Thursday, March 26, 2015

Comparison tasting Wuyi Yancha teas, Dahongpao and Rougui

A chance vendor contact (Cindy,  FB contact here) recently sent me some samples of different teas, yancha or "rock oolongs" from Wuyi, China, and since I've already been trying similar teas lately it seemed a good chance to try different types of tasting approaches.

I reviewed the Rou Gui (or rougui) in the standard format in the last post so this is about me reviewing one other Da Hong Pao (or dahongpao), and about trying combined tastings to sort out more details about the teas.  Part of that worked.

2011 Dahongpao

2012 Rougui (reviewed in an earlier post)

Dahongpao tea from Cindy (same provider as last Rou Gui): 

The Dahongpao from Cindy was a smooth and balanced tea with great flavors, feel, and complexity.  It had the typical distinct earthy,  mineral, complex dahongpao flavors.   Good sweetness, good earthy tone,  towards leather.  The tea had a nice feel to it, very rich.  Evenly balanced flavors combine but a cinnamon spice note stands out.  There is so much sweetness it almost seems like the earthy flavors correspond to a fruit element, something like dried apple, or maybe towards apricot.

As I tried these different teas it became clearer and clearer to me that a list of flavors or even feel or "body"--sense related attributes--don't really describe the teas well.  In some ways other reviewers that don't start towards trying to fully describe what individual teas are like, and instead just communicate a couple details and a general impression, might do the tea more justice for saying less.

The complexity in these types of tea is a different thing than the experience of a black or green tea, where that might work better, as a list of flavors and a little about feel.  Someone else might venture some analogy with pu'er, but what do I know of that; it's likely a bit more complicated yet.  Back to reviewing anyway.

On the second infusion flavors shift towards the earth elements, leather and wood, with  the spice and sweetness diminishing.  Still plenty of sweetness but less, a more normal level.

Third infusion:  still good tea, just less complex and sweet, earthier yet.  In some cases dahongpao can shift to some more unusual musty flavors an infusion or two in but this tea didn’t.

Other Dahongpao from the Buddhist temple (see separate post):

Not bad in comparison,  but quite different.   A rich toffee and coffee flavor element stands out, which I'd essentially missed in the first tasting.  It was much easier to pick up in comparison.  The tea seems sweeter and less musty than I remember,  possibly due to variance in brewing.

this dahongpao

The coffee / roasted flavor element is a bit towards charcoal, which could relate to an effect of aging the grower and vendor mentioned, that a smoky or charcoal effect will diminish over time.  The next question is if this relates to any use of smoke, which seems unlikely,  or to the effect of the oxidation process,  the roasting process, which seems more likely.  It was a nice element that complimented the tea but I'd need to remember the taste and try again in two years to really see the difference.

This tea could be slightly more oxidized than the other dahongpao, but difficult for me to determine given both are relatively oxidized in the oolong range, towards a black tea but not that much.  The question is related to the typical dahongpao range, a finer distinction than I usually try to make or really could make.  With the right kind of training and experience it should be easy enough to factor out other flavor influences and estimate a percentage accurately enough; I'm just not there yet.

Combined tea type tasting notes:

I tried tasting the two teas from Cindy at the same time, the dahongpao and the rougui.  It sort of didn’t work.  When tasting the two dahongpao together it made it easier to appreciate the differences between the teas, separating individual taste components, and to some extent even what was common to both, the shared context, the nature of the dahongpao tea type.

In tasting two different types together instead of specific flavor elements becoming clearer it was just too much.  I could appreciate both were nice teas in different ways, and shared some common elements, but in general both were quite different.  Instead of it becoming easier, for example being able to compare the earth or fruit elements, my palate just got overwhelmed and confused.

tea apprentice palate-training with an oreo

I never really did get any closer to pinning down that one taste component in the rougui tea.  It tasted like perfume smells, quite sweet and aromatic, except it seems like perfume would probably taste terrible.  It wasn’t exactly floral, or spice, or something I could specify, although then again it seems possible it was really floral or spice (or a mix of both).  It doesn't help that I'm not that great with knowing the smell of lots of different flowers.

There was some sweetness, earthiness, good feel to the rougui tea, flavors that inclined toward fruit or floral components, but it came across as one continuous flavor range, and really nothing new from comparison tasting.

In the past I’ve had the experience of learning how to taste a specific unfamiliar component by trying the tea a few times, and then it would just hit me what it was, even though it was always right there in front of me.  Part of that relates to a number of different flavor and other elements coming together in the tasting.  Also sorting them out takes practice, so even something that should be obvious like malt or cocoa can seem to blend in at first.  This might be a different case though; not sure.


Nice teas; I liked all of them.  It's probably as well to not get too swept up in descriptions, interpreting feel, concerns about aging and grading, and so on, and just enjoy the tea.  Which I did, along with a good bit of that other stuff.


  1. thanks! I reviewed a nice Indonesian black tea not long ago but haven't got around to visiting Indonesia or checking out the teas there much. But I will :)

  2. Some DHP are rebacked after maturing. This (besides other factors) may explain differences in you DHP samples.