Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tisane experiments; papaya leaf, and ginger with herbs and fruit

Kind of odd for a tea blog to keep going on about tisanes but some recent experiments were interesting.  The idea isn't to point towards a certain "herb tea" someone might want to replicate as much as describe that experimentation, which others may find of interest, or could take further in their own directions.

visiting tea friend on a Bangkok ferry

On the subject of tea (real tea) I did just visit a new local friend, and another friend visiting Bangkok I'd met before, and tried a nice Oriental Beauty that he picked up in Taiwan recently on a visit, and some darker roasted Tie Kuan Yin from there.  But somehow it didn't seem to fit as context for a blog post, as well to only include as mention that I really am still drinking teas, and I'll get back to those sorts of write-ups.

Papaya leaf "tea"

Somehow it seems unlikely most readers would take this in the direction I did, cutting off a leaf in the yard and testing out drying it.  I've ran across health claims related to papaya leaf tisane in the past, that it would cure cancer, which of course hardly seems worth considering, unless one has cancer, and then who knows, drinking it couldn't hurt.  If it does actually help with cancer that's an anomaly, given how such claims seems to go, random ideas that get repeated.

at the house, from 2013; took awhile to get to this

I wasn't trying to improve my health, more just curious what it would taste like, and how "processing" would go.  I'd expect it to be a bit bitter, although there is always the possibility of adjusting that with oxidation or roasting steps (or trying to; more messing around).  The version I made was as simple as could be; I picked a papaya leaf in the yard, a medium sized one, cut it to small pieces, and dried in on low heat in an oven for just over a half hour.

I was surprised that the "tea" was actually good (seems too strange to say "tisane" or "infusion," and awkward to avoid nouns).  The first impression was that it tasted a lot like pumpkin, at first like raw pumpkin, with a slightly roasted flavor that also resembled the pumpkin seeds taste.  I had expected it to be bitter but there was only a trace of that, a little like the taste of a dandelion leaf.

papaya leaf, fresh off the tree

The second time I tried it I re-roasted the tea to test the effect, stirring it in a slightly hot steel wok for a few minutes, careful not to singe the leaves too much.  I couldn't bring myself to actually brown the leaves out of fear of ruining it, although the color changed a little, and it would be possible to go that far with such a step.

The taste change after brewing it was amazing; it tasted almost exactly like roasted tomatoes.  Anyone that cans tomatoes would be familiar with that, or it's a great way to start on making a fresh tomato sauce.  After a few light infusions the taste shifted a bit back towards the earlier, non-roasted version, more like pumpkin.

For another experiment I might try oxidizing the tea (not that I actually know how), trying out crushing the leaves a bit and allowing more air contact before a heating step, and maybe adjusting roasting.  There is a good bit of papaya growing in the yard so I can keep borrowing leaves for the experiments, and this is the one way to know if something is really organic, to live with the plant.  In researching the health benefits (the next point) I ran across this how-to guide for drying papaya leaves for "tea," and it said just to hang them in a dark place, for weeks, and to let them dry like that.  Sounds a bit odd, really, although maybe related to the curing process for tobacco, which I'm also not familiar with.

oven drying chopped papaya leaf

I might mention a little about health benefits, while I'm at it.  A dedicated website lists out lots: cancer prevention, good for skin health and digestion, anti-parasitic, and it's a diuretic that support detox (somehow would sound better if they'd skipped that last part).  The Livestrong organization supported the anti-cancer claim, and mentioned an actual study related to it (although it's common for people skeptical of such claims to pick out flaws in study parameters or linkages).

Ginger with herbs and fruit

Due to having a cold I tried making a home-made ginger tea.  I can't say online claims suggest that's a good idea, that it works as a remedy, but somehow it made sense to me.  I should look up what is supposed to help since I'm getting colds too often lately.  I just read an article on the health effects of herbs ("The Healing Properties of Spices," really) and per that cardamom is supposed to help with colds, based on running down the standard claims related to masala chai spices.  I did add cardamom, just probably not enough to make a difference.

This seems a good place to mention that I don't put a lot of faith in the standard health claims for teas or herbs or spices but I don't disbelieve them either.  I've done some research for some tisanes in past posts and good references on health claims is hard to turn up, but trustworthy nutritional content references that suggest there is measurable nutritional value that would possibly help in some isn't so hard to find.

same general approach as recent masala chai trials

Related to just consuming ginger, when I was younger we would "juice" it, mix it with other vegetables ran through a juicer.  It's quite spicy but it doesn't take much milder vegetable base to offset some flavor, and probably best with a bit of apple to cut it further.  Dosage might refer back to what online research says is good for a cold, or how much ginger to use if that supposedly is, but we never added much.

Lately I've been making masala chai and experimenting with a Christmas blend (without any ginger), so messing around with tisanes is sort of a continuation of that instead.  I initially prepared this version to be like a tea-free masala chai:  

-ginger:  1 1/2" of one substantial root, very thinly sliced
-cinnamon:  a good bit of one stick, freshly hand ground
-clove:  spice powder (I didn't have cloves handy in whole form)
-cardamom:  spice powder (I do have cardamom pods on hand but that takes more messing around)
-mulberry leaf:  sort of a base used to replace tea
-rosemary:  dried spice version needles, just a bit to round out flavor
-salt:  just a dash

It occurred to me when tasting this that making a real tea-free masala chai would be tricky, and would require more working through that base flavor and structure.  It's hard to imagine how to really replace tea but I think cocoa could work to cover some part of that range (but then it wouldn't be caffeine free, although I would expect that the caffeine in cocoa is pretty limited).

After trying it the tea still needed something, so I added half an apple, ground with a hand grater.  I don't know if the resulting blend actually helped my cold but it was nice, interesting.  I didn't boil this version, though, just brewed it a lot of times to make quite a number of cups of "tea."

Making a masala chai last time I noticed an unusual thickness to that tea.  It wasn't a thick, full feel as some high-mountain oolongs have--or other tea types, in varying degrees and expressed differently--but a really substantial viscosity change.  This tea had that too.  Any ideas which ingredient was doing it?  I could imagine someone finding thick tisane / herb tea disgusting but it was just interesting to me.  But then I live in Asia, where one really can't be too squeamish about odd textures, or even about random smells encountered walking the streets.  I'm not into squishy textures enough to love most types of dim sum but I really do enjoy the Chinese desert of mixed beans, jellies, palm seeds, and lotus root over ice.

Both tisanes and versions of black teas are also native here but in the popular form Thais drink tisanes as single ingredient types, mixed with lots of sugar, prepared in jars and sold over ice in a separate part of food courts.  That blend I just described wouldn't ring a bell, and I've never heard of anyone here making a tea out of papaya leaf.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Revisiting making masala chai (Indian style spiced tea)

I had some unfinished business with masala chai due to buying spices to make it in Indonesia last December.   I since used those to make a tea that was really a variation of on as a Christmas blend, borrowing some aspects for that version, but still wanted to try a more traditional take.  We had a cold weather spell during which masala chai would have made more sense here a week ago--down to the teens Celsius, low 60s Farenheit, not all that cold--but I missed it, so I made masala chai when it wasn't "cold" here anyway.

The plan was to make a relatively traditional version, with ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom,  and vanilla.   Only the clove wasn't a relatively fresh version, since I only had ground clove to work with.  Ginger is sort of the central spice, as I see it, and I used ginger from a fresh root, grated just prior to making the tea.  I added salt, really an optional element, but in the right limited proportion it makes a big difference.

I did add one extra ingredient, one non-standard variation, based on experience from that Christmas blend,  adding a little orange zest (fresh grated orange peel).  Since I wanted to keep the original flavor profile I only added a little, relative to the other spices.  Based on that earlier Christmas blend experimentation, it would also work well to thinly peel the outer orange skin layer and dry it (on low heat in an oven for half an hour, maybe) and use the dried version later as an ingredient.  Steps like drying change flavor profiles a little, so that could work even better, or maybe not quite as well, or it might be equivalent but different.


The cardamom was from pods, the cinnamon ground from a stick on a grater immediately before, and vanilla from bean pods.  Ordinarily that would make for an expensive tea but those didn't cost so much in a Bali grocery store, at least if you don't factor in airfare to get there.  For tea I used a commercial grade black tea from Indonesia and a better black tea from Vietnam, tea a bit too good for blending, but it's what I had.

I'm no cardamom or spice expert but this was the input Wikipedia offers about types, and it seems clear enough it was "black cardamom:"

There are two main types of cardamom:

True or green cardamom (or, when bleached, white cardamom[10]) comes from the species Elettaria cardamomum and is distributed from India to Malaysia.

Black cardamom, also known as brown, greater, longer, or Nepal cardamom, comes from two species, Amomum costatum and Amomum subulatum, which are distributed mainly in Asia and Australia.

Production and tasting

tea and spices, a bit scary looking

I boiled it all for about 10 minutes, then strained out that tea to drink and re-steeped using fresh water twice to see what would be left, and the next two steeps were still plenty strong.  For whatever reason it made sense to me to boil the tea and spices some first then add the milk to boil some with milk included, but I don't think it made much difference to do it that way versus just mixing it all.

The tea was nice, a bit thick.  At first it seemed the salt level was too much but after adjusting milk and sugar level to offset the tea and spice strength it was fine, just better the second time when it had washed out, but still ok initially.

The clove picked up a little the second infusion, and the vanilla was strongest the third.  I think the exceptional thickness and creaminess was coming directly from the vanilla, but really that thick feel to the tea was hard to place.  A lot of times reviews will say an ordinary tea has a full body or feel to it but nothing like this; it was close to the effect of eating custard, nothing like using a good bit of milk would cause.

tea boiling with milk added

It made too much tea to drink in one sitting (although I did consume an outrageous amount of it, maybe four 10-12 ounce mugs of very strong tea) so I chilled the last bit to try later in a cold-tea version.  It was nice cold, just really, really, thick.

Lessons learned

In a sense the general approach was to try making this tea in a way that resembled cooking, to use trial and error, to mix the blend by feel.  I had made masala chai a few times before, when I first wrote a post about different recipe and process research and variations, and again when an intern from Nepal gave me a commercial pre-mixed version to work with, so this is the third time to experiment with it in a year.

The spice balance was ok in this version; it worked out.  I didn't really add enough cardamom to let that show through well but somehow it was more evident in the chilled version the next day.  In general the tea was probably too strong initially, but the nice thing about the tea type is you can dilute it with milk and add a little more sugar to compensate, even if the normal process is to just cook it in the final form, based on a recipe.  The varying forms of the spices made them stand out more in different infusions, since I prepared it that way, with ginger washing out first, and then clove picking up, as I'd noted.  There's something about how fresh vanilla shifts things that really made the overall effect work out, a depth it adds that pulled all the rest together well.

It's best to carefully limit the salt, and I didn't get that perfectly right, but it would've been possible to mix the first and second "infusion," but not necessary since it wasn't really that far off.  It was hard to really taste what the orange zest added since I kept that input level low to retain the normal general profile, but I think I liked it.

Related to tea dosage, it's best to make it for more than one person, but there just isn't anyone else in my household that will drink masala chai.  I think re-heating the tea later would work but I didn't try that.  The tea I drank when I first made it added up to a lot of caffeine to be taking in at one go but I think I felt the spice effects more.  I'm reminded of visiting Indian food lunch buffets as an intern a long time ago, how we would feel the effects of those spices in the afternoon, and imagined that we must have smelled like those spices (but we probably really didn't).  Living in Thailand I've acquired a tolerance for curries but it's a different mix of ingredients in those.

As for what to change, cooking time is always an issue, an obvious place for experimentation.  I only gave the initial version a 10 minute simmer, which was why the tea and spices could make two weaker batches / infusions after.  Some recipes (mentioned in that first post I cited a link for) called for two stages of short boiling mixed with long steeps, and other online anecdotal input claimed one could boil the tea and spice and milk blend for a very long time to get the most out of it.

The final "strength" or concentration level is also a good opportunity for adjustment; diluted to 1/4th the strength I drank the first batch at would probably make more sense.  But I liked it strong, and subjective preference carries the decision making.  As for spicing variation I've added nutmeg before, but there was already plenty going on for this version as it was.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Tea Side Thai Hong Shui dark oolong tea

An interesting tea!  It's always nice when you can say a tea matches your own preferences perfectly, and this one is very unique and close enough.  It's so novel that it's the kind of tea that takes a bit of tasting to get a complete impression of it, to really experience how much you like it versus being impressed by the novelty.

As background, this vendor, Tea Side (Facebook page and website link) claims to have "the largest collection of Thai pu'ers, oolongs, and red teas," which we could automatically translate to "pu'er-style Thai origin hei cha" and black teas (unless one is really attached to the literal translation from Chinese of highly oxidized teas as red tea instead of black tea, in which case, sure, they're red).  The teas really do live up to those claims; kind of odd they could pull off finding so many unique, nicer types to that extent.

 I'll get back to some additional review about the type but will go straight to what the tea is like first.

some dark looking tea


The smell is unique as well; strong dried dark cherries, with a bit of chocolate, not cocoa so much as that sweet rich smell processed chocolate has (so like cocoa butter as well, I guess?).  There is plenty of earthiness as context for that, with a uniquely dark appearance to the rolled-ball leaves, so an interesting start even before brewing.

brewed; prepared a little lighter would be just as good

The taste is sweet, with plenty of the cherry showing up, or maybe it's berry instead, mixed with some other layers of flavors, complex enough there's a lot to process, and other fruit aspects. The earthiness related to a dark wood, with some limited degree of cocoa in there, expressed in a way that's close to malt, and also something else.  There's an unusual taste element that really is reminiscent of gaba teas, a dryness, towards slightly sour, an aspect that's almost in between a taste and a feel.

In gaba teas (teas processed in a nitrogen environment to completely change the "oxidation" process to be something else, as described here in an earlier post) that same general component typically has seemed too strong to me in the past, taking over those teas, exhibiting almost as a sourness.  It's lighter here, so it tends to work better, less towards sour and more towards a hint of yeast, but I'm not sure I wouldn't trade it out for some more cocoa or something such.

brewed leaves

The dried cherry sweetness does diminish a bit across infusions and a cinnamon note picks up, which is nice, but that slightly dry element remains throughout.  The tea does vary a lot according to how it is brewed, surely much more than I'll experience in one try, so it would probably be possible to shift around the balance of flavors and adjust the feel.  It works well to brew the tea relatively lightly since lots of flavor remains and the way it is expressed seems to improve.

There's a creamy feel to the tea, which together with the sweetness, malt and cocoa aspects, and bit of berry / cherry fruit (and other fruit aspects harder to separate out) reminds me of one of my favorite dark oolongs, the Red Buffalo from Hatvala.

brewed Wuyi Yancha leaves, for reference

To back up, per the vendor description the tea is highly oxidized, within the range of oolong or else this would be a black tea, and it is medium roasted.  One might wonder if this is a standard part of the conventional style for the type, with a bit more on that in the next research section.

Per past review in a different tea type, Wuyi Yancha, or dark roasted oolongs from Fujian, China, some sources claim that a variety of roast levels relate to the preference choices and the tea type, and others claim that less oxidized and roasted relate to a higher standard of tea.  I can't resolve that based on my own experience but I have tried some really nice lightly oxidized and roasted versions, which really do match my preferences well, but also very nice teas prepared in other styles related to these factors.  This is probably a good place leave off and review a bit of background about the tea type.

Background and research:

Let's start with the Tea Side vendors take, quoted at length since there's a bit going on to look into:

Hong Shui oolong is an unusual and rare thai oolong with high degree of fermentation and of medium fire. It is produced from the specially selected leaves of Chin Shin and Jin Xuan variates... 

Taste: leaves of Hong Shui oolong are rolled into dark-brown, almost black, bolls and they have strong, captivating sweet smell. Brewing them you must appreciate the infusion - it has really ruby, cherry red color. This Thai tea possesses full-bodied and complex taste, spicy and slightly tart flavor with wooden notes. Distinctive fruity berry tones are in the foreground. Aftertaste hints of hazelnut. Somebody can compare Hong Shui oolong with red Gaba tea, but anoxic fermentation technology is not used in production process for Hong Shui.

Interesting, but lets go further by referencing some other descriptions and background.  Individual tea versions will vary, or even the same ones will vary with brewing changes, but the Tea Masters Blog claims this tea type should be relatively lightly oxidized, between 25 and 30%.  Of course even if there was one particular style connected with this tea type, and even if that doesn't match what I'm trying in this tea, I'm not so concerned about that; the tea is exceptional prepared as it is.

A "Some Tea With Me" tea blog post goes into some interesting description worth considering, of course about a different version of the same general type of tea:

Hong Shui is a slow and careful roasting of a flavorful rolled oolong. The roasting lasts a long time compared to other oolongs, interspersed with several resting periods to avoid over-baking the leaf. It requires great skill to produce the stone fruit flavors of Feng Huang and the charcoal dryness of Wuyi-style Yancha in a Dong-Ding-style oolong, often from a High Mountain (> 1000 meters) garden, without losing the sweetness of the underlying leaf.

Interesting!  I guess all that makes perfect sense.  I didn't completely get stone fruit from the tea I tried but I didn't feel like I'd completely nailed the brewing parameters either, that this might be the rare type of tea that responds better to Western style brewing than a gongfu approach, which I did use (prepared in a gaiwan using water not so much under boiling point, for what that's worth).  It's interesting to consider his flavor-list description of that version:

My favorite of the bunch was the 2013 Winter San Lin Shi Hong Shui. The brownish-green leaves have a heavenly aroma when warmed. A little bit like roasting butternut squash combined with the sweetness of ripe pear. After a few infusions I noticed the taste of smoked wood. It was something like almonds or cinnamon bark: a delicate sweetness underneath a woody flavor that lingers in the mouth. 

tasting assistant, dressed for a Thai cold spell

Of course that's not supposed to be a closely related tea, not even from the same country, from Taiwan instead, where these tea plants and the processing style originated.  All the same this is a rich and complex enough tea that it's easy to see how butternut squash and pear could possibly relate.  He also mentioned adjusting brewing technique to get the most out of the tea, and cha qi effect, which I never really notice all that much of, so maybe worth a read for others to hear a little about those.

In researching this post I also ran across a review of the same exact tea from one of my favorite bloggers, Amanda from "My thoughts are like butterflies."  Since I just talked about complexity in a tea, brewing variance, and how even suggestion can affect a take on a tea, I'll mention a little of her description.  Also tea bloggers absolutely never do that, quote other reviews, so it makes perfect sense for me to do so:

The taste reminds me of an ice-cream covered fruit cobbler, complete with crust. Sweet notes of peaches, plums, cherries, and dates dance with creamy notes in my mouth, and the aftertaste, oh how it lingers... As the fruity notes start to fade towards the end they are replaced with mineral notes and a gentle woody quality. One thing that never fades is the intensely creamy finish and subsequent aftertaste. 

It's kind of like that!  She brewed it Western style, which I often would but didn't this time.  This tea would come across differently depending on the strength one prepared it to, really better on the lighter side, which is an advantage to gongfu style brewing, having more chances to adjust that.  As complex as the tea came across it seems that brewing variations could change the tea a lot.  I hadn't considered how the dryness really could relate to more of a bread-dough / yeast taste element, or in her description cobbler crust, but it does match.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Wild Oolong mystery tea from Cindy Chen (back to Wuyi Yancha)

It's been awhile since the last mystery tea, although some of what I bought in Indonesia in December was a bit vague, not so much labeling in English.  This tea came with samples provided by Cindy, my favorite Wuyishan oolong producer (who can be contacted here).  Her teas are the subject of many blog posts here, like this one about some background on making Wuyi Yancha,, or a review of Shui Xian here, or a Rou Gui comparison review, or as a reference in another about which tea plant cultivars are used to make Da Hong Pao.

In asking Cindy about what the tea is I mentioned a potential problem I'm running into with tasting Wuyi Yancha, after going through a lot of trying them in the last half of last year:

Now it's hard not to put the teas on a scale of some being really exceptional, and others good, and others not quite as good, but really it makes sense to appreciate them for individual characteristics too, to not just try and make a hierarchy out of it, judging mostly as just better than others or not.  The tea was nice, interesting.

So there it is; it was nice.  Of course the point behind writing blog reviews about teas is to go a bit further, so I will.  I never did get far with discussing this tea origin with her, so it remains a mystery, because as everyone knows a lot of people in China are travelling now and spending time with family, so I'll get back to bothering her with questions later.  Also, happy Chinese New Year!

Comparison tasting:  Bei Dou

I've been off the Wuyi Yancha, and generally off the higher quality teas lately, instead drinking through some interesting but more conventional-grade examples I've ran across, from Indonesia and other places.  It's been nice to not try and describe teas for awhile, and to skip the write-up process, but I do have some really interesting research articles at different stages.

In order to place it against other teas and help my taste-memory I comparison tasted the tea against the Bei Dou I picked up from the Jip Eu tea shop in Chinatown (I've mentioned them in some blog posts, but I'll leave off with adding their Facebook page link here).

There are pros and cons of comparison tasting.  It helps identify some finer characteristics that stand out better when compared to another tea, but that really helps most when there is plenty of commonality so that you aren't tasting across too much context difference.  At worst it can be overwhelming, tasting different general types and comparing different taste and feel elements, and it all just muddles.  As a general rule tasting the exact same kind of tea works well.  But then I did try it with two very similar white teas (perhaps technically not Silver Needle, which they were sold as) and one having a strong smoky taste threw me way off any meaningful comparison.  Bear in mind all of this is just my own impression, not some standard approach or from an inherited body of knowledge, or "guidance from a master" type of instruction.

the normal look, "wild" on top I think it was

I could see how tasting the same tea type, say comparing a Rou Gui against another Rou Gui of a comparable quality level, could even be thrown off a bit by comparing teas roasted to a different level.  This would require accounting for that difference in assessing the two teas, since preference may shift the subjective impression as much related to that as the quality and other characteristics of the tea.  It's a completely different thing, and not a subject that's as clear to me as it might be, but the oxidation level from the preceding oxidation step--versus differences from roasting step--could also vary.

It may seem I'm drifting here for no reason, but the main point is that it's easy to mix different aspects of teas that don't have to do with the type or quality of the teas when comparing them, so over-all judgment could relate to a personal preference about one aspect and not so much about how other people would judge the teas.

This is a good time to mention / remind that Bei Dou is Da Hong Pao.  Confusing?  That linked post covers what Da Hong Pao really is, and the short version is that five individual plants represent the type, but at least two distinct plant types are derived from these, Bei Dou and Qi Dan, so any true Da Hong Pao is really one of these.  Of course it's not nearly that simple; that post covers a lot of the rest, but the final word is hard to pin down.

The tasting part:

The teas were similar in general type, enough so that comparison worked well.  The background of mineral and earth elements common to roasted oolongs of this general type was similar for both.  The short version might be that they tend to taste like mineral and dark wood, which people often describe as saying the teas taste like rocks, also a reference to the translation of the Wuyi Yancha type as "rock oolong."

The Bei Dou may have been roasted a bit more, coming across with just a little more "char" effect, but not in a way that took away from the effect of the tea, which really would depend on preference.  I've read a reference that said that better teas of this type are always relatively lightly roasted, allowing the tea characteristics to stand out, with roasting used to mask flaws, or even cover up mixing tea types, but it doesn't seem to be that simple.  Preference, the starting point leaf type, and producer choices and style also seem to come into play.  I have tried a few very nice lightly roasted oolongs of this type (but enough with the links already, so I'll not go there) and it does seem that perhaps the best versions of lighter roasts appeal to me the most, even though this Bei Dou is a good example of a tea that works really well in terms of style, individual characteristics, and overall effect.

In terms of taste the "wild oolong" has the same background going on, the feel and base flavors, but with a bit of cinnamon and a root-like herb as main elements.  The one component tastes a little like sassafras, but I get the impression I'm missing taste-memory of a range of possible root based herbs, and it was really in between sassafras and what better root beer tastes like.

The Bei Dou had a bit more of the interesting aromatic characteristic that comes out in better Wuyi Yancha, which is really hard to describe.  It reminds me of the effect one gets from smelling better perfume, or the smell of certain types of ink.  I've ran across a review that seemed to compare that one aspect to the taste of alcohol, and it's a little like that, and it seems like people tend to mix it with descriptions of the feel of tea, even though that's sort of a different aspect.  The taste range had a little more roasted effect, again not so easy to describe, not so much like charcoal, tied back to that sweet, rich, mineral-intensive and compelling fragrance in ink.  The sweetness drifted towards the fruit range a little more, closest to peach, covering the same range in the general flavor structure that a light cinnamon component did in the other "wild oolong."

wild oolong left, less oxidized ( / roasted?)

So both were nice.  There's a tendency to pick out a winner, to cite one as better in some way, maybe based on my preference, or even as objectively better tea.  If pushed to go there I'd have to say the Bei Dou is a better tea, but they were also just different.  Personally I'm really attached to that one aromatic component that comes out in better Wuyi Yancha, almost as much a feeling as a taste, and both exhibited it, more in the Bei Dou.  This cultivar (plant-type) version of Da Hong Pao is supposed to be especially aromatic, so this may relate to the plant genetics as much as tea quality, but to some degree all the inputs just come together in the final tea effect.

This Bei Dou example has a really clean feel to how the flavors are presented, if that makes any sense, with the "wild oolong" coming across as a very nice tea but just a little more muddled.  I've been running across a similar characteristic difference in a very different context in tasting black teas, comparing var. Assamica versions to other var. Sinensis types I've been more familiar with in the past.  Of course this is too general, trying to compare two different plant types and a completely different type of tea at that level of generality, with so many other factors coming into play, but as a very rough distinction--one so rough it's probably more wrong than right--it seems the var. Assamica based teas have an earthier, slightly muddled taste aspects presentation while the var. Sinensis come across as somehow "cleaner."

A tangent is tempting at this point since I've been discussing the relative role of processing input versus typical "terroir" related aspects and plant-type inputs some lately.  But I'll get back to that at some point, and will only say here that both processing and plant type potential seem to support different final aspects coming out in the tea.  It'll be a long time before I'd ever be able to guess at what inputs led to what aspects in teas but of course it's still an interesting subject.