Centuries ago Chinese black tea steadily paved its way to popularity in the west. This wasn't the case in China, where people preferred freshly processed green teas. Black tea was no more than an export, something locals dare not drink themselves. It wasn't until quite recently that Chinese farmers began rediscovering the beauty of a well-executed black tea. Dian Hong Black Tea is one of those teas that is highly honored today. Originating in Yunnan province, it is made from wild ancient tea trees. The final taste is full of Qi and may get a tea connoisseur tea drunk in no time.
History of Tea: Black Tea
Note that we use the terms black tea, red tea, and hong cha interchangeably in this post.
Black Tea originated in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). There are a couple possible origin legends. Before the 14th century, green teas and oolongs were primarily consumed throughout China. While black tea did originate at the time, it wouldn’t become popular for another few centuries, and locals would stick to their favorite green teas.
Chinese black tea began steadily growing in popularity during the 18th century as the export demand steadily increased. The United States and Europe were purchasing significant amounts of black tea due to its long shelf life and ease of transportation. While people in China were satisfied with fresh green tea and would see hong cha as the cheaper stuff purely for export. It wasn’t until recently that handmade, non-mass-produced black teas started gaining popularity in China and abroad.
Black Tea Processing
In the past, little differentiation was made between dark oolongs and black tea. In fact, many tea farmers and writers called any heavily oxidized tea, red tea. No matter if it was a heavily oxidized oolong or what we, in the West, call a "black tea". However, the main distinction between a heavily oxidized oolong and a black tea is that the latter is always more oxidized and withered for a more extended period. For proper oxidation to occur, the space has to have high levels of oxygen-rich air. Nowadays, these conditions are specially created and controlled. In fact, non-controlled oxidation may spoil the tea leaves. On the other hand, farmers put effort into stopping the oxidation of green teas as soon as possible. This is called “kill green.”
The withering of hong cha is done in large rooms with special fans and humidity control to stabilize airflow and not ruin the tea. Many of the more traditional farms do this manually by piling tea leaves on big bamboo trays, which are slightly elevated to ensure proper airflow.
Adequate oxidation in black teas aids in the production of theaflavins and thearubigins. Theaflavins are responsible for the bright taste of black teas, while thearubigins bring forth robust flavor and beautiful deep colors.
Dian Hong Black Tea
Dian Hong Tea actually translates as "Yunnan Red Tea." Dian is an aboriginal word for Yunnan, while hong is the hong in hong cha, meaning red. In the west, we refer to it as "Black Tea".
Throughout the 20th century, Yunnan was most known for its red and green tea production, and locals particularly enjoyed drinking these teas. In fact, pu-erh production (which Yunnan is now known for) was relatively scarce. Pu-erh production in Yunnan rapidly grew at the end of 20th, beginning of the 21st century, when this tea boomed in popularity worldwide.
One of the most significant points in determining the quality of Diang Hong Black Tea is the age of the tea trees.
Furthermore, Dian Hong tea leaves are sun-dried and not fired. This means that the biodiversity of the different types of natural mold and bacteria present on the tea leaves during harvest stays active, increasing its appeal.
Dian Hong black tea is brisk, malty, and full of cha qi. The brew is a pleasing dark red color. It is a very honest and robust tea. It may not be as refined as other black tea varieties, but that is, in fact, its true appeal. This is a tea that will be especially enjoyed by pu-erh tea enthusiasts, as they share some similar qualities.
Dian Hong is exceptionally susceptible to aging. Meaning if you have some extra Dian Hong on your hands — go ahead and age it! It’s actually more accessible to age Dian Hong than pu-erh, as it doesn’t require such strict conditions. Even if you live in a dry climate, it’s not a problem for Dian Hong. Just make sure to store your Dian Hong black tea away from other teas and that the area has at least some airflow and humidity. The chances are that it will taste exceptional after 10-15 years! Just like pu-erh, an aged Dian Hong will become more mellow and sweet, shedding away some of its tannic and pungent qualities.
We believe Dian Hong Black Tea has vital energy (qi) running through its leaves, infusing into the brew. You may even notice yourself getting tea drunk from it. Before drinking the tea, try to declutter your space, perhaps even make a specially designated tea corner. Set an intention and drink the tea with this in mind. The tea’s energy might just provide you with what you’re looking for.