In recent years, as the world of tea drinkers have come to understand more about Yunnan’s Big Leaf Varietals, Sun Dried black tea from these trees has gained popularity. We consider it an experimental tea as it takes regional methods traditionally used in making raw pu’erh – that is, using only the sun to dry the tea leaves – and applies this technique towards crafting a black tea.
It is understood that high temperature roasting incrementally reduces the “aliveness” of tea leaves, as their enzymes are gradually broken down by the heat. Sun drying, however, does not reach temperatures high enough to damage the enzymatic qualities of the leaves. With this tea, that does not see any of the charcoal roasting we would expect in a traditional black tea, we get something very unique.
This experimental approach is made possible by Yunnan’s position and high elevation in the mountains, where the sun is very hot and the moisture content of the air is quite low. Thus, being able to make Sun Dried Black is heavily dependent on the weather and the presence and intensity of the sun. It’s energy and heat reaching the high plateaus of Yunnan is the most important requirement for producing Sun Dried Black. If the temperature is not high enough, or the air is not dry enough, Mr. Tang cannot make this tea. This is one of the reasons we consider it to be so precious: it is conditional, and its availability speaks to the sunlight Yunnan did or did not receive.
Mr. Tang made this tea from the leaves of tea trees that he planted himself almost 20 years ago. The tea trees are the indigenous varietal called “Jinggu Big White,” and one-bud-two-leaves are harvested at the first flush of the season, (the same time as the Green Peony white tea sprouts). His small tea farm is maintained naturally, using regenerative and biodynamic methods.
This is only the third year that Mr. Tang has made a Sun Dried Black. In crafting this tea he has experimented with making it from leaves harvested in the Spring. Usually we would expect black teas made from Spring harvest leaves to be slightly bitter and astringent. However, in his experiment with using only heat from the sun to dry the leaves, Mr. Tang was surprised to find that the tea was not bitter or astringent at all – rather, it had a very unique and pleasant taste.
The tea is a golden colour that maintains its intensity throughout many infusions. It is surprisingly light on the palate, with bright tannins. At first it has a delicate lemon flavour, followed immediately by the taste of heavy milk. This distinct acid-base sequence made us curious to shake the tea over ice and see if it would do something akin to emulsifying. And it did! – it turned opaque and frothed, like the original Boba.
After preparing Sun-Dried Red the broad wet leaves are amazing to look at: their substance is dense and even, as if they are made out of red clay.
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