Monday, December 8, 2008

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe)

Da Hong Pao is considered the strongest full-bodied Oolong comparable to a top "espresso" in the coffee world. Multiple infusions of this tea will keep offering a uniquely multi-dimensional oolong flavour along with a silky-smooth aftertaste. It is a really good (maybe the best) mild-tasting, mid-roasted tea from Wuyi Mountain.

From the internet:

Dà Hóng Páo (大红袍) is a very important Wuyi Oolong tea. Legend has it that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by a certain tea, and that emperor sent great red robes to clothe the four bushes from which that tea originated. Three of these original bushes, growing on a rock on Mount Wuyi and reportedly dating to the Song Dynasty, still survive today and are highly venerated. Less than one kilogram of tea is harvested from these plants each year, of which a portion is retained by the Chinese government. The remainder of this original and real Da Hong Pao is auctioned, with an initial asking price of 4000 RMB/100 g, but often reaching millions of dollars per kilogram[1]. Cuttings taken from the original plants have been used to produce similar grades of tea from genetically identical plants. Taste variations produced by processing, differences in the soil, and location of these later generation plants is used to grade the quality of various Da Hong Pao teas.

Xiao Hong Pao, or Small Red Robe refers to Da Hong Pao grown from plants of fourth or greater generation, but the term is rarely used. In some cases Xiao Hong Pao is simply sold as Hong Pao, presumably for marketing purposes.

As it's of very high quality, the Da Hong Pao is usually reserved for honored guests. (

On our last trip to Chengdu, we bought some of the most expensive as well as some mid-priced Da Hong Pao tea. Here are the results of the tasting of these teas.

This is the most expensive Da Hong Pao we bought. We had the store put them in little individual bags which is quite common in most of the area tea stores in Emei City.

The leaves are dark and tightly curled. This seems to be typical of Oolong teas all over China. I wonder if one can really tell if a tea is a Oolong just by looking at these leaves. I would say one probably could.

This is a cheaper version of Da Hong Pao. Quite frankly, I could not really tell the difference between the two. This seemed to have less tiny pieces than the more expensive but this is probably because it was taken from a jar with a lot of teas and the flakes and dust were probably on the bottom of the container.

A close up reveals the texture of the dark orange colored tea leaves. Again, I could not see any great difference between the two teas. Sunee fixed herself some of the cheaper brand and let me taste it. The Da Hong Pao I was drinking definitely had a stronger and more distinct flavor but is it worth the difference in cost?

The first infusion (steeping) came out fairly strong with a bit of astringency but not bad. The "floral" taste must be the woody or earthy taste I experienced. Now that I think about it, I can taste the hints of floral but it is a quasi-floral with no distinct tastes coming to mind. The astringency part was probably because I let it seep a bit too long before drinking it. Nothing as astringent as we experienced with our yellow tea, however. This was not altogether unpleasant.

This is the third infusion and it remains consistently "floral." The taste is a bit stronger than the Guan Yin Wang I tasted yesterday. The floral taste was much more floral in the later infusions. This is a great tea for special occasions. It is not cheap by any standards. Even the mid-priced Da Hong Pao was, for our small pocket book, quite expensive. I can see why this is considered in the top ten best teas in China. It is time to make plans to visit Fujian and find out where this tea comes from. It should be a great trip, don't you think?

These are the wet leaves after three infusions. I ended up using the tleaves another four times before discarding them. Probably could have gotten another two out of them if I had pushed it. Kinda makes the tea not so expensive after all.

Just to prove that the tea came from a Da Hong Pao tea bag. The bags were small, just enough for a gaiwan.