Tom with Red Dragon Tea Maker Chen Qiguang in Ximeng Garden, Yunnan, China.
Red Dragon Black Tea, produced in April 2023 by Chen Qiguang in Ximeng Garden, Western Yunnan, China.
In this piece, we ultimately provide the bottom line on who we think will enjoy it, having covered where it has come from, who makes it, and why it is so special. As always, we also share ideas on how to best make this tea at home.
We have known the team at Ximeng for eight years. We love their innovative approach and the quality of the teas they produce in this remote mountainous area that is still relatively new to tea growing.
It is not a famous tea or even a well-known origin, but it delivers some of the most amazing aromas and flavours we have ever found in black tea. It’s a highly aromatic, complex black tea of the highest quality, loved for its fruit – if you decide it is for you, look for the syrupy texture and notes of dark berries, ginger, chocolate and malt.
After 8 years, we were lucky enough to visit Chen Qiguang in Ximeng Garden. Get to know the garden better by watching Tom’s video tour.
Our Organic Sourcing Journey.
Our Organic Sourcing Journey
Why we are making the Organic switch.
Ximeng is a small tea garden which has a long standing Made Without Pesticides Certification with JING.
The vital stats
Origin: Ximeng Garden, Yunnan, China
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis “Ruanzhi
Name: As this is not a famous tea, we created the name. Red refers to this being a black tea (in China black tea is called Hong Cha which translates as red tea).
Style: Twisted leaf black tea
Terroir: Western Yunnan, borders with Myanmar – tropical climate with high humidity, but the altitude means cool nights and cool winters.
Picking Season: Spring
Leaf: Large, twisted, matte black tea leaf with dusky golden tips.
Production: Made Without Pesticides
Infusion: Rich, copper-brown
In Taiwan, the best teas are found at high altitudes, so Chen Qiguang set about to find the most elevated plot of land he could.
What kind of teas does this area usually produce?
This specific area and the garden of Ximeng are relatively new to tea production, the garden was only planted in 2000. The manager of the garden, Chen Qiguang, took advice from a Taiwanese tea consultant when he was setting up (Taiwan is renowned for producing very high quality teas), and it was this Taiwanese influence that really shaped the tea that is now produced in Ximeng.
In Taiwan, the best teas are found at high altitudes, so Chen Qiguang set about to find the most elevated plot of land he could. The consultant also stressed the importance of cultivars in adding the best flavours for a finished tea product. The selected cultivar, “Ruanzhi”, is popular in Taiwan for producing oolong teas, including Oriental Beauty and Dong Ding – it is known for its florality and fruitiness and ability to flourish in high mountain settings.
They are producing a black tea, in a high mountain setting, from a cultivar more typically used to produce oolong tea. Chen Qiguang describes this tea as “90% Yunnan black tea, 10% Taiwan oolong tea” and recounts how he has learnt how to make tea on the job from a variety of sources, including books on Taiwan tea and the tea merchants who visit the garden. In particular, the shaking of the leaves is an oolong practice that Chen feels makes the withering more even and improves the quality of his black teas.
Zero use of pesticides and herbicides has similar advantages to certified organic practices for biodiversity in the garden, health of tea garden communities, producers, and our tea drinking customers.
The selected cultivar, “Ruanzhi”, is known for its florality and fruitiness.
How did we find this batch of tea, and who made it?
In July 2014, Tom tasted Red Dragon for the first time at his tasting table in London. It was so good and stood out so much that Tom instantly placed an order. It was just small quantity that had been produced, we secured all the first batch, and it was served exclusively by Richard Ekkebus, 2** chef of Amber in Hong Kong in celebration of his 10th anniversary of cooking in Hong Kong.
Looking to buy a larger quantity from the next year’s crop, Tom was disappointed to find the batch had none of the character and excellence that had brought this tea to his attention. Resolving to find out what had happened, he travelled to Yunnan during his spring sourcing trip and spent the following days working in the garden with Chen Qiguang whilst production was happening, looking together at what might bring out the fruit flavours and aromatics again. Experimenting with shortened oxidation time and shorter firing time, leaving them with ideas to test. Two weeks later, Tom received a tea sample in London that matched the original cup he had so enjoyed.
The first infusion will be light and with abundant fruity sweetness.
What is this batch like to drink? Aroma, Taste and Texture
With every batch of Red Dragon, we look for a thick syrupy mouthfeel (or texture) and prominent fruitiness, as well as complexity. Being a black tea, we want some strength and structure too.
This spring batch is a great example, as fruit notes are evident. It is a dark fruit, red or forest-like berries with a ginger warmth in the cup. The creamy, malty flavours are intertwined with a sense of dark chocolate. The tea is highly aromatic complex and feels thick in the mouth.
Exploring the Tea Garden & Meeting Wang Yueshi
Skilled tea masters have been making their version of yellow tea in Beigang, Yueyang City in Hunan for centuries, but until recently it's mostly been unknown outside its local area.
Wang Yueshi began his tea mastery making Jun Shan Silver Needle, the most famous of the rare yellow tea category. He has spent a lifetime honing the precision and skill of yellowing and understanding his terroir to become one just a few recognised yellow tea masters.
Lately he’s combined this yellowing skill, his experience of modern tea making techniques and knowledge of the terroir to create authentic Beigang Maojian.
What are your favourite organic teas in our range?
Of the organic teas we’ve added in the past couple of years, here are a few of my favourites:
There's lots of organic black tea in Yunnan, but not so much aimed at the style needed for breakfast tea, with strong and impactful flavour when adding milk. So, I spend a lot of time sourcing each batch of this tea, and the current one is very satisfying, with a toffee sweetness that takes me back to first tasting this type of tea when I lived in Beijing in the early 2000s. It was a great pleasure to visit this garden for the first time on our spring 2023 sourcing trip. We could clearly see how the local conditions and a high mountain tea garden with native large-leaf cultivar contribute to this tea's unique character.
A spectacular view of Yuyeang City, Hunan province.
Wang’s garden sits on the shores of Dong Ting Lake in Hunan. At low altitude the bushes are kept thick and the garden kept lush by both the proximity to the water, the sandy soil and Wang’s commitment to organic production.
When Tom visited this spring it was both hot and showery, a typical spring in this area, and delightful conditions for the four or so weeks a year succulent yellow tea is made here.
We think that Red Dragon has a broad appeal. We think it works well as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Where and when is this tea for?
We think that Red Dragon has a broad appeal. For a black tea, it is lighter and more aromatic than a strong black tea that you would add milk to – it has a much more subtle nuance. We think it works well as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Even though it is a black tea, the lightness of it means that it does not go bitter or astringent very easily; the prominence of the flavours and aromas mean that it is a very easy tea to prepare well. You will get a rewarding and full drink using just a simple teapot like a Tea-iereTM and infusing for three minutes.
The character of this tea also allows for a longer exploration. Anyone familiar with Ali Shan or Li Shan (high mountain Taiwanese oolong tea), will find traces of these in Red Dragon and might like to make short, intense infusions to look for these complexities – some instructions for this below.
Our Beijgang Maojian's dry leaf is dark olive whole leaf twists with silvery-grey tips.
What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?
Mr. Chen’s advice for making Red Dragon is that “good tea doesn’t fear hot water”, so use boiling water to bring out all the aromas. And be sure to remove all the water from the leaves after each infusion for maximum flavour.
For a 250ml serve (making it in a teapot and then pouring the full infusion into a cup with equal capacity), we usually use our One Cup Tea-iereTM.
It is the simplest way to get the characterful flavours from this tea, they are abundant and that means that they are easy to extract. We did not get any bad results making the tea in this way. It produces a warming mug that will balance familiar black tea flavours with huge aroma, this fruitiness and syrupy texture.
This produced good results - Method: 4g/ 250mls; 100 degrees; 3 minutes per infusion (we recommend at least two infusions)
Lots of leaf in a small teapot, lots of short infusions, sometimes known as “gong fu” style.
Red Dragon has complexity and nuance, which means it works well infused in this way. The first infusion will be light and with abundant fruity sweetness. Subsequent infusions will bring out the syrupy mouth feel, which will get heavier with more malt and chocolate depth.
We experimented with this: 4g-6g 120ml water; 95+degree water; 1-minute infusions.
The vital stats
Origin: Yuyeang City, Hunan province
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis
Name: Beigang Maojian
Style: Wang has taken a local cultivar similar to our Baojing Gold and yellowed the fresh spring leaves in the traditional way
Picking Season: Spring 2023
Leaf: Dark olive twists of leaf with silvery-grey tips
Production: Made Without Pesticides
Being so aromatic, Red Dragon made cold is really refreshing on hotter days.
Being so aromatic, this tea made cold is really refreshing on hotter days. Cold infusing tea just means adding cold water to leaves and leaving them in the fridge to infuse slowly over several hours. Because of the lack of heat, not very much structure/ tannin are extracts – this means loads of space in the cup for the aromatics.
This works well: 6g in a 250ml pot, pour on cold water and leave in the fridge for 2-4 hours. Pour the whole infusion into a glass and drink (don’t save the bottom bit for later – exactly like with hot tea, will have a lot of the strength in it as it’s the bit that is closest to the leaves and so to make sure it’s a balanced drink combine the full infusion.
The bottom line – who is this tea for?
Red Dragon has accessible and popular fruity flavours, a satisfying texture but also the complexity and intrigue of more subtle flavours like ginger spice, dark chocolate and malt – making it great for connoisseurs too.
Red Dragon is often a tea that we recommend when someone wants to try drinking black tea without milk – it is light enough that the structure will not be overwhelming, and the fruitiness replaces the sweetness of the milk.
If you want a relatively light black tea to drink without milk, you appreciate fruit and warming flavours but also want complexity, and want something thick and syrupy, you will enjoy Red Dragon.
The mountainous garden sitting at 1900m above sea level in Dahei Garden, Yunnan China.
Most organic Japanese tea is from Kagoshima, but this one retains the Shizuoka origin of our non-organic version. It has the same high mountain character because it's from a similar area, very aromatic and floral with just a little astringency characteristic of the region, making it an excellent green tea for colder weather.
What’s next for our organic range transformation?
The teas that prove most stubborn for finding good organic examples are some of the traditional oolong types, famous in China and rarely exported. This is the next area of focus, and we have decided to work more closely with promising gardens to encourage a switch to our Made Without Pesticides standards. However, there will need to be a transition period. Typically, a conventional garden turning toward organic certification will spend three years before the certificate is issued. The most recent find is an organic version of our Wuyi Oolong, which is a Water Sprite cultivar – a tea I'm very excited about and looking to launch early in 2024...
Drying – After the desired oxidation level is achieved, the leaves are carefully dried to remove any remaining moisture. This helps stabilize the tea and prepares it for packaging and storage
For a single serve, use 4g (or 3tsp) of tea for 250ml.
Much like their green tea cousins, yellow teas also appreciate a cooler water temperature. The easiest way to do this is add about 20% cool water to the leaves first, and then top up the rest with freshly boiled water to level out the heat.
Infuse for three minutes, and, as always, pour out the whole infusion into a good mug or glass. Since it's been made cool, you’ll be able to drink it immediately, take a moment to notice the flavours changing as your infusions cools even further.
This is our go-to method: 4g/2tsp per 250ml; 80˚C; 3 minutes per infusion.
Mr Wang and Tom admire the view of the tea garden - the rain is welcomed after a long drought in Hunan
Who is it for?
With it’s authentic barley sugar flavour, this is a great introduction for anyone wishing to get a handle on this mellow, complex and rewarding tea category. It’s also a welcome alternative if you find green tea too grassy, but you’re still after something refreshing and light.
Switch Up Your Tea