Zhen Tea’s Dark Tea MASTER – Process Box | Tea Review

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Over the last few years, I’ve been working on developing my knowledge of tea processing. Side-by-side comparisons can be hard to come by, so I was happy when I saw Zhen Tea release this collection!

I admit, my familiarity with dark teas (hei chas) is pretty minimal. It isn’t a tea I tend to reach for, so this was unfamiliar territory. When I was looking for a description of dark tea, I found Zhen Tea’s Youtube video, ‘What is Dark Tea (Hei Cha) and How to brew it?’

In the video, Phil describes that difference between dark tea and others is (hint hint – the name of the set) processing! Dark tea undergoes a microbial fermentation which can be short or long. Think composting!

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The Zhen Tea Dark Tea MASTER – Process Box came in a paper black square box with three teas inside:

  • Aged Premium Tian Jian 2013, 15 grams
  • Qian Liang Cha 2012, 15 grams
  • Fu Zhuan Premium, 15 grams

The Dark Tea MASTER box is described as [a] carefully designed [box] for [those] who want to explore the nuances between different processes of dark tea. All three teas are from the same garden, processed by the same producer for minimum variances so that you can focus on just tasting the process.

The last line, especially, is what made me decide to purchase the box because then the only difference between the teas is the actual process itself! The teas come from Gaomaerxi, Anhua, Hunan Province, China and were harvested in spring. It was recommended 5 grams of leaf for 7 to 10 infusions.

So, with some background information about dark tea, the collection, and the teas themselves, let’s go!

 

Aged Premium Tian Jian 2013

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Description: “The liquor flavour overall is bold and satisfying, with a subtle tartness plays on the sides of the mouth while the incredibly thick liquor seems to be exploding with dark chocolate essence.”

Instructions: 5g/90ml at 100°C for 20 secs, 2nd & 3rd infusion for 30s | 7-10 infusions

Review: The dry tea was comprised of twisted dark chocolate brown leaves, with some lighter tips, and steams. It had a woody and earthy smell. After warming the leaves in the gaiwan, the aroma of the leaves was sweet, warm, roasted, and reminded me of baked bread or cocoa.

Infusion 1 (20 seconds): The liquor was a reddish amber yellow colour with little specks at the bottom of the cup. It had a warm and earthy smell. It tasted sweet, honey, floral with a woodsy aftertaste. The wet leaves smelled roasted, nutty, and fruity. When cooled, the liquor was more honey-like with a hint of bitterness.

Infusion 2 (30 seconds): The leaves had mostly unfurled. The liquor was a darker golden amber colour. It had a strong roasted nutty and earthy taste, with a hint of mushroom and bitterness at the very tail end of the sip. The liquor was also mildly drying on the tongue.

Infusion 3 (30 seconds): The liquor was less golden yellow colour and more reddish-brown. The roasted taste had mellowed out, and there were some herbal and fermented notes. It was drying all around the mouth.

Infusion 4 (45 seconds): The liquor remained reddish brown (like Infusion 3). Taste-wise, it was like damp earth and had some medical undertones and a hint of nuttiness. There was also astringency at the tail end of the sip.

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Infusion 5 (1 minute): The leaves have fully unfurled and the liquor was more reddish. The sip started off like damp earth and herbal-ish, but midway through, it was replaced with a bit of honey sweetness. The liquor was drying on the teeth.

Infusion 6 (1 minute, 15 seconds): The liquor was more of a golden yellow and the earthy roasted nutty notes are back, alongside fermented and medical note.

Infusion 7 (1 minute, 30 seconds): The liquor was much more delicate and tasted of hay and raisins with a lingering sweetness. It was reminiscent of earlier infusions.

Infusion 8 (1 minute, 45 seconds): The leaves were spent and the flavour was faint.

Overall, I really enjoyed the journey that this tea took me on; from honey-sweet notes to more fermented medicinal ones. I liked that it wasn’t overly fermented or sour (3.5/5 rating).

  • Type: Dark tea
  • Origin: China, Hunan Province, spring 2013
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Dark tea
  • Company: Zhen Tea

 

Qian Liang Cha 2012

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Description: “This historic tea that is pressed into gigantic bamboo tubes becomes a silky copper liquor, urging you to take that first sip. It starts with a brisk bright bamboo-y kiss on the lips that deepens into a soothing blanket-like feeling. “

Instructions: 5g/90ml at 100°C for 20 secs, 2nd & 3rd infusion for 30s | 7-10 infusions

Review: This is actually my first time tasting qian liang, which is a tea that is aged inside bamboo tubes. The tea came in a few broken blocks and it is clear how compressed the tea is. In the cross-section, it almost looked like plywood and I couldn’t make out distinct leaves because it was tightly compressed. The pieces had a faint earthy herbal smell. I warmed the leaves inside the giawan and it had a mushroom and fermented savoury smell.

Infusion 1 (20 seconds):  The liquor was a rose gold colour with a mild woodsy smell. Tastewise, the liquor had a mellow fermented taste. It reminded me of Chinese medicinal herbs and had some herbal mushroom notes.  The wet leaves had a marine-like smell.

Infusion 2 (30 seconds): The liquor was more reddish-yellow. It still had a mild fermented taste, along with a fishy mushroom taste. The leaves are still a clump and mostly unfurled. The liquor was drying when cool.

Infusion 3 (30 seconds): When I opened the gaiwan to pour out the liquor, there was a strong whiff of damp earth. It took me a while to pin down the taste, but it reminded me of camphor and was medical, and woodsy.

Infusion 4 (45 seconds): The golden orange liquor tasted earthy, fermented and dirt. There was a hint of bitterness at the back of the mouth.

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Infusion 5 (1 minute): The liquor was more reddish-brown and classic pu-erh colour. It was fermented, earthy, mushroom, camphor, and herbal. The flavour was slightly stronger, but there was also a more pronounced astringency and dryness at the tip of the tongue.

Infusion 6 (1 minute, 15 seconds): At this point, the leaves have unfurled into large rigid broken leaves. The liquor was a golden amber colour again. It tasted fermented and of hay, with a hint of sweetness.

Infusion 7 (1 minute, 30 seconds): The reddish-brown liquor was faint, with the medical and fermented taste. There was a lingering of earthiness.

Infusion 8 (1 minute, 45 seconds): The liquor tasted like Infusion 7 with the medical and fermented notes, but ‘flat.’

Infusion 9 (2 minutes): There is a fleeting taste of mushrooms. The leaves have mostly unfurled. 

When I was tasting this tea, there was a flavour I couldn’t identify. Looking back now, I realized that may have been the bamboo. It took me a while for me to warm up to the taste. I enjoyed it more the second time around (3/5 rating).

  • Type: Dark tea
  • Origin: China, Hunan Province
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Dark tea
  • Company: Zhen Tea

 

Fu Zhuan Premium

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Description: “The centre of the flavour had a medicinal herb feel and the ending had a delicious cocoa finish. And that was just the first sip! The tart sensation at the beginning of the sip combined with the dried fruit as we progressed through the infusions and the delightful cocoa flavours pulled forward merging into a truly premium experience.”

Instructions: 5g/90ml at 100°C for 20 secs, 2nd & 3rd infusion for 30s | 7-10 infusions

Review: The dry leaves were compressed with thin pieces and had a musky earthy smell. There was also a scattering of Golden Flower (eurotium cristatum). It is a fungus that is encouraged and found on fu brick teas. I have actually never had it on my tea before, so I looked it up.

The fungus is described as “Eurotium cristatum is predominate fungus in Fu-brick tea. It grows yellow cleistothecium during floating technique, which is called “golden flower”, on special temperature and humidity conditions. It is one of the important standards in Fu-brick tea.” — Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The warm leaves from the gaiwan had a smell I really didn’t expect; it reminded me of salted egg yok and was savoury.

Infusion 1 (20 seconds): The liquor was amber colour and had a faint woodsy smell. It had a savoury taste and was a bit sour.

Infusion 2 (30 seconds): The liquor was a more reddish liquor. It was very medical and herbal with hints of marine and grass. The leaves have mostly broken apart. 

Infusion 3 (30 seconds): The reddish liquor smelled fishy. It had a herbal, medical, and surprising floral taste. 

Infusion 4 (45 seconds): The liquor had a mix of flavours, which I personally didn’t find enjoyable. It switched between mushroom, medical, tart, and bitter.

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Infusion 5 (1 minute): The liquor also had a range of flavours from mushroom, herbal, and medicinal ending off with some astringency.

Infusion 6 (1 minute, 15 seconds): This infusion was similar to Infusion 5 with some dryness at the back of the throat.

Infusion 7 (1 minute, 30 seconds): The flavour was mostly mushroom and was drying on the teeth.

Infusion 8 (1 minute, 45 seconds): The liquor was faint with some bitterness.

Like the Qian Liang Cha 2012 (above), it took till the second session for me to like this tea more. I think the flavour that was off-putting for me was the Golden Flower as I have never had it before. It tasted very fishy and sour to me. I didn’t find it as strong the second time around as I think it was more familiar. I would like to try other fu brick teas with Golden Flowers to narrow down on how it tastes (2.5/5 rating).

  • Type: Dark tea
  • Origin: China, Hunan Province, spring 2016
  • Caffeine: Unknown
  • Ingredients: Dark tea
  • Company: Zhen Tea

 

Final Thoughts

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Overall, I think the collection is a good demonstration of how much processing affects the final results. Like I said earlier, dark teas are not something I am overly familiar with, so it was nice to see the range of teas and flavours, even in the same category.

I heard that dark teas are something you grow to love, and I can see why. The flavours were quite distinctive and I have a lot to learn. Even if I had mix reactions to the teas themselves, I think it is important to be able to separate the teas and the collection.

From a collection standpoint, this box does what was advertised, which is demonstrated how processing affects the final result. Each tea was processed differently and it showed in both the aroma and liquor. I really appreciate that sets like these are curated because they are extremely informative. I know that Zhen Tea has a cultivar Master box which I am eying (4.5/5 rating).

The question of the post: What processing would you like to learn more about?

 

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