Hong Tea Review
I was contacted by Yan at Hong Tea @hong_tea_chn and gifted some of their teas to sample and review. Both of the teas, Gushu Dan Zhu and Gushu Hancai Sheng have the kind of tea leaves I love to feel in my hands. Some of them are almost two inches long and stretch out and stand up on their own like the leaves of large spiders or Medusa's hair of snakes. (Maybe I should note that spiders and Medusa are two of my favorite things!)
The first one that I tried was their Gushu Dan Zhu, a Sheng pu'er with long, unevenly twisted leaves that were almost entirely the same shade of dark olive green. When steeped, the result is visually striking: what once was monochrome gives way to yellow, orange and finally red-violet shades. The liquor is decidedly "yellow gold" without a trace of green or rose. The aroma of the dry leaves, which was similar, but stronger in the wet leaves, was very fresh and forward with traces of cucumber, spruce, and spearmint.
The flavor of this tea is what I consider to be a classic smooth Sheng pu'er. I don't have a lot of experience with the concept of hui gan, but I believe I may have found it with this tea. There is a pleasant and mild bitterness at the front - like wilted baby spinach. The bitterness lightly touches the tongue and just when it seems it is going to settle it disappears, as if on a schedule, and reveals a faint sweetness that spreads throughout the mouth. Then, the back of the throat is cooled, as if by mint leaves, leaving the body in a mellow softness. This tea is smooth without any of the sharp "rhubarb" flavor I tend to pick up in young Sheng.
I sat with the team for about an hour or so enjoying progressively sweeter infusions steeped in slowly cooler water. I started with water just off the boil, but am now convinced it is the subtler notes that want to shine through, so cooler water it is!
The second tea I sampled, called Gushu Hancai Sheng, was a bit rougher than the first, but still pleasant. The fragrant leaves, also long and twisted, were olive, avocado, and silver. When steeped they became a bright artichoke green with brown and red edges and stems. The aroma of both the wet and dry leaves was very similar to the Dan Zhu, but stronger and and more lingering. The liquor was an almost perfect rose gold, with a touch more peach, and was oily in the mouth and had clusters of bubbles in the cup.
It was as if this tea knew it was the second one I was going to taste and was determined to outdo its older sibling. Where the Gan Zhu was sweet and minty the Hancai tasted of pipe tobacco and eucalyptus. While the Gan Zhu provided the experience of hui gan, the Hancai is definitely a younger Sheng that is a little warm in the back of the throat. Everything about this tea was brighter and bolder than the other one and I am looking forward to trying it again in a few months to see how it mellows.
I recommend finding @hong_tea_chn on Instagram and contacting Yan directly to inquire about their teas. Their old-tree teas are nuanced and delightful to drink!