What Should It Taste Like: Da Hong Pao

by Jason Walker on April 15, 2013

in how to, origin, wulong/oolong

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Part of a series: What Should It Taste Like?

One of the challenges of shopping for teas online is knowing whether you are getting the kind and quality of tea that you should expect. This challenge becomes even more compounded when you have never tasted a certain kind of tea before, or are not sure if you have formed an accurate impression of that tea to use as a basis of comparison.

Da Hong Pao wulong is a classic and popular tea that many tea drinkers encounter at one point or another. Due to its increasing fame, the tea is also one that is frequently imitated and adulterated.

Recognizing authentic da hong pao requires experience in detecting certain taste characteristics. Many people have tried to describe that set of characteristics.

A few tea references have sought to describe da hong pao’s flavor profile:

The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook included descriptors like: “peaty” and “earthy.”

The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea used “brown sugar,” “molasses,”  and referred to stone fruitiness.

In a conversation with Peter Leong of Red Blossom Tea, he mentioned medicinal notes, but it is da hong pao’s balanced character that better defines the tea.

The Tea Drinkers Handbook employs words like “woody,” “velvety,” “osmanthus,” “tobacco,” “leather,” “sandalwood,”  and “cinnamon.”

The Chinese note that da hong pao is known to have “yan yun“:

Yan Yun (岩韵): “cliff rhyme”, a balanced and musical sense to the tea. It is generally described as consisting of xiang, qing, gan, and huo.
1. Xiang (香):aroma; a harmonious balance between chun, lan, qing

  • chun (纯): pure; neither raw nor ripe
  • lan (兰): orchid; the fresh sensation felt just before a rain
  • qing (清): clear, clean, distinct; evenly and consistently roasted

2. Qing (清): lasting, sweet aftertaste with no off-aromas
3. Gan (甘): sweet, mellow
4. Huo (活): a liveliness of the tea that is, in a sense, spiritual

da hong pao big red robe flavor aroma wheelWhile these definitions can be very helpful, they do not go far in giving a clear picture of how these elements relate to each other, and how the intensities of these characteristics relate to each other. A combination of the descriptions above and my own experience has helped me create this profile wheel with lines indicating intensity of flavor components in relation to each other.

I tend to agree that overall flavor intensity may not be as profound as that found in many other wulongs, and that the silken texture and fuller, finer, aftertaste are major considerations in choosing better da hong pao.

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