A Deep Dive Into Our Red Dragon Black Tea
Red Dragon Black Tea, produced 25th June 2019 by Chen Qiguang and Mr Su 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 is it so special. As always, we also share ideas for how to best make this at home. 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 a black tea.
We have known the team at Ximeng for five years. We love the quality of the teas that they are producing in this area that is completely new to tea growing and we love their innovative approach.
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.
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.
Infusion: Rich, copper-brown
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 owner of the garden, Mr Su, 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 at high altitude – and so Mr Su set about to find the highest plot of land that he could. The consultant also stressed the importance of cultivar in adding the best flavours for a finished tea product. The cultivar that was selected, “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.
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 jumped on a plane to go to the garden – although this being remote Western Yunnan, it was very far from his original destination of Hangzhou in East China. It was another day and a half until he arrived in Ximeng. Tom was disappointed by the tea that he found when he arrived, it did not have any of the character and excellence that he had tasted in the first batch. He spent the next days working in the garden with, Mr Chen Qiguang and the owner Mr Su, whilst production was happening, looking together at what might bring out the fruit flavours, and aromatics again. Experimenting with shortened oxidation time, shorter firing time leaving with them ideas to test. Back in London two weeks later Tom received a sample of the tea that matched the original cup he had drunk.
It was just small quantity that had been produced, we secured all this 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.
Ximeng being newly cultivated land, no pesticides are used in production.
What is this batch like to drink? Aroma, Taste and Texture
As per Tom’s initial reaction, 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. The fruit is obvious, it is dark fruit – red or forest like berries; there is a ginger warmth in the cup too – and the creamy malty flavours are intwined with a sense of dark chocolate. The tea is highly aromatic, complex and it feels thick in the mouth.
Where and when is this tea for?
We think that Red Dragon will have 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 much more subtly and 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 is a very easy tea to prepare well. Using just a simple tea pot like a tea-iere and infusing for three minutes, you will get a rewarding and full drink.
The character of this tea also allows for a longer exploration though – 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.
What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?
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-iere.
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 that mean that it works well made in this way. The first infusion will be light and bring out a lot of the fruit/ sweetness. Subsequent infusions will bring out the syrupy mouth feel and it will get heavier with more malt/ chocolate deepness.
We experimented with this: 4g-6g 120ml water; 95+degree water; 1 minute infusions.
Being so aromatic, this tea made cold is really refreshing on hotter days. Cold infusing teas 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.