Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan
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Today’s Tea: Big Red Robe

May 13, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Today I brewed some Big Red Robe for myself. I had already had some bottled tea with my lunch, at a Middle Eastern shop near my house called Wrap-Pro. Very delicious shwarma, baba ghanooj, and falafel at this place which is on Mass. Ave. between Porter Square and Harvard Square. (In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for those of you for whom those landmarks mean nothing.)

I deigned to drink a Lipton bottled tea product which had the word “natural” repeated all over it on the label, which told me it was supposed to be Green Tea with Honey flavor, “Natural Flavoring with Other Natural Flavorings.” (No, I have no idea what exactly that last was referring to, only that it was printed on the bottle.) The overwhelming flavor, natural or not, wasn’t of tea, but of honey. That was actually all right, since it was a very pleasant honey flavor, and honey goes very nicely with middle eastern food.

But as a result I didn’t deem myself to have had TEA yet. On returning home to sit down to write for the afternoon, I brewed up a nice hot pot of Big Red Robe or Da Hung Pao.

This particular Da Hung Pao came from the target=”new”>Aroma Tea Shop in San Francisco. This is one of those shops that I stumbled upon while surfing the web one day when Holy Mountain was sold out of some tea variety I really wanted. My order arrived very fast and I’ve loved all the things I’ve bought from them, and of course for everything I ordered they included a “free sample” of the next higher grade up… sneaky sneaky. It proved to me there really is a difference between grades.

I had bought the premium grade Big Red Robe from them, described on their website somewhat cryptically as “The most famous of all Amber Oolongs, this tea was very hard to attain, for there are many ‘imitations’ of this tea. The best Big Red Robe is produced in the small 70 sq. km ‘Wuyi Yan Cha’ area from tea plants cloned from the original ‘Big Red Robe’ garden.”

The “original garden” may be explained by the story found various places, but I went to Wikipedia for this quote: “Dà Hóng Páo (大红袍) is a very important Wuyi Oolong tea. Legend has it that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by a certain tea, and that emperor sent great red robes to clothe the four bushes from which that tea originated. Three of these original bushes, growing on a rock on Mount Wuyi and reportedly dating to the Song Dynasty, still survive today and are highly venerated. Less than one kilogram of tea is harvested from these plants each year, of which a portion is retained by the Chinese government. The remainder of this original and real Da Hong Pao is auctioned, with an initial asking price of 4000 RMB/100 g, but often reaching millions of dollars per kilogram. Cuttings taken from the original plants have been used to produce similar grades of tea from genetically identical plants.”

All I can say is… it is a very tasty tea. You know how certain vegetables that we don’t think of as “sweet” get a very sweet flavor when caramelized (seared at high heat)? Like eggplant? That is the way I think of this tea. It is not in the “grassy green” spectrum of oolong, but instead in the darker, more toasted/roasted spectrum. As such, its sweetness comes from the kind of caramelized taste it has. I brew it without sugar (of course!) with a two minute steep and drink as is.

I especially like it on chilly days because it can be brewed with very hot water, so the tea stays warm in the pot longer, too. Each sip seems to send a sweet warmth all the way to my extremities.

2 Comments to “Today’s Tea: Big Red Robe”


  1. I am just back from 2 weeks in Beijing, and made a trip to Maliendao, Beijing’s famous tea street which has hundreds of shops selling tea. And I got some good Big Red Robe. It does have a wonderful, rich flavor. I have some Puer tea (the only aged tea) which has a wonderful earthy flavor and some Ti Guanyin (Iron Kwan-yin) which has more of a foresty flavor. But I am glad to find the Big Red Robe. I was told at the shop that Wuyi Cliff tea is exactly the same thing. It is amazing how the spectrum of flavors opens up when you start trying the Chinese teas.

    ctan Reply:

    Oh, I’m envious. When I was in Beijing it was for less than 24 hours and we didn’t have a chance to visit the tea street. Sounds like you got some wonderful stuff! I drink a lot of Ti Kwan-Yin and even visited a temple to the Iron Goddess while I was in Fujian.

    You’ve put me in the mood for some Big Red Robe, though. Or perhaps some Formosa oolong. Hmm…

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