As the beautiful springtime sunshine recedes, what better time to spend huddled up indoors than with the "si da ming cong" [Four Great Famous Bushes] sample set from Hou De. I find it difficult to obtain good Wuyi yancha [rock tea], and so the prospect of tasting potentially decent examples from Hou De is an attractive one.
Today, we examine the first two of the set of four - and let's begin with the unusual two: Baijiguan [white cockscomb] and Tieluohan [iron monk]. These are particularly hard to obtain in any form, let alone of any decent quality.
All four samples in this sidamingcong set are labelled "zhengyan" [proper rock-tea], equivalent to the pu'er "zhengshan" [proper mountain], being indicative of provenance from the "true" Wuyi central district (elevation > 650m). I crave fine examples of these two unusual yancha, and look forward to the results.
In the following, Baijiguan and Tieluohan will be referred to as "A" and "B", respectively, and appear upper and lower in accompanying photographs, respectively. As always, more detail may be obtained by clicking on the images.
2 scoops in 12cl nongxiang pot; Caledonian Springs @ 90C; 1 rinse.
Typical yancha twisted strips, these are loosely rolled. In the expected mass of dark browns, there are plenty of green shades to be seen. The roasting is far from homogenous - some tips are roasted at the edges only. Is this indicative of poor roasting, or an intentional part of making baijiguan?
The aroma of these leaves is captivating: wulong scents mix with a creamy butter. The roast-scent is gentle, and very smooth - it rewards attention, and a little time. Particularly with heavily-roasted leaf, I find it all-to-easy to dismiss the aroma with a cursory sniff, which would be a shame for a tea like this.
Superbly dark. The only concession to the darkness is an occasional rich, chocolate colour. The leaves are 2-3cm twisted segments. The primary aroma is that of the roasting, but with an unusually potent scent of the tea itself. I find it unusual for such roasted teas to smell so heavily of tea, and I wonder if this may indicate a certain potency of leaf due to its "zhengyan" specification.
15s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, 45s:
Pure, golden soup - shining with the luster of gold. The entire room is filled with the sweetness of the butter-and-honey aroma. Drinking this tea is a privilege.
The beidixiang opens with spicy-green wulong, becoming that wonderful butter, which in turn cools to a caramel lengxiang. The flavour attests to its Mainland origins: a hearty wulong base, with a fine sourness around the outside. The butter and caramel from the aroma are present in the aftertaste.
"Very deep, round sweetness". Contrary to previous concerns about a potentially poor roasting, the flavour shows that it has been executed particularly well, giving a seamlessly-integrated roasted profile to the rich leaf flavours.
The huigan is the sweet-yet-spicy huigan that one might experience from cooked ginger: spicy and warm, but not discomfortingly so.
The aroma is truly unique. It is... acrobatic, and will require a little careful description.
It opens with a roasted, dark-chocolate musk, which lasts for about five seconds. Then, as if the melody had suddenly shifted from the violins to a double bass, the aroma drastically and obviously changes: it becomes instantly bass, low, and nutty. I've never experienced such an exertion in the aroma, and it performs it repeatedly and consistently throughout the infusions.
This rich, low nut aroma lasts for around 30 seconds, before the lengxiang eventually arrives as a sweet-sourness. It is a highly accomplished aroma, and bears future examination.
The powerful bass aroma is also the basis of the flavour: this is broad, sincere - truly, an iron monk. "Luohan" refers to a somewhat senior rank of monk, who has gained position through commitment and sincerity (though not a high rank, such as abbot) - this tea is very well-named. It is a stocky, dark, robust tea.
Very green, interestingly enough for a yancha. They are quite large, and strong, with very few tips evident. I wonder if the grade of this tea is not quite the finest - though the quality of what is present is very fine, perhaps by virtue of being "zhengyan". The aroma is peach-like.
Segments of large leaves, particularly dark. Similar grade to A.
Sweet, buttery, yet robust enough to be yancha. This is a fine tea, and a real treat to find. Certainly this is one for the yancha enthusiast, who will not be disappointed. Later infusions tend to polarise in flavour between the robust Mainland wulong taste and the rich roast. It does indeed feel like the grandfather of Taiwanese leaves.
Zhengshan potency and refinement, with a highly skillful roasting. Quite the most acrobatic wulong aroma I have ever encountered, and fascinating it is too. The iron monk is well-named, for this is a solid and unaloof tea.