Tuesday May 29, 2012 | 2 comments
I love oolong teas for their flavor, complex character, sweet aroma, and stories. Chinese folklore seems to have a story for every tea invented. I enjoy learning how royalty from China and abroad have discovered teas and given them names. Here are some stories about my favorite oolong teas: Big Red Robe, Ti Kuan Yin, and Oriental Beauty.
Big Red Robe
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), tea from Fujian is reported to have restored a Ming dynasty official. In gratitude, the official left his red cape over the tea bush to protect it. Sometimes, this tea is called Royal Red Robe or Big Red Robe. It is one of China’s ten famous teas.
Big Red Robe oolong has large commanding leaves, slightly curved into a twist and fired a distinct flinty black color. This tea grows from rocky soil in the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian province. The tea bushes for this tea are cultivated from ancient tea bushes, which are over 500 years old. Tea farmers prune the tea bush to have one central trunk with a few branches. A small number of large leaves grows on each branch.
A distinctive “rock” oolong, this tea is 60-80% oxidized and roasted over a charcoal fire. Its processing gives the tea a faint, smoky tinge with sweet fruit and floral notes. In addition, this oolong is processed as a flat leaf, as opposed to the popular rolled oolongs. Each infusion brings forth delicious honey, peach, and apricot nectar notes. Big Red Robe has more floral notes, unlike the popular, fruity Ti Kuan Yin oolong teas.
Ti Kuan Yin
Kuan Yin (Guan Yin) is the only Chinese female deity. She is known as the Goddess of Mercy, believed to be the female incarnation of the many-armed compassion Buddha, Avalokitesvara. Ti means iron, referring to the iron jars used to store this tea.
According to legend, a Qing Emperor prayed to Kuan Yin to heal him during a bout of smallpox. She answered his prayer and then appeared in a dream. In the dream, she showed him a poor tea village. She asked the emperor to help the village people cultivate their tea bushes and prosper in her name. Each leaf has an imprint of the emperor’s and Kuan Yin’s thumb prints. These tiny marks distinguish the tea exclusively produced in the Anxi region of Fujian province. The emperor declared this tea famous, making it one of his tribute teas.
Traditionally, Ti Kuan Yin oolong tea is a slightly oxidized, rolled tea. It has a dark-colored leaf, featuring a persistent sweet apricot flavor with floral and honey notes. This style of tea manufacturing is similar to the famous Taiwanese oolong tea named Oriental Beauty or Eastern Beauty.
Taiwanese tea farmers discovered insect bites on their summer tea harvest. The bites slightly oxidized the leaf, releasing a sweet aroma. Initially, the farmers felt the tea was inferior and refused to sell it. Instead, they drank it themselves.
In the 19th Century, British traders saw the locals drinking this brew and asked to buy it. The farmers refused. Thinking the farmers were keeping the best tea for themselves, the British traders insisted. Finally, the farmers quoted a high price. The traders bought tons of the tea and brought it to Queen Elizabeth II. The aroma and fragrance captivated the Queen. She compared it to a beautiful lady, or an oriental beauty.
Most Oriental Beauty is oxidized 35-40 percent and has lovely honey and peach flavors. During the manufacturing and drying process, the bite marks turn white. The more white tips, the better quality the tea.
I hope you enjoyed these stories. Happy sipping!