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Tea Review: JING Tea: Big Red Robe Oolong Supreme (Da Hong Pao)

June 03, 2009

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red_robe_with_white_cranesBig Red Robe Oolong Supreme (Wuyi Da Hong Pao Wu Long) is Jing Tea’s offering of one of the most sought-after and famous of the teas grown in the Wu Yi Mountains. It’s like a more highly refined, noble and more costly big brother to lesser Rock Oolong or Wu Yi Oolong teas.

In general I really like the scent of the darker rock-grown oolongs and Da Hong Pao is especially pleasing. It is unlike oolongs from other regions of China and I find it difficult to describe because it is not at all sweet and does not have any similarities to any other flavors I can think of, except perhaps freshly air-dried tobacco leaves. More accurately, I should probably state that it smells like I imagine freshly drying tobacco leaves would smell. I’ve never been anywhere near a tobacco farm. The scent of the tea is completely unlike stale cigarettes, pipe smoke or anything tobacco-related and unpleasant and it is not at all smoky. It’s warm and dark.

Big Red Robe Oolong Supreme brews into an enjoyable liquor, one that will seem quite unfamiliar to those who have never tasted it before or tasted any of the lesser oolongs grown in the same general area. It deserves slow attentive brewing and serving: Gongfu style in a yixing pot dedicated to brewing only this type of tea is ideal. Its flavor may drop off significantly in a second infusion, but it will remain interesting for at least four infusions.

Wuyi Mountain is quite a remarkable area of China, and it is not at all surprising that it would yield such noteworthy teas. The area is the source of a great number of legends, some about Da Hong Pao itself, some about all manner of other topics, such as the boat shaped rock formations up on the cliffs.

da_hong_pao_01One of the legends surrounding Da Hong Pao is relayed here, excerpted from Journey to the legendary 400 year old Big Red Robe trees., on Jing Tea’s website:

The original Big Red Robe trees found their name after a Ming dynasty mandarin attributed his survival of a serious illness to their curative powers. He was travelling to Beijing via the Wuyi Mountains and fell ill. He rested in a small hut and was tended to by a Buddhist monk living in another hut a few feet away. The monk picked leaves from three tea trees growing above them on a cliff. He made tea from the leaves and the mandarin drank the restorative liquor daily and made what was considered to be a miraculous recovery. The Mandarin then returned to Beijing and related his experience to the Emperor.

The Emperor deeply loved and respected the Mandarin, and sent his imperial scarlet robe to be draped over the bushes. These same three trees still survive today. Leaves are picked from them every year and made into tea – perhaps only a few kilos depending on the weather conditions. Many consider these trees to be too old to produce good quality oolong tea but it is still amazing to visit these trees as a living part of history. The setting is stunning and countless Chinese tourists visit the trees and the local area every day.

Big Red Robe Oolong Supreme (Wuyi Da Hong Pao Wu Long) is an excellent and distinguished tea, one that provides a very different drinking experience from more common varieties of tea. I would caution against buying teas called Da Hong Pao from retailers of unknown reputation. They could be fraudulently marketing a lesser tea under the famous tea’s name. However, Jing Tea’s Da Hong Pao is reliable and trustworthy. The tea will get to you and will be exactly what it says it is. And more than likely you will also get a great deal of enjoyment from the cups of tea brewed from it!

Note: The painting accompanying this post has nothing to do with emperors, tea or legendary red robes. It is Red Robe With White Cranes, by Jin Gao, oil on canvas, 40 x 29.9 in., 1996.

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