Four Directions, Four Tastes
There are dozens of Dan Chong tea varietals I am now experiencing that I’ve never had before. Some are sweeter, smokier, richer and all of them served up thick here in Chu Zhou. Chu Zhou style tea is about 8 grams of tea in a gaiwan that would normally serve 2 or 3 grams of tea here in the US.
It’s steeped up to a dozen times, steeping temperature is just at the boil, and steeping times are instantaneous or at most a second or two and the tea is incredibly concentrated and bitter to begin with. It was extremely difficult to taste tea with the intent to buy it because 1) the tea was so thick, and 2) the water is completely different from the water I will later use to brew and drink this tea with and what will that mean to my clients?
To address issue number 1, it’s important to revisit those formative years; you remember: the first few times you tried make it to Dan Chong tea. You guessed at what it was, not knowing exactly what to do with it and decided to treat it like a Ti Kuan Yin. You gave it a few minutes to unfold in the tea pot or gaiwan and what came out tasting like poison. You almost spit it out. Bitter, sour, potent and terrible. If you had water afterwards, and if, if you paid attention to the after taste, you might have also noticed that eventually, if you had a good tea to begin with, that bitterness changes. It evolves. It turns sweet. It gave way to a sugar cane taste, sweet fragrant top notes that hover on your palate. But that’s only if it’s good tea, very good tea. This is how you drink Chu Zhou tea with Chu Zhou farmers and choose the best among all the teas: how does it evolve?
Tasting tea in Chu Zhou was this hard with each tea we tried: Big White Leaf, Little Brother, Duck Shit fragrance (I’m not kidding, and it smells lovely, and nothing like duck shit) Lang Choi, lovely vegetable, Lao Chong, Old Tree and Song Zhong - Song dynasty style, Ba Xian, Eight Fairies. Each was rough and difficult to appreciate. It took minutes between each steeping to let the flavor linger and speak for itself. Smelling the cup for aroma after all has been drunk. Over and over again for house, letting the top notes come through to let me know wether this was a tea worth buying or not.
After days of tasting both on the farm and at Mr An’s house there were only 4 teas that met this criteria and I bought each of them: Little Brother Dan Chong, with notes of berries and fruits, this is a juicy tea great for summer and fall. Purple Orchid Dan Chong with a creamy, caramely cinnamony spicyness,a rich and decadent tea and and Yellow Orchid, with floral perfumey high notes and Old Tree White Leaf - an amazing oolong tea with a serious “wei gam” or a deep note tasted in the throat. These teas represent the spectrum, beauty and complexity of Dan Chong teas and I am proud to share with you artisan teas that are made with hands that carry on traditions of Chu Zhou. These teas will be available for sale the third week of May.