29 Feb 2016
When Hongcha, or Red teas, were first developed, it was a laborious process that required extreme expertise, oxidizing intact whole tea leaves by hand, for what is sometimes 5-6 hours, and just by feel. This requires the tea master to be able to drive all the aromatic oils by flushing the veins of the tea leaves, while accounting for ambient humidity, the condition of the leaves after picking, and mindful not to break even one, fragile tea leaf. As a result, this type of tea was originally called ‘Gongfu Hongcha’, meaning the Red tea made by extreme skillset and patience. With the creation of machines that chop up the leaves to oxidize en masse by the British, the Gongfu Hongcha has all been forgotten. To this day, not many regions, even in China, retain the expertise to make these.
In this era of the Tea Renaissance, many tea masters are challenging themselves in each region to attempt a Hongcha of their own, with their particular local varietals. We are seeing ones made in Taiwan like the Burnt Sugar, our annual favorite Bailin Gongfu, and even as far as Yunnan with the Pu-erh varietals. One of our favorite, and yet under-known versions, is the Guanyin Red. Made with Golden Guanyin hybrid leaves, this is a Hongcha with the depth and nuance of a complex Tieguanyin, and the skillful rendition of the craftsmen’s ability to turn the sugar in the leaves into a smooth velvety mouthfeel, without any hint of astringency. Every varietal contributes to a different Hongcha, and the Tieguanyin varietal is one of the most revered. Black tea drinkers- why drink the machine made stuff, when you can have affordable art from true artisans?