Last weekend, I was finally able to breathe through my nose again and, thus, was able to TASTE things again. What a relief it was (and is)! As a special treat to myself, I had my first side-by-side(-by-side) tasting of the same kind of tea from multiple vendors/sources.
(I’m about to go on a bit of a tangent, so if you want to skip ahead to my actual comparisons, click here!)
You know what… somehow I think I’ve managed to write this blog so far without really discussing what types of teas are my personal favorites. I’ve always enjoyed a nice black tea blend (especially the British blends so common in the UK) and oolong has worked its way up my charts in more recent months. Sometimes pu-erh is my favorite, but at the moment my tea life is dominated by oolong – more specifically, it’s dominated by Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) oolongs.
My first experience with Da Hong Pao was within the last few months. I received a glorious box of tea in the mail from my brother (currently living in Wuhan, China). I knew he was sending a package, but thought it was going to be quite small with a few samples for me to try. Boy am I glad I was wrong! It was a larger box than I expected and every last inch of it was PACKED with tea and teaware! It’s true… my brother is amazing.
In any case, one of the teas was listed on his helpful notecard as “Da Hong Pao: An oolong from Fujian across the strait from Taiwan – Spicy red flavor.” The idea of a “spicy red flavor” in tea was extremely intriguing to me and I ended up loving it. Since then, I picked up an oolong sampler set from Verdant Tea which included the Wuyi Mountain Big Red Robe and enjoyed some tea at Vital Tea Leaf where I ended up bringing home a good amount of their Aroma Red Robe.
I had read a bit about how one of the great ways to really develop your palate with tea is to have side-by-side tastings of the same tea type from different sources to get a solid feel for how the flavors can vary. I had wanted to do this ever since and was super excited when I realized I had 3 different Da Hong Pao teas in my cupboard!
And now… onto the actual comparisons!
As I was setting up my brewing “station,” I smelled each of the dry leaves for a starting point. The Verdant Tea one was pretty mild in aroma, but had a fun nuttiness to it, the Vital Tea Leaf one was mildly spicy, and the one from my brother was spicy with a touch of sweetness.
I only had time to infuse each of them twice, but I found it interesting that the line-up I set at random was actually going from mildest to strongest as far as the tea was concerned. To begin, the liquor (what we tea folks call the brewed tea liquid… totally not alcoholic!) went from lightest in color to darkest from left to right. Each was a lovely amber color, but of varying darkness.
On the first infusion, the Verdant Tea Red Robe had a nice, smooth flavor. There was something familiar about the flavor, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it and I still can’t, unfortunately. Maybe next time around it’ll come to me! I moved on to the Vital Tea Leaf Aroma Red Robe and it had a lighter flavor overall, but it was smoother with a lightly peppery after-taste. Finally, I came to the Brother Da Hong Pao and found it to have the lightest aroma, but it was more clearly spicy and peppery. The flavor itself was strongest of the three and it was distinctly spicy, especially in the after-taste. Delicious!
The second round of infusions was pretty fun and interesting to see the changes. The Verdant Tea had mellowed further in flavor and added a kind of sweetness. It had a cooling effect, which I found particularly interesting. It reminded me of a mint, but without a minty flavor, if that makes any sense. Next, the Vital Tea Leaf had also mellowed overall, but instead of a sweetness, it added a savory roasted flavor. This is when it picked up its own distinct peppery flavor that was particularly noticeable and fun. Finally, the Brother one had acquired a strong spicy aroma and drinking it reminded me of a lightly spiced, roast pumpkin. It was really interesting and fun!
For the individual reviews I posted on Steepster for each of these immediately following, check them out here:
More than anything, I just enjoyed trying these all together and dissecting the different flavors. I have two different Ya Bao teas now (one from my brother, one from Verdant Tea), so I think that’s going to be my next big side-by-side tasting!