I stopped by Denong for a tasting and got a bonus sample of their 2019 black tea. One of the aspects that makes this extra interesting is that this is tea from a drought year (2017 was a drought year too). This was harsh for tea farmers in drought regions because of reduced yield. Sadly, even robust old trees died in fires in Yunnan impacting puerh and Kenyan tea growers were only operating for half the week because there was not enough tea to harvest. This is why you’ll see less product and higher prices.
It saddens me that these beautiful tea plants and the people in the industry have suffered. Nature has a way of creating beauty out of chaos though. The drought causes the plants to work harder and results in more concentrated flavor. The leaf becomes very small and flat (as opposed to in a monsoon or rainy season where it plumps up) and because of that you get deeper, richer flavor.
The dry leaves are dark and twig like. The wet leaves smell rich and deep like hot fresh biscuits and a little bit of walking in the forest with moss on the ground minus the damp or mildew smell.
The first steep was light, like a briefly dunked tea biscuit. It had a bit of sweet syrup taste a little bit like maple syrup. I steeped for only 30 seconds with minimal tannin bitterness.
The second steep smelled even sweeter, coated my tongue, and reminded me of how some books smell. I'm not talking about the extremely new ones, or the ones that have gotten old and musty, but the in-between, well-read, well-kept books. Perhaps it's where the books are stored or the type of paper they're made of, but that's what this tea reminded me of on the second steep. Tea and books - they go well together. (So do tea and cats, but if a tea smelled like a cat I'd be concerned.)
The third step was the thickest and most flavorful yet.
As this was a black tea sample I wasn't sure if it was going to stand up to a fourth steeping, but I thought I'd give it a shot. It held up. The flavor did start to back away and say goodbye, but it was still present. The tea coated my tongue for another round adding onto the previous rounds for a satisfying mouthfeel and taste. This fourth steep was still very soft and mild from a tannin standpoint. A little less sweet and biscuit-like than previous steeps, but worth doing.
I’m always amazed at how much work and how many people are involved in bringing me my cup of tea. I respect all of that coordinated effort. If you are interested in trying a tea from a drought year, bear in mind the smaller yield which may be reflected in the price. If you have had one of these teas, let the tea community know on Tea Deviant Facebook or Twitter which tea you’ve had and what you thought of it.
This is just touching on the impact of drought. I may go further into this subject and how it changes things for the industry and the consumer, if there is interest.
For more on making a great cup of tea check out these posts:
Does your Tea Taste Like Crap? We can Fix That
Are You Having a Tea Crisis?
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