Leaf Type: Oolong
Where to Buy: Verdant Tea
It took Verdant Tea 4 months of sampling to find a Big Red Robe unique and delicious enough to really justify importing. This incredible tea from the rocky cliffs of Wuyi mountain offers a side of Big Red Robe that most people have never seen. Usually all you get is caramel, chocolate and floral notes. This goes far beyond. In early steepings, there is an intriguing sensation on the tongue, almost like the metallic vibrations of a bronze cast bell, or the idea of fast moving water flowing over slate. As the tea opens up, there is a perfectly synthesized note of orange and elderberry that dominates, and lingers in the back of the throat. In middle steepings, the elderberry orange flavor splits into fruity wine grape notes, hibiscus-infused dark chocolate, and molasses cookies with crystalized Thai ginger. In late steepings, the thick beany and malty flavor of Laoshan green comes through, combined with the lilac sweetness of Tieguanyin. One of our favorite aspects of this tea is that it was expertly roasted in a way that lets so much complexity come through the caramel notes of any darker oolong. If you are interested in oolongs, or seek a very comforting yet engaging tea, give this a try for a new perspective.
The first couple of times that I tried “Big Red Robe” Oolong teas, I wasn’t too thrilled. I found the smoky notes and strong earthy quality to be a bit too much for me. Since that time, I have re-embraced the joy of brewing my Oolong teas in my gaiwan (a tool I once stowed away because I thought it to be too much of a hassle), and this has allowed me to become better acquainted with and even become friends with the Big Red Robe.
That is not to say that I now do not experience the smoky and earthy tones of this Oolong, but, by using short steeps in the gaiwan, I find that these notes do not overwhelm the cup the way it had in the past. Also noteworthy is that I now utilize the “rinse” or reawakening of the tea leaves, which helps to lighten that first infusion just enough so that I am not overwhelmed by earth and smoke.
Following that rinse, the first two infusions of this Oolong delivered a lovely, complex cup that was all at once fruity (peaches and raisins), earthy with a touch of dark, dry cocoa powder, and possessed the slightest wisp of smoke. In the background I could taste hints of caramel and honey. The infusions that follow deliver more of a floral taste. A distinct, tangy citrus note hits toward the tail and lingers into the finish. The caramel develops well by the time I’ve reached the fourth infusion – it is sweet and luscious. The fruit flavors have redefined themselves: the raisins taste a bit more like currants while the peach becomes more subdued, allowing for the citrus-y profiles to emerge.
I love the complexity of this tea. I found myself eagerly awaiting each infusion to see what flavors it would bring. I’m really liking what I’ve tried thus far from Verdant Tea!