Yen cha questions


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Yen cha questions

Postby caligatia » Nov 3rd, '08, 17:35

I'm drinking some 2007 Bai Mu Dan Wuyi from Hou De, courtesy of Victoria, and I'm absolutely fascinated by this tea. It's so very very good. And weird. It has a note in it that I've never tasted in tea before, although I can't for the life of me figure out how to describe it. Maybe kinda smoky, but not like lapsang smoky... I'd like to learn more about this tea. The Hou De site calls it a "yen cha". What's that? What category of oolong is this? Are there other teas along the same lines, or is this an odd one?

Time for a second cup!
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Postby wyardley » Nov 3rd, '08, 18:01

yan cha (岩茶 --yan is the proper hanyu pinyin, but it's pronounced a little closer to 'yen') means "cliff tea" or "rock tea", and is so named because of the rocky soil in and around the craggy cliffs it historically has grown around, in the Wuyishan (shan meaning mountain) area of Fujian province in China.

It is a type of oolong tea, though some people put it in a category of its own. Historically, it's often been a tea that's fairly heavily roasted over charcoal, giving it a strong flavor, and usually requiring some time after roasting or re-roasting to settle down. These days, low or medium fired versions of a lot of the teas tend to be more popular.

There are a ton of different sub-varietals in this area, so there are literally hundreds of different types of yan cha, all of which can be processed in different ways. However, a lot of what is available, both in China and abroad, is not actually from the scenic area, and in many cases, vendors (intentionally or not) may misrepresent the actual varietal they're selling you.

Yan cha are known for their particular flavor and for their long-lasting finish. They can be tricky teas to brew well, and to appreciate. I suggest brewing the tea with boiling (or close to boiling) water, a LOT of leaf, especially if the leaves are very long, and very quick infusions. Slurp the tea across your tongue loudly when you're drinking it.

The 4 most famous types (四大名丛, or si da ming cong), along with some common (rough) translations are:
da hong pao (big red robe)
bai ji guan (white rooster's comb)
tie luo han (iron arhat)
shui jin gui (golden water turtle)

rou gui ("cassia", the thing most often sold as "cinnamon" in the West) is also very popular, as is shui xian (roughly "water sprite").
Last edited by wyardley on Nov 3rd, '08, 18:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Victoria » Nov 3rd, '08, 18:10

wyardley pretty much said it all. I'm glad you liked it!

We, both you and I, suspected you might enjoy darker oolongs.
I guess we were right, huh?
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Postby caligatia » Nov 3rd, '08, 21:27

Aha! So it's the roasting that I'm tasting. Cool.

wyardley, thanks for all the info. The different types of yan cha are going on my wish list. I've heard lots of good things lately here on the boards about Big Red Robe; I think I'll have to get some.

Victoria, thanks again. We (mostly you) were indeed right. This is probably the most interesting tea I've ever had. Not the absolute best, but the most interesting. I like interesting. :)
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Postby wyardley » Nov 4th, '08, 02:24

caligatia wrote:The different types of yan cha are going on my wish list. I've heard lots of good things lately here on the boards about Big Red Robe; I think I'll have to get some.


Keep a few things in mind...

1) Even experts disagree on which strain is the "true" da hong pao... see http://houdeblog.com/?p=111
2) It's of course impossible to get tea from the original three bushes (whether they're actually the real ones or not). However many vendors will claim to have tea from bushes that are descended directly from clippings of the original 3 (second generation), or clippings of the second generation clones (third generation). In many cases, these claims are most likely false.
3) Not only that, but a lot of da hong pao out there is a blend of other varietals. See the other Will's comments at:
http://amateursdethechinois.blogspot.co ... oct-2.html (halfway down)
4) Da Hong Pao is a "prestige" tea, meaning some of what you're paying for is the name. That's not to say it can't also be an amazing tea (it can), but it's hard to find good DHP, especially at a good price.

In other words, take whatever you hear from vendors, even honest ones, with a grain of salt.

While the different types of yan cha tend to have some distinctive characteristics, I think you will find more similarities between two similarly processed yan cha of different strains than you will find between the same strain processed different ways. So I'd worry first about finding a tea that's processed a way you like, and then worry second about what variety it is.
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Postby chrl42 » Nov 4th, '08, 03:34

Yes, Da Hong Pao is called 'art of blending'.

Most commonly accepted rule of blending is, original DHP 20~30% with Shui Xian and Rou Gui fill the rest.

Shui Xian is on behalf of Cha Tang (smooth finish),

And Rou Gui takes a role of aroma.

Original Da Hong Pao is not only rare in quantity but also delievers weak aroma/taste that might be unpleasing to some beginners' tongue.

I mean, Johnny Walker or Balentine is called 'art of blending' in whisky then why not for tea?
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Postby thanks » Nov 5th, '08, 19:39

Wyardley, since we're on the subject of yan cha here, is it stored the same way as lighter roasted oolongs? For instance, if I had a very heavy roasted yan cha, and I left it in an airtight ceramic container for a few years without wax sealing it, would I have to re-roast it, or is this a fine storage environment? I'd really love to start storing oolongs, but it's such a huge hassle! Roasting, waxing, sealing, and re-roasting- I wish it could be stored the same as pu'er, then all my worries would be gone.
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Postby wyardley » Nov 5th, '08, 20:15

thanks wrote:Wyardley, since we're on the subject of yan cha here, is it stored the same way as lighter roasted oolongs? For instance, if I had a very heavy roasted yan cha, and I left it in an airtight ceramic container for a few years without wax sealing it, would I have to re-roast it, or is this a fine storage environment? I'd really love to start storing oolongs, but it's such a huge hassle! Roasting, waxing, sealing, and re-roasting- I wish it could be stored the same as pu'er, then all my worries would be gone.


I live in a pretty dry climate, but I don't tend to worry about air-tightness quite so much with heavily roasted teas - I even store some of them in ceramic containers that are probably not airtight. I haven't been into this stuff long enough to give you a really great informed answer, so I'm just going on what I've read here.

I think in the scenario you're describing - a couple of years in an airtight ceramic canister, you'd be fine, especially if the tea is pretty much filling up the whole thing. In fact, a couple of years would probably be the ideal time for some of the heavy fire to calm down. I think sealed (but non-vacuum-sealed) foil bags would probably be a good way to store some of these teas as well.

What I like to do (if possible) is experiment with storing the same tea in a few different ways, so I can get an idea of how the different storage methods affect the taste of the tea.

A light re-roasting probably should be done every 2-8 years (depending on how heavily fired the tea is) still, but I haven't gotten to that point with too many teas yet, so I haven't worried about it.
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Postby ABx » Nov 6th, '08, 05:47

If you live in a dry climate and use an airtight container, I suspect that you could probably either forgo re-roasting - or at least cut way down on the frequency. You could also probably do a "refresh" roast where you only heat it up a bit to drive off the moisture but not enough to actually change the tea much. I suspect that you can also use desiccants to cut down as well - I think I may have actually successfully used desiccants to revive a stale baozhong.

Just as wyardley said, though, I haven't been into this long enough to have any experience in the matter, so it's really just speculation. A lot of these aged oolongs that get re-roasted are from areas with very high humidity, and driving off the humidity seems to be the main purpose of re-roasting.

I do actually plan to keep some of my oolongs around long enough to age. I have an Indonesian oolong that I'm very curious to see what will happen with some age. Some others already seem to have improved a bit after just 1-2 years (though some of that really could just be my own improvement in brewing). I may try to get some different canisters for some and will definitely make use of the desiccants I got, but the big thing for me is just keeping them away from air, humidity, light, etc. So I guess we'll see. I might experiment with roasting a bit in the future.
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Postby thanks » Nov 6th, '08, 12:22

Whew, I'm glad to hear all of this. Yeah I just wanted to age for a little bit, nothing big. Get rid of some of the charcoal taste on an oolong, and hopefully change it slightly for the better. Now that I think about it, since I'm already aging pu'er, I might as well just set aside a jar for a while.

I've heard you can refresh roast in a rice cooker? If that's true, I'd be very happy and I'm sure my Zojirushi could rise to the challenge.
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Postby Salsero » Nov 6th, '08, 16:44

thanks wrote: I've heard you can refresh roast in a rice cooker? If that's true, I'd be very happy and I'm sure my Zojirushi could rise to the challenge.
Tenuki roasts in a Zoji rice cooker with reportedly stunning results. He does have some caveat, however, about the warm setting that I can't remember. PM him.
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Postby wyardley » Nov 6th, '08, 17:04

Salsero wrote:He does have some caveat, however, about the warm setting that I can't remember. PM him.


I think you just want to make sure to use "keep warm" instead of "cook" (though I know some folks who have used "cook" for brief periods. The other thing is not to shut the rice cooker, but to cover it loosely with paper or something, and to leave a whole in the center.

See also:
http://tea-obsession.blogspot.com/2007/ ... -here.html

disclaimer: I've read about this but haven't tried it myself yet.
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Postby ABx » Nov 6th, '08, 23:43

thanks wrote:Whew, I'm glad to hear all of this. Yeah I just wanted to age for a little bit, nothing big. Get rid of some of the charcoal taste on an oolong, and hopefully change it slightly for the better. Now that I think about it, since I'm already aging pu'er, I might as well just set aside a jar for a while.

I've heard you can refresh roast in a rice cooker? If that's true, I'd be very happy and I'm sure my Zojirushi could rise to the challenge.
That probably won't take long at all. I got some 2006 Ban Tian Hao from Hou De last year that was almost all roast. This year it has actually calmed way down. I suspect that it will be great next year, which is coming right up. But yeah, you shouldn't have any problem. Yancha ages pretty quickly without the need for any roasting or wax sealed jars. Most are good in a year or two with 3-5 years producing great results. Good tins will probably be all you need, as wax sealed jars are more for those storing a very long time that just want to play it safe.

If you wanted to play it safe without the wax you could always get one of those Beehouse ceramic canisters with the clamp-down latch (specialteas.com sells these) and throw a desiccant in.
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Postby taitea » Nov 10th, '08, 12:16

About the 4 different types of yancha (and the others), are they all just different varietals that are processed in the same way? Or are they the same varietals but processed in different ways? Or both?
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Postby thanks » Nov 11th, '08, 03:51

wyardley wrote:
Salsero wrote:He does have some caveat, however, about the warm setting that I can't remember. PM him.


I think you just want to make sure to use "keep warm" instead of "cook" (though I know some folks who have used "cook" for brief periods. The other thing is not to shut the rice cooker, but to cover it loosely with paper or something, and to leave a whole in the center.

See also:
http://tea-obsession.blogspot.com/2007/ ... -here.html

disclaimer: I've read about this but haven't tried it myself yet.


I went to go use my Zoji, but yet forgot to take the leftover rice out from dinner I made a few nights ago :oops: , which is a very bad thing. I ended up cleaning it out, but now it has a slight smell to it that isn't so favorable. I will not put anything but rice in there until that smell clears up. I was disappointed about not being able to roast some oolong, until I figured, "hey, why not use a pan?".

I had about an ounce left of that organic baozhong from 08 that I got at Houde, which is available here; http://www.houdeasianart.com/index.php? ... e073bfc8dd

It's a very good tea on it's own, however it gets a little bitterness fairly easily, and being a baozhong does not take kindly to boiling water. I ended up just pan frying the rest of this tea over a low-medium flame, being sure to take it off the flame every 10 seconds and swirling it around in the pan. Then I turned it on high for 15 seconds, then took it off the heat completely.

What a surprising difference! Only a faint hint of roast, deeper flavor, no bitterness to speak of, and at one point I left it steeping for five minutes, and it ended up being the best infusion! Before whenever I brewed this tea over a minute a slight bitterness would develop, and it tasted too vegetal. Now it's very sweet, slightly robust in flavor, smoother, and very forgiving. Now I'm excited to buy really cheap, really green tgy's and roast them.
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