The most legendary of all legendary oolongs – da hong pao – is more common in Europe than bread. But the real da hong pao is much more difficult to find in tea shops than real diamonds. Mei Leaf offers the Empress Oolong on a platter, disguised only behind a perfect name, but with fully revealed facts – including cultivar, area and processing techniques.
I find it very difficult to write reviews about Mei Leaf teas. Their range is super interesting and so difficult to explain, even those super detailed info and tasting notes are not enough to describe their teas.
Dry leaves have a very intense scent. OK, what next? How to write about a tea you have to experience by yourself?
Name: Empress Oolong
Tea Vendor: Mei Leaf (UK)
Type: Chinese oolong tea
Empress Oolong and Her Robe
It’s very difficult to talk about Da Hong Pao. Probably no other tea hold so much controversy behinds its name, and so much ambiguity. What is the original Da Hong Pao? Besides mother plants that are under protection and not harvested any more, some other Da Hong Paos are considered more original and real than the rest. Especially those made from Qi Dan cultivar, and of course, grown in the right area. You can find 50-100 grams of Da Hong Pao for less than the price of 1 kilo of low quality flour, and you have the original Da Hong Pao that was sold for more than $ 20 000 (20 grams). Of course, the trustworthiness of the vendor, area, cultivar, processing, do tea plants come from cuttings of original plants, is the tea blended or not, etc., all will have an impact on the price.
Empress Oolong is made from Qi Dan cultivar, harvested in Zhengyan, Wuyi Mountain. Zhengyan is a special area considered a home of high quality yan cha – rock tea or Wuyi oolong tea. Price is £12.95 for 30 grams. Empress Oolong has quite big and dark smokey brown leaves with a maroon hue.
Bathing the Empress
Brewing: 5 grams, 100 ml, 99 degrees Celsius, 20 sec +
Although you can guess what you will be getting right from the dry leaves, the true experience begins in the heated teapot. And then you brew. Empress Oolong is quite difficult to describe – it has intense charcoal and sweet&sour berry note and honey sweet background with a woodsy feeling. This tea is beautifully changing throughout steeps, releasing its berry note and holding on to charcoal feeling. They transform from playfully intense to sophisticated and light. Color is caramel brown. This tea is intense in all possible ways, but the liquor alone is not overwhelming. There is a certain lightness at the bottom that is lifting up all other notes. Tobacco? Yes. Light woodsy feeling? Yes. A bit of berry fruitiness? Yes. Rocky feeling? Yes.
There is a lot going on in those leaves. They are far from the regular burned-out and washed-out experience you get from the cheapest Da Hong Paos. You can get at least 5-6 very good infusions, and depending on how you brew it, more or less. Empress Oolong is a great choice for those that like charcoal roasted teas, like Muzha Tie Guan Yin, and maybe even a high quality dark roast hojicha (although, expect a completely different flavor profile from those teas, the suggestion is just based on roasted on one note).