Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dian Hong

For those who don't know, dian hong refers to black tea from Yunnan, China. Dian = Yunnan, and hong = red, as in hong cha or red tea, what we in the West call black tea, not the stuff from Africa. Dian hong is a relatively new tea that began production in the early 20th century. In my opinion this is some of the best black tea on Earth, more character than most Indian tea, more depth than an Assam, more body than what you will find in Fujian. What sets this tea apart are the rich golden/khaki buds. The more buds present, the more smooth, sweet, and less astringent the brew will be. Golden Needle (Golden Thread, Yunnan Pure Gold) is comprised of nothing but buds, a very unique tea, and possibly the most superb cup of black tea you will find.

Given my love for this tea, I though it would be fun to do a blind taste test, choosing five samples from three different vendors, Rishi, Adagio, and The Republic of Tea (TROT because I could get some for free). I was surprised by the results and by how difficult it was, tasting different teas that were almost identical, trying to catch the nuances that set them apart, and in the end I had to rely more on gut reaction than my uneducated taste buds to rate them. This was a good learning experience, one that left me with more respect for those in the business that have to evaluate dozens, if not hundreds, of samples and pick out the best.

I had my wife measure out two teaspoons of each into small, paper bags, lettering them from A to E, so that I had no way of knowing what I was drinking. At the time I didn't think it mattered to be honest. They were all teas that I had before, and I was sure I could tell the difference just by taste. I was wrong, and so were all of my guesses as to which was which.

A - Rishi's Golden Yunnan (Xishuangbanna)
B - Adagio's Yunnan Jig (Kunming)
C - Rishi's Golden Needle (Xishuangbanna)
D - TROT's Golden Yunnan (They wouldn't say)
E - Adagio's Yunnan Gold (Kunming, I think)

I rated them in order of best to not-so-best, C, E, B, D, A.

C and E were clearly the best, and in a class by themselves, both being made of nothing but buds. They were incredibly smooth, and posses a taste and aroma that reminds me of honey. B, D, and A were very close, malty, no bitterness, low astringency. TROT had the best looking dry leaves, lots of buds.

Of the three vendors, Adagio is the least expensive. The jig sells for $19/lb. and the the Gold is only $46/lb. Rishi sells their Golden Yunnan for $36/lb. and the Golden Needle for $108/lb. TROT sells their Golden Yunnan for $80/lb. They were all great teas, with marginal differences, so based on price alone, go with Adagio. The two from Rishi are Fair Trade Certified and Organic, so those are the ones I pick.

I had a lot of fun with this, and I am looking forward to doing more tastings like this in the future.


perpleXd said...

Great post! What a fun experiment. Surely I would be able to tell my favorite teas apart... ??? :) I want to try this, too! These teas sound yummy. Got any extra to send me? heheh

MarshalN said...

Yeah, it's always fun to drink teas side by side for comparisons, especially if you don't know what they are.

Bill said...

Great post! Yeah, your getting the hang of it now! I am starting to drink chinese black teas now, so this was definitely a great post for me!

Anonymous said...

I usually buy Rishi's Golden Yunnan. But they just recently raised the price to I think $48.00 a Lb. And the last Lb. that I ordered was very different from the past one's in that it was much darker and heavier smelling. I've tried the Golden Ring's you reviewed, very nice but not gonna become my regular morning cuppa. And I just ordered a Lb. of Adagio's Golden thingamobob. Of all the tea's I drink Yunnan is one that I always have on hand. Cant start the morning without it.

Space Samurai said...

Me too, dian hong is almost always my first cup of tea on any given day.

I noticed the price increase; the golden needle has risen as well. From what I understand the supply from that particular area can not meet the demand, so the price goes up. Fortunately for me, the price at my store has not risen--yet.

I do often notice a difference in the flavor of the golden yunnan between buying it in bulk vs their retail tins.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Even buying in bulk sometimes there's an abundance of golden tips and sometimes almost none. I just bought one of there Yixing tea jar's, nice, but be forwarned, they have a odor that will permeate into your tea. Repeated washing's in hot water and air drying seemed to help but the smell is still there. I contacted Rishi about it because it made my tea almost undrinkable but they never responded. I'm curious to try their Green Toucha, sounds interesting. Like you I,ve dabbled w/ Puerh but dont know too much about it. Check out Interesting stuff. Teaware is exellent.

Anonymous said...

Just got my Adagio's Yunnan Gold in the mail today. I like it. It's a good value I guess. Comparing it to Rishi's Golden Yunnan I'd say it's not as full bodied, not as complex. But what I like about it is that the flavor is balanced. And I think a little more spicy than the Rishi's I've had lately. I don't know if I'll re-order but it's an enjoyable tea.

Bret said...

O.K. I'm sitting here reading the tea blogs and guess what? Postman's at the door. Delivering my first purchase from The majority of my order consisted of Puerh Tea but I also ordered 2- 500gm. pkgs of their Yunnan Superior. This tea is gorgeous. Long golden wiry leaves. I made a pot immediately and its an outstanding Yunnan. And the price? $16.00 for 500 gms. If you really like Yunnan then you really should check this one out, great tea at a really good price. Full bodied, kinda naturally sweet and spicy. Even has that elusive golden ring around the cup.