In July 2014 I tasted a black tea from a friend in China that immediately stood out for its astonishing taste. It was unlike any other black tea I’d tasted, from China or elsewhere. I recall now this tea as being highly aromatic and with a very intense fruity flavour, thick and complex – simply delicious.
It is often the case that good tea in China is used as a gift and cannot be purchased in any quantity. The batch I tasted was a few grams left from the previous year’s crop and no more was available. Requesting samples from the recent crop I was disappointed to find them thin and watery with only a hint of the magic of the earlier sample.
Not disheartened, I undertook to find out what made the earlier tea special and how to replicate it. So it was that in planning a trip to China in spring 2015 visiting this garden was high on my list.
The garden is in Yunnan province, far to the southwest of more familiar tea producing regions of Zhejiang and Hunan. Organically certified, it was planted no more than five years ago with the advice of a Taiwanese tea consultant. The consultant brought two insights, among others, that helped shape this special tea: firstly, the best tea gardens are at high altitude; secondly, the cultivar of the tea bush can add unique features to the finished product.
The tea garden for our Red Dragon black tea is located in the western part of Yunnan province, near the border with Myanmar, at more than 3,000m above sea level. The cultivar planted there was called soft-branch; it was imported from Taiwan and is usually made into oolong tea.
Speaking with the factory manager, Mr. Su, I explained the unique aroma of the earlier batch that was so enticing. We tasted several batches of the teas side by side and I asked him how the processing had contributed to the differences in taste. Before sitting down to supper together we came up with a few theories about to recapture the special taste and Mr. Su agreed to test them out on upcoming batches of tea.
An anxious wait ensued over the following two weeks but my patience was rewarded as delivered to our office was a sample that exceeded expectations. But the quantity was limited. This tea was ear-marked to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our customer, one of the best hotels in Hong Kong, Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Now, with the new season crop in hand we are pleased to offer this unique tea to our customers globally.