Monday, October 24, 2005

Anodyne on Hong Tao Mao Feng "Red Peach"

Hong Tao Mao Feng "Red Peach" Organic
Silk Road Teas
See more specifics about this tea in a previous review by corax

I had a brief acquaintance with this tea in a recent small sample from a fellow tea lover. I didn't get a chance to play around with it past an initial brewing, and it hadn't really grabbed me on the first trial run. In fact, I had forgotten I had even tasted it until I was reminded. My taste standard of excellence for a Keemun Mao Feng is now many moons in the past, a particular lot from Imperial Tea Court which had a unique 'chocolate and rose' character. But since this time (and these notes were from 1999), Keemun Mao Feng has seemed to change quite radically. It has become lighter, without the depth I seem to remember. But I keep hearing good things about this tea in a recent review here by corax and previously on another tea list from Michael and others, so I had ordered a quarter pound to further acquaint myself with it.

Certainly the Hong Tao Mao Feng is not remotely in the ballpark of the Keemun Mao Feng love of times past. And that comparison point inevitably crops up in my mind when I taste any Mao Feng Keemun (see notes from 1999 below). I am not sure it should even be placed in that comparison point any more, as KMF seems to have an entirely different 'profile' to me than it used to have. That said: I experience this Hong Tao as a very *fresh* tasting Keemun...youthful in profile...a mix of very subtle floral notes mixed with a fresh grain (wheat?) type taste. Not the heavy malty notes of Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Keemun Hao Ya, for example. This does not really have the full characteristic I think of as 'used tobacco box,' that faint hint of tobacco that clings to a box that used to hold tobacco, as opposed to sticking your nose deeply down into a humidor. This is actually closer in balance profile to Silk Road Tea's Golden Monkey (though of course not comparable in Keemun-ness), which I am also experiencing as 'lighter' than in times past, as well, though still finding a pleasing enough balance between the taste/aroma elements. The Hong Tao has those notes I think of as 'chocolate' in tone, but more like those dark choc bars with a high percentage of cocoa. There is a light sweetness at the end of the cocoa, a mix of something that is only very subtly honeyed and perhaps even a hint of the floral. It actually reminds me more of the Silk Road Tea Golden Monkey than it does, for instance, the Imperial Tea Court Imperial Keemun Hao Ya, though of course the Hong Tao has that unique Keemun flavor that is unique and not precisely repeated in Golden Monkey.

ITC's Keemun Mao Feng from 1999, a balance I've not found in a long time now in KMF from this source or others:

"My order from Imperial Tea Court arrived today, and I had the exquisite pleasure of opening 8 ounces of Keemun Mao Feng and inhaling...those wonderful cocoa overtones wafted out of the bag along with what almost seemed like a rose scent. Having been without this tea for a while, I splurged and brewed up a four cup pot to share between three of us. Next to Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan (another favorite), this particular tea has one of the deepest, richest aromas I've encountered. It's like sinking into a bed of velvet. The same floral hints of rose waft up....wonderful rich dried cocoa overtones and hints of spice. This isn't cocoa powder like the Hershey's version, but more like a richer Droste's cocoa powder. Not a 'woody' overtone at all in this smooth and mellow cup. (Pick your favorite Italian tenor singing 'Nessun dorma' and you might come close to the exquisite smoothness of this cup). A sweetness like nectar lingers on the palate after you swallow. The aroma in the empty cup actually 'blooms' as it sits around, gaining deep cocoa and spice overtones as the cup cools down. As I brewed it tonight (and hope to be able to duplicate!), it was perfection. " 2/18/99

ITC's current Keemun Mao Feng is not *remotely* like the tea I experienced in 1999. Somewhat like the Hong Tao Mao Feng from SRT, the ITC Keemun Mao Feng has a 'greener' edge to it. While it maintains that Keemun-esque aroma and flavor, it has a very different taste and aroma profile than the KMF 'of old.' Of course, that has prompted me to query 'why' many times. Are these 'lighter' Keemun Mao Feng teas being *purposely* produced? or is this simply a change in KMF over the years due to environmental factors?

This morning I have the Hong Tao Mao Feng against the Keemun Mao Feng from Imperial Tea Court as well as a Keemun Mao Feng I had from Harney and Sons. Of the three, the Harney has the 'darkest' aroma, made up of those notes of cocoa/spice/honey-maple sweet/even some level of smoke. Both the Hong Tao and the ITC Keemun Mao Feng have the 'greener' edge in aroma. In the Hong Tao, it seems more 'fresh' than 'green,' a combination of floral with the light cocoa and an almost wheat-y scent. The ITC KMF comes across as 'green' with an edge of pungency, and this does come into the cup as well. It is floral against a rather aggressive 'green' edge that, as I brewed it today, seems rather distracting. I might be able to mitigate this a bit by tweaking the brewing, but that 'green' pungent edge does seem part and parcel of this particular lot of tea. I am not overly fond of it. The Hong Tao has the more successful 'freshness,' with a smoother and more subtle balance. The floral, wheat, and cocoa all come into the taste, leaving a light sweetness that almost seems more connected to the floral than the usual 'honey' notes I find in KMF.

As corax notes in a previous review here, "this tea is what i would call 'elegant' rather than 'hearty.' the afghan hound rather than the st bernard." While it is assuredly not the KMF experience of old (and I confess I continue to wonder where that has gone?), this tea does have a delicacy of balance that is pleasing. I prefer it head over heels to the current ITC Keemun Mao Feng with that quite aggressive 'green' edge.

For those who favor greens and oolongs, I can see how this lighter but complex and 'fresh' tasting Hong Tao Keemun Mao Feng might well be more pleasing than a heartier 'darker' style. Even with my old KMF standard well entrenched in my imagination, I can appreciate the subtle and delicate qualities of this cup. It would be a tea I drink in a different 'mood' than the usual Keemun/Yunnan mood. The latter is a mood I associate with the richness and resonance of the cello (thinking of the Bach Suites for solo cello). The Hong Tao fits elsewhere...and I haven't quite placed it.

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