Dian Hong Tea means "Yunnan Red Tea." While "dian" is an aboriginal word for Yunnan, hong is the hong in hong cha, which means red in Chinese. In the west, we call it "Black Tea". Today, most Dian Hong Black Tea varieties grow at high-mountain elevations of 1500m and up above sea level. Growing in ecologically pure areas, the finished tea has an exceptional aroma and taste. Rich, mellow, and sweet, with mouth-watering notes of fruits, honey, and sweet potatoes.
Tea history started in Yunnan Province, China, and dates all the way back to 2700 B.C., when the Chinese herbalist and Emperor Shennong first discovered that tea leaves could be brewed. This was an un-processed tea leaf steeped in hot water — the most basic and pure form of tea that no one drinks nowadays. With time, tea processing in China progressed, and locals began making compressed tea similar to modern-day pu-erh. Indeed, you can still find some of the most ancient tea trees in Yunnan — many of them reaching close to a thousand years in age with crowns growing far above farmers' heads.
The local government protects many of the ancient tea-growing regions of Yunnan to this day. There, farmers are allowed only to pick a certain amount of tea leaves each year, and under no circumstances can they use pesticides or fertilizers. Thus, even if not labeled as such, many Yunnan teas are indeed organic tea.
Today Yunnan is probably best known for its pu-erh production. Indeed, farmers can only produce pu-erh in Yunnan. Although, they can grow pu-erh tea in surrounding areas and countries as well.
However, throughout the 20th century, Yunnan mainly became known for its green and red tea farms. In fact, pu-erh production (which Yunnan is most known for now) was relatively scarce. Pu-erh production in Yunnan began rapidly growing at the end of the 20th, beginning of the 21st century, when pu-erh popularity boomed worldwide.
What Does Black Tea Taste Like: Dian Hong
Dian Hong black tea is malty, brisk, and full of cha qi. and the brew varies from pleasing light amber to a dark red color. Yunnan black tea is a very honest and robust tea. This is a tea that pu-erh tea enthusiasts may especially enjoy, as they share some similar qualities. While it may not be as refined as other varieties of Chinese black tea, it is, in fact, its authentic appeal.
Depending on the type of Dian Hong, the flavor notes range from fruity ones like apricots and plums to sweet ones like cocoa, honey, and sweet potato. In the aroma profiles, you can scent flowers and vanilla.
Aging Dian Hong Black Tea
Dian Hong is perfect for aging. If you happen to have some extra Dian Hong black tea on your hands — go ahead and age it! Aging Dian Hong is indeed easier than aging pu-erh since it doesn't ask for such stern aging conditions. When aging your Dian Hong tea, make sure to store it away from other teas and allow for airflow in the area, plus at least a little humidity. Just after 10-15 years of aging, the chances are that it will taste exceptional! Like pu-erh, an aged Dian Hong will turn more mellow and sweet, shedding away some of its tannic and pungent qualities.
Dian Hong Production
Farmers produce Dian Hong from the Camellia sinensis var. assamica, a popular variety in Yunnan tea production. In Chinese, we refer to it as Da Ye, meaning "big leaf". Indeed, this Camellia Sinensis variety is known for its larger tea leaves. Furthermore, the tea trees grow big and tall when allowed to grow wildly, with strong and wide tree trunks.
Farmers began producing Dian Hong black tea around a century ago. Thus, it's still considered a new tea compared to teas that have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But why did Dian Hong production spring up?
Brief History Of Yunnan Black Tea
Black tea production in Yunnan began growing in the late 1930s after Japan invaded China. Prior, locals mostly enjoyed fresh green teas, while all the black tea farms were situated along China's coast — for ease of export. After Japanese forces occupied China's coast, the government, which relied on tea as an export, had to turn elsewhere. The next best thing was Yunnan, a southern Chinese province bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Through Yunnan's new tea production, China continued the tea trade routes with the Western world through Myanmar and India.
Eventually, the newly produced Dian Hong tea reached the Queen of England at the time. She inevitably began favoring the sweet notes of Yunnan tea over the more robust and bitter Indian teas.
Furthermore, the mountainous region of Yunnan, with all its ancient tea trees, was very favorable for tea production.
Different Types of Dian Hong Black Tea
- Broken Yunnan (Sui Cha)— this is a cheap tea that farmers use primarily for blending. It contains few golden buds and is quite bitter on its own. The tea leaves are dark with very few specks of gold, and the resulting brew is also dark. The brew is quite similar to ripe pu-erh, both in color and taste.
- Yunnan Gold (Gong Fu)— this tea has more golden buds than Broken Yunnan but still predominantly black tea leaves. The brew has a golden-red hue and a vivid sweetness.
- Yunnan Pure Gold (Jin Ya)— contains only golden buds, covered in fine hairs. The resulting brew is bright red with a gentle sweetness and aroma.
- Golden Needle (Jin Zhen Cha)— the golden buds of tea leaves produce an amber tea brew.
- Pine Needle (Song Zhen) — this tea is unique in its pine needle-like shape. The tea leaves (one bud and one leaf) vary in hues from golden to black and brown.
How To Make Chinese Tea: Dian Hong Tea
We brew our Dian Hong tea the same way we would brew other Chinese black tea — at a water temperature of 195ºF (90ºC). If you're trying your tea for the first time, you will want to use a porcelain or glass brewing vessel so it doesn't impart any taste on your tea. Then, once you are more familiar with your Dian Hong tea, you can begin brewing it gongfu style in a Yixing teapot or gaiwan. Unglazed Yixing teaware is perfect for rounding out hong cha. Most Dian Hong teas are quite sturdy in terms of providing long tea sessions. You can easily get a good 8-10 gongfu style brews from a quality Yunnan tea.
Read more: Let's Get Tea Drunk On Dian Hong Black Tea