with the few Dian Hongs I’ve tried, which I found surprising since the typical descriptions of them – “cinnamon sweet with orange,” to use Verdant’s words as an example – sound so delightful. I will try more. Verdant’s is the only Zhu Rong I’ve tasted, in more than one tea (though all were blends, as I recall), and it didn’t appeal to me in other forms either.
I really want to like this tea, but I’m still not feeling it. My brain is making sense of it as a more sophisticated chai – a complex spiced tea with unexpected flavors to observe and discover – and wanting to appreciate it for being interesting even if not particularly enjoyable.
Overall, the flavor was muted, despite what I would consider a hefty amount of leaf/spice. I drastically increased the steep time (Verdant recommended 30 sec) to coax more flavor. Perhaps the bottom of the bag contained a disproportionate amount of heavier spice and zest bits, which I imagine would infuse more slowly than leaves.
Through each steep, a cinnamon-like spiciness remained the most prominent aroma. The first flavor to surface was a light smokiness, I assume from the Zhu Rong leaves. A citrus note in my first steep (208°, 30 sec) offered a bright orange flavor and in my second and third steeps (212° 1:30 and 208° 2:30) became moderately bitter, like some of the pith fell in along with the orange zest. In the fourth steep (also 208° 2:30) the bitterness mellowed, making way for a smoother cup, though still not an infusion that I found interesting or enjoyable.
Still, I would not consider this a “bad” tea, simply one that didn’t align with my palate in this moment. Perhaps on a different day I would thoroughly enjoy it – which wouldn’t be the first time my experiences with the same tea radically varied. Every experience is unique, there is no replicating, no consistency no matter how scientifically controlled the parameters are. Change is the only constant. This I find to be a magnificent lesson offered in every bit of our experience, and for me, quite succinctly through tea.
Flavors: Bitter, Cinnamon, Orange Zest, Smoke, Spices