Monday, 26 October 2009

The Yancha showdown

"Please don't give up on yancha!" Were the wise words to me from Nada. So I took four yancha teas and tasted them one by one over a day or so.

Jing Tea London Big Red Robe Supreme aka 大红袍

I ordered the 'Oolong Explorer' set that contained a 10g sample of this tea. It's priced at £20 for 50g making it the priciest tea in this comparison. The blurb on the website goes into detail of the exact source of the tea, saying that 5kg was obtained from a total production of 15kg reinforcing the idea that this tea is exclusive.

The aroma was captivating with a floral layer to it, something I wasn't expecting but it kept my nose at the pot for some time. The quality fragrance was accompanied by some fantastic qualities in the flavour and thickness of the soup. It had peaches and cream with a distinct oily character, a real joy to sip.

This tea made my day and hours after drinking it I was excited and alive about my experience with it. It surpassed my expectations by some distance.

Jing Tea London Cassia Oolong aka rou gui 肉桂

The second sample from this vendor in my little taste test. This tea is the cheapest of the two priced at £11 for 50g, almost half the price of the Big Red Robe.

I found it rather telling that the vendors website doesn't really say much about this tea, just one sentence.

"Full, firm and satisfying, with ample richness and lifted by unexpected grapefruit-citrus aromas."
Where is the history and the passion about the origins of this tea? 
I have found the tea to be a little uninspiring. It's not a bad tea experience but it lacks something distinct about it that says 'drink me!'

Teasmith Dark Rock aka shui xian 水仙

Just a short period of time from my first experience of this tea where I just didn't get a grasp of it, I'm having another go. Previously I brewed the tea in a gaiwan, which to my mind keeps the influence of the vessel to a minimum, but as with the other teas here I am using a pot instead. Price wise I'm trying to remember the exact cost but I think it was about £6 for 20g 左右 (or thereabouts), don't quote me on that!

Following John's instructions I am keeping the brewing times much shorter with his tea, starting at 15s and even so the first infusion is surprisingly coloured, much darker than I would of expected. After pouring into my chagang 茶缸 I immediately inspected the aroma of the pot, it starts off potently nutty and about 7-8 seconds later the sweet dark berry scent rushes onto the scene.

The flavour is markedly different from the Jing Tea London wuyi teas in this test. It's certainly less floral on the palette and given the colour of the soup being a richer amber the tea must surely be more roasted. If I am honest, the flavour of this tea doesn't capture my imagination, however, the chaqi 茶企 is very significant. After a few cups I am quite tea drunk.

The next step in my education of yancha 岩茶 and more specifically, shui xian 水仙, is to try another vendor. I have ordered a sample of Jing Tea Shop's (not to be confused with Jing Tea London) competition shui xian.

Golden Monkey Big Red Robe aka dahongpao 大红袍

This vendor is a place I am fond of as it's only 60 seconds walk from my front door and the proprietor, Maria, is a lovely, bubbly tea fan. It's a shop born of passion and love for a good cuppa, which gives it much merit from a spiritual sense. Her 大红袍 is the cheapest of the teas in this test at a snip under £10 for 50g.

Heavily roasted and dark, the soup is the deepest amber of them all. The aroma from the pot just after pouring has an initial quality that leaves me cutting my inhales short, the roasted smell gets right at you! Again there is a transition to a sweet aroma after a few seconds but it's not as enchanting as the 水仙 or Jing Tea London's 大红袍.

In taste it has the 岩茶 flavours on view but like the 肉桂 it leaves me a little flat. To the less enthusiastic tea drinker it might seem rather costly still but I this wouldn't be a bad place to have a little look at wuyi teas. Would I buy it again? I would have to say no, I just want more from my tea and I'm prepared to splash my cash for the finer product.

To recap :

Jing Tea London 大红袍 : Great flavour, soup and aroma. I loved it.
Teasmith 水仙 : Intriguing aroma and knock out chaqi!
Jing Tea London 肉桂 : Reasonable floral flavour but not captivating.
Golden Monkey 大红袍 : Entry level wuyi, heavy roast.

(front) broken and green Jing Tea 大红袍, (left) twisted and thin Teasmith 水仙, (rear) dark roasted Golden Monkey 大红袍, (right) large and green 肉桂。

What a great way to spend the morning, just me and some tea. I think I have rather overdosed on 岩茶 though, I should be as thin as a rake if all the silly weight loss marketing was to be believed. As a learner of tea it's very beneficial for me to keep trying various samples of tea instead of committing to buying larger quantities just on the vendors sales pitch. Even though it is expensive I would certainly consider buying Jing Tea London's 大红袍 again, there was something special about that tea that stood it out, it just felt right and I should follow my feelings.

"Spare £2 for a cup of tea?" asked the polite beggar in the street. He must be drinking some fine 大红袍!

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