Big Red Robe
I mentioned before that Big Red Robe is both a varietal and a blend. Here's a little more about that story.
Big Red Robe is one of China's ten famous teas. It originated in Fujian in the Wu Yi Mountains and is now also cultivated in the mountains outside of Anxi in the same growing area as Ti Kuan Yin.
There are several stories about the origin of the name of Big Red Robe, one that a local magistrate used the tea to cure his mother of an illness, and another that a traveling student preparing for his magisterial exam fell ill in WuYiSan and was cured by the tea. Both stories end with the magistrate removing his symbol of power and status as his most valued possession and offering it to the tea plant in thanks.
Big Red Robe is one of the most prolifically produced teas in WuYiSan and arguably more highly regarded than Shui Xian. It's cost has increased significantly - particularly in the last 3 years as it's popularity has increased. 2008 was the best and highest production year for Wu Yi teas in the last 10 years and Big Red Robe has seen the benefits of that bumper crop.
Prices have also dramatically risen in the last 4 years with prices doubling for generally the same grade of tea.
There is a new outdoor theater in WuYiSan with what can only be described as a Cirque-Du-Soleil style performance that tells the tale of the elements Wind, Water and Rock and how they bring life to the tea plant - in particular Big Red Robe - and how tea brings prosperity to WuYi. I was lucky enough to see this production in the round (the entire audience sat on a rotating platform that turned 360 degrees). It was directed and choreographed by Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and my favorite, Hero. It was unforgettably beautiful.
In the fields, Big Red Robe is prolific. We climbed Ma Tao San (Horse's Head Mountain) and there were several varietals of tea growing including Big Red Robe:
So what then is the blend Big Red Robe? BRR could be referred to as the "espresso" of teas. Each vendor blends their own, and often they'll have multiple blends for different markets or different clients. Mr. Lu had 7 custom blends of Da Hong Pao to choose from.
Generally speaking, the blend is a mix of Da Hong Pao varietal, But Dao (or north star), Rou Gui, and Wu Yi. Teas are also blended with and eye to cost. You could opt for a more expensive Da Hong Pao with higher quantities of more expensive varietals, and that varies year over year with the harvest. The price often sets the recipe for the blend.
This year I'm proud to present a Big Red Robe from the 2013 fall harvest that is being sold for half of the industry standard mark up. That means you're getting a tea that is several grades higher than is normally sold at this price. Please compare it to other grades of Big Red Robe and I think you'll be surprised at the quality as well as how many steepings you can get out of these leaves. It has notes of smoky burnt sugar, wood smoke, cinnamon, creamy brandy and candied orange with finishing notes of sweet brioche. View Big Red Robe tea here.