Friday, March 09, 2007

Anodyne on Yangxian Hong

Prerequisite reading for the following tasting notes is corax on yangxian hong, posted March 3, 2007, in which he gives in-depth information about these teas. As corax notes, the teas in question are “yangxian hong from three different sources: grand tea, taishuanhe, and a third unnamed source [call these #1, 2, and 3 respectively].”

I am merely adding in my own tasting notes here from samples I received from a friend, not sourced directly through a tea vendor. I have prepared the teas rather differently from corax. In my case I brewed each tea with 2.3 grams of leaf in 6 ounces of boiling water for a 4 minute steep in a porcelain cup. I chose this particular cup as it has a way of catching and holding onto aroma better than some of my other cups. It has a narrower base and more fluted mouth that somehow really helps concentrate aromas nicely. I chose this particular brewing as it was the way I’d most likely brew the teas on a first encounter. Alternate brewing methods are indicated as well.

#1 Yangxian Hong from Grand Tea

While steeping, the tea first shows a light honey and fresh flower-still-in-the-bud scent. This is not as pronounced as full floral but a more muted floral. Think of how smelling a bud differs from the actual flower in bloom. It can smell almost more fresh and green than floral, yet with a hint of what is to come.

As the tea steeps 2-3 minutes, it develops that familiar light toasted grain note.

Once the leaf is removed, the liquor retains a subtle honeyed sweetness in scent. As the tea cools slightly, the honey sweetness fills in with some spicy notes. The mellow toasted grain fills in the background of the taste and some of the honeyed sweetness lingers briefly. As I brewed it today, this cup stays quite mellow with a refined rather than a rustic character.

#2 Yangxian Hong from Taishuanhe

While steeping, this tea isn't showing the more pronounced honey and fresh floral bud notes of #1. The aromas are heavier and a tad more earthbound. There is a sweetness to the scent. It is not the pungent honey sweetness but a sweetness I associate with grains (think of those tiny toasted wheat puffs).

Once the leaf is removed, this tea has a heavier and thicker scent than #1 with more emphasis on the bass. There is just a hint of that slightly woody note I find in some of the China black (red) teas.

As the tea cools slightly, the aroma deepens even more and the sweetness does become lightly honeyed. If #1 was a lighter floral clear honey, this tea is more like a darker and more opaque Forest Honey with hint of molasses and tree bark, malts and grains. With this brewing, the cup remains quite smooth and mellow. This tea registers as a thicker and darker flavor than #1 which had the honey and hint of floral dominating. The heavier toasted grain lingers into the finish with just a hint of the woody-bark sweetness. This tea has a more rustic (though still mellow) balance of flavor and aroma than #1.

Alternate brewing of 4 grams per 6 ounces water (boiling) and a 3 minute steep in porcelain cup: The aroma comes up with an immediate sweetness that is reminiscent of a darker honey set against the smooth and mellow note toasty-grains and slightly woody note. It is still quite mellow and smooth with a touch of an iron note in the finish (not metallic or harsh at all) that goes up against the grain and light note of a darker honey. This brewing, for me, brought forward more distinct aromatics and heightened that hint of Forest Honey.

#3 Yangxian Hong from Unnamed Source

This is the tea that shows the most golden tip and smallest leaf size. While steeping, this tea (like #2) isn’t showing the floral-bud fresh note of the #1. There is no honeyed sweetness, just the sweetness of toasted grains and, perhaps, a subtle hint of milk chocolate.

Once the leaf is removed, the aroma falls somewhere between #1 and #2. This tea isn’t quite as deep or rustic as #2, nor is it as fresh floral-bud as #1.

As the tea cools slightly (and for most teas, this is where the “magic begins” for me), more sweetness pulls forward. It’s not so much the spicy honeyed notes of #1. This range of sweetness is more associated with toasted grain and a hint of chocolate. #3 does not have that hint of wood or bark that is in #2, so it falls out as more refined and less rustic in character as I experience it. Again, we have a very mellow cup with the sweet grainy taste lingering into the finish. Of all of the teas, #3 edges more toward briskness, though it still remains mellow as I brewed it. If there is any floral in #3, it is not in the immediate aftertaste but in that indrawn breath one takes and experiences what is left on the palate.

Alternate brewing of 1.8 grams in 3 ounces (brewed in a cebei and decanted into the same porcelain cup with fluted edge I’ve used for all the teas), water to boiling, 2:30 steep: Aroma is not as full or pervasive as #2. It has a similar character, but is softer and more muted with that light hint of milk chocolate against the grains. This tea doesn’t have the more honeyed sweetness of #2, nor does it have the more rustic woody note. It has a similar “voice” as #2, but the voice simply has a softer edge. The grains note comes into the finish, but an indrawn breath after swallowing the tea gives the impression of a light floral note that I didn’t detect in the liquor itself.


#1 stuck me as being the most “youthful” profile with #2 being the most rustic and deep. #3 shares the refined character of #1 but shows more depth of flavor than #1. Tea #3 (the smallest leaf size and with more gold tip) edges more toward pungency than #1 or #2, but you can mute this by tweaking leaf amount and brewing time.

I found these teas all quite pleasant. I have a preference for #2 with the more pervasive aroma, depth, and hint of Forest Honey. None of these teas achieve, for me, the “wow factor” of a high grade Keemun that unfolds in complexity like that mocha-colored scarf shot through with golden threads.

Alternate brewing: After getting some email advice from someone more intimate with these teas, I’ve tried #1 with a different brewing method, water 175F and 4 grams leaf per 6 ounces water, steeping initially for only one minute. I did use a porcelain brewing vessel in lieu of clay. This particular method mutes the aroma compared to my original brewing. In the first one minute steep, it brings the grains forward against a muted hazelnut note. More aroma comes through in the second (one minute) steep with a toastier sweetness and more toasted grains in flavor as well. Hazelnut seems to have been taken over by the grains. Sweetness is a touch more honeyed than in the first steep but not as pronounced as in my original brewing with hotter water and with less tea to water proportion, and longer steeping time. For my own tastes, I seem to find more in these teas with the hotter water and longer brewing times. That is not an indication that this is a better way to steep the teas but probably a reflection of my comfort zone with what is more familiar to me.

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