Spoiler alert – this tea is incredibly good.
I received this tea as a 3 gram sample with my recent purchase of a cake of Liming shou Pu-erh from “House of Tea“, and was so impressed with it that I immediately logged onto the vendor’s web site and placed an order. I’ve never done that before!
While I was there I also bought another teapot, but that’s a different tale…
Taiwan is quite rightly famous for the superb Oolongs it produces, but the island also makes green and black teas, neither of which, until now, I had sampled.
According to Babelcarp, Yu Chi is “…a central Nantou township where Japanese colonists established a hongcha industry in the 1920s.”
Hongcha means “red tea” – what is referred to in the West as “black tea”, which means something completely different in China!
“Shan Cha” refers to the name of the cultivar the tea is made from – literally “mountain tea” – a wild tea bush that grows in the Yu Chi mountain region at an altitude of between 950 – 1500m. I’ve read that tea made from this cultivar is seldom exported, and after tasting it one can easily understand why the Taiwanese want to keep it all for themselves!
I also read that all attempts to grow this cultivar commercially have failed, adding to it’s rarity.
The tea is hand plucked between July and August, and then hand-rolled. A small, 3 mm long insect known as the “tea green leafhopper” bites the tea plant, and the tea plant releases certain chemicals to protect itself from this attack. Those chemicals contribute to the final tea’s aroma and flavour, something this particular tea has in common with other teas from Taiwan, such as Oriental Beauty.
As per usual I opted to steep the slightly smaller sample size in one of my 100 ml-ish sized gaiwans.
I used water fresh off a rolling boil, and gave the tea a very quick rinse. The rinse water was then used to warm and prime my teacup.
I started off with a 5 second steeping, and bumped up the time by 5 seconds for each subsequent infusion.
You know you’re in for a good session when even the rinse smells good enough to gulp down, and that was certainly the case here.
The aroma that came off the rinse was intensely floral – it was like standing in the middle of a rose garden.
I quickly performed the first infusion – I couldn’t wait to get sniffing and sipping!
The first infusion was nice enough, but it was on the second steeping that I was hit with the full-on flavour, and what a flavour it was!
The floral notes had intensified, and were joined by an equally strong, sweet fruitiness, that I can only describe as being very much like lychees.
The tea liquor was a beautiful deep red colour.
Another characteristic of this tea was its low level of astringency. There was a hint of it there, but it was well in the background, playing a supporting role to the sweetness.
That fruity flavour kept on growing until the 6th steeping, and then began to fade out, leaving the floral aroma behind. By the 9th infusion it seemed as though I’d had the best out of the tea, so called a halt to my session at that point.
Maybe it was the magic of the tea’s Qi at work, but at the end of the session I had a real sense of disappointment that my brief encounter with this superb and somewhat rare tea was over. There was only one way to fix that…
The problem was my monthly tea buying budget was already exhausted, so my savings account was duly plundered for the funds. 159 Swedish Crowns ( £14.57, €16.38, US$17.83 ) was enough to buy a 50 gram packet.
A wise investment. I’ll be saving it for 10 or so carefully selected sessions during the autumn and winter, when the colour of liquid fire and the smell of a summer garden will help keep the cold, dark days at bay…