Written by our guest blogger Victoria @tea_and_symphony
I started drinking tea largely because I don’t like coffee, but still wanted a tipple that provided caffeine and comfort. I used to (and occasionally still do) make a big pot of strong black tea or Earl Grey and drink it with milk from floral cups with matching saucers. Unlike many aficionados, I don’t remember how I first got interested in true tea. I just started ditching tea bags in favour of the whole leaf and drinking more oolongs, white tea, and puer. That remains the bulk of what I drink now, but every so often I crave the comfort and liquid wisdom that only black tea can give me.
Possibly because it’s the most well known in the west, and perhaps because of its association with dusty tea bags and milky cups of earl grey being stirred with sugar cubes, black tea seems to get short shrift in the serious tea world. And while those on the gong fu tao cha wax lyrical about pricey Jin Jun Mei and rare black teas grown in Laos or on Hawaii or on Neptune, the bulk of Hong Cha gets largely ignored in favour of more novel or sophisticated Puer and Oolong.
I’m hoping to start a Spartacus moment standing up and proclaiming that I like black tea! Today I’m drinking a casual, conventional, conservative but nonetheless compelling Dian Hong.
Diān Hóng 滇紅 is grown in Yunnan province in southern China and is characterised by its “golden tips,” the leaf buds that lead to the golden colour of the dry leaf. It is made with the C. Sinensis var. Assamica large leaf variety. While this tea isn’t breaking new ground in tea production, it is by no means low quality or boring brew. This particular Dian Hong comes from the Fengqing region, from which a lot of shu puer (often also made with bud-heavy pickings) comes.
As this is a bud heavy black tea, it brews a bit lighter both in strength and in colour than a tea made with larger leaves. Tea buds are covered in little fuzzy hairs. When brewed, these come off into the liquor, making it thick and velvety in texture. The liquor is a luminous burnt orange colour.
The taste reminds me of malty wheat bread, black pepper, molasses, and hay. There is also a slight menthol or camphor note, particularly on the finish. The result is a cuppa that is refreshing in a relaxed way, rather than brisk. Grounding and comfortable, this is the kind of tea I need when I don’t want to focus on tasting notes. It’s a slow sipper than can keep me going on the rare occasions when I’m focused on things other than tea. It hits the proverbial spot.
Origin: Fengqing, Yunnan, China
Harvest time: Spring 2019
Leave colour: Fuzzy golden yellow and dark brown (Predominantly buds)
Liquor colour: Orange, rust coloured but crystal clear
Tea aroma: Dried grass, malt
Tea taste: Dark caramel, molasses, black pepper, camphor
Steeping/brewing: I used 5g of leaves in a 100ml gaiwan, and water just off the boil, 99˚C. First infusion was about 5 seconds, and then increased in ~5second increments for each next infusion. It gave me 7 good steeps
Shelf life: Up to 2 years
Cultivar: Da Ye Zhong
Texture: Smooth, velvety
Finish: Short, refreshing, minty
Body Sensation: Mildly uplifting