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5th May 2020


Red Dragon: In Context

Written by Felicity 

Red Dragon In Context: How does the flavour compare to other teas?

What have we said about our recent batch of Red Dragon:

It has accessible and popular fruity flavours, a satisfying syrupy texture but also the complexity and intrigue of more subtle flavours like ginger spice, dark chocolate and malt – making it great for connoisseurs and new to tea drinkers alike.

To help you to explore the flavours of Red Dragon more and to find out if it is a tea for you, we have selected some teas that you might know to compare it to.

Wet Leaf & Dry Leaf Oolong Teas: Red Dragon

How does it compare to Assam Breakfast?

I debated with myself as to whether to make this comparison because they are such different teas – Assam Breakfast is a strong, malty black tea that is designed to be enjoyed with milk whereas Red Dragon is this syrupy complex light tea. I kept it in because I think for black tea drinkers this is a useful baseline comparison.

If you want something familiar, comforting, malty and with a level of strength and structure that requires milk, choose Assam Breakfast. Try Red Dragon if you want to begin to explore the world of black teas without milk. It will have just some of the familiarity of the black tea you are used to, but what makes it work very well for this is that it is much lighter or softer in the mouth than most black teas. Often when someone is used to drinking tea with milk, tea without milk will taste or feel very drying the first few times. Red Dragon won’t have this effect and instead it will feel soft and syrupy. The flavours are also accessible and easy to find, which makes it satisfying too. If you use Red Dragon to begin an exploration into the world of tea from breakfast teas, look for red berry fruit and light ginger spice.

Tom in Ximeng Garden looking at the leaves

How does it compare to Keemun Gong Fu and Keemun Mao Feng?

Red Dragon is grown at very high altitude and uses a type of the tea bush that was developed in Taiwan that gives very fragrant teas. Teas from Keemun are grown at a lower altitude – the terrain is hilly rather than mountainous. They are characterised by a very slow oxidation during processing which gives the leaves lots of time to develop their fruity flavour. Our Keemun Gong Fu is a good introduction to this region, it has strength and as such feels more assertive than the light, syrupy Red Dragon. If you want a tea that is more refined than Assam Breakfast tea but will still work well with milk try Keemun Gong Fu. The malty-cocoa low notes in the Gong Fu might taste chocolatey to some. Red Dragon is much more delicate and refined in its flavour – perhaps you’ll find some dark chocolate, but it is the complexity and fruitiness that is more distinct.

Keemun Mao Feng has a similar level of refinement to Red Dragon and so both will have good interest for connoisseur tea drinkers. Our Mao Feng is spring picked and so will be lighter and less assertive than the Gong Fu, which was picked from bigger, darker leaves later in the summer. The main difference between Mao Feng and Red Dragon is earthiness – Mao Feng has a mineral taste and texture, in contrast to the ripe and sweet Red Dragon. The fruitiness in the Mao Feng could be identified as something akin to tomato skins – whereas in Red Dragon we have the ripe plums. If you want sweet, ripe and syrupy go for Red Dragon, if you want some with minerality and a slight dryness, but still fruit and refinement, go for the Mao Feng.

Ximeng Garden in Western Yunnan is organically managed and so is surrounded by a large variety of other flora

How does it compare to Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Both Red Dragon and Darjeeling 2nd Flush can be classed as light black teas. We would not recommend either with milk. Both are high grown and highly aromatic or fragrant – aromatics tend to develop better at altitude when the tea bush grows slower and the leaves have time to develop. Both have fruitiness in them, although in Red Dragon we’re looking for these dark red berries, and in Darjeeling 2nd Flush, one of the most prized notes is that of muscatel –  a kind of grape sweetness reminiscent of desert wine. Darjeeling will also have dry-hay or hops notes and a light citrus finish.

If you want a light black tea that is refreshing and has some sharpness or bite and is highly fragrant with some grape-sweetness, choose Darjeeling 2nd Flush; if you want a light black tea that feels more syrupy and riper in fruit flavours with depths of spice and chocolate instead of the honey-hay earthiness, choose Red Dragon.

The large Red Dragon leaves withering - this part of the process helps them develop and concentrate their aromatics

How does it compare to Yunnan Gold?

Both from Yunnan and so tropical climates, the major difference between Red Dragon and Yunnan Gold is the cultivar and the part of the leaf that is used. Yunnan Gold comes from tea bushes that derive from the Assamica species – that is the tea bush that is commonly used in the low lying regions – it has thicker, darker green leaves than the Chinese varietal. Assamica is known for producing strong, robust teas with good structure. This means that Yunnan Gold, will have much more strength and body than the lighter Red Dragon. Yunnan Gold is a similarly complex tea – it is made predominantly of the buds of the tea bushes that tend to contain much of the refinement in a final drink – but instead of the complexity coming from fruits and floral aromas as it does in Red Dragon, choose Yunnan Gold if you want complexity in the form of malt and rich spice.

Red Dragon in the middle of oxidation - during this process the leaves will go from being bright green to a deep red colour

How does it compare to Wuyi Oolong and Li Shan?

If you’ve read our Deep Dive, you’ll know that Red Dragon uses a type of the tea bush, or cultivar, that is usually used to make oolong teas in Taiwan. It is one of the primary reasons that Red Dragon is such a unique tea – the other is that it is that the Red Dragon garden is in an area that has not previously been used to grow tea.

The floral aromas, soft, syrupy feel in the mouth and level of complexity can all be attributed to this Ruanzhi cultivar. Red Dragon is very often liked by oolong tea drinkers. To give this context, I am using Wuyi oolong, which like Red Dragon has strength and body and is dark, and Li Shan, which is grown using the same cultivar as the comparisons.

First up is Wuyi. Looking at the leaves of the Ruanzhi cultivar and the Huang Meigui cultivar (used to make our current batch of Wuyi Oolong), side by side you’ll see that both are dark, large twisted leaves. The two teas are also similar in how thick they feel in the mouth and they both have fruitiness. Wuyi has a complexity to it, coming from the minerality and the rocky terroir of the mountainous area in which it is grown, which adds an earthiness and a mineral structure to the it that makes it quite different to the sweet, syrupy Red Dragon. This minerality is even more present in the Wuyi than it is in the Keemun Mao Feng.

Red Dragon processing

We can see too that the Wuyi leaf has an underlying greenness to it (it is only 30% oxidised after all), whereas the Red Dragon leaf is much more red (the leaf has been left to oxidise right through). This helps explain the fresher fruit notes in the Wuyi compared to the ripe, raisin-like fruit in the Red Dragon.

If you like dried fruit, light nutmeg/ cinnamon spice, dark chocolate and sweet syrupiness you will like Red Dragon, if you like caramelised unripe fruit, cacao, minerality and complexity that presents in the structure of the tea, you will like Wuyi Oolong.

Both Red Dragon and Li Shan are grown using the same cultivar and at high altitude, so they share complexity, fruitiness and refinement. Though drinking Li Shan, we find no tannin structure, but instead a creamy-thick, quenching drink. Li Shan is just 10-20% oxidised - it is a green-oolong. It has therefore a freshness that is associated with green teas, and not the dark concentration of flavours that we know from black teas that Red Dragon has. Both teas are intensely fruity. In the Red Dragon the fruit is the ripe, dark red berries including plum or black cherry, but in Li Shan we can find fresher apricot and stone fruit flavours, reminiscent of the differing levels of oxidation in the two teas.

If you want a light, fresh fruity tea that also has floral complexity and a thick creamy texture, try Li Shan; from Red Dragon you’ll get a dark fruity tea where the complexity comes through as spice, and a little malt.