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Golden Peony Black, a New Favorite

by Lydia Kung

Hunan province is a prodigious producer of teas, always a powerhouse that ranks in the top 3 in various China-wide rankings. This was a well known fact, but I wanted to see beyond the large factories,with their 10-ton or even larger capacity equipment for blending batches. What I sought from a trip last month was to gain a sense of “place,” to learn about teas associated with specific regions in that province, and about teas that rarely enter the export markets.

One happy discovery illustrates a good teaching moment as well as offering wonderful flavor: Gold Mudan Black, from Anhua in northwestern Hunan. (Shown at left is a garden in Anhua.)

On such trips, we usually meet various groups:

  1. the tea growers and tea pickers — not too much time spent these folks;
  2. people who work in the tea factories — usually speaking with the managers and briefly with the staff;
  3. the people on the trading side of the business, the exporters associated with the factories;
  4. tea specialists, usually trained at agricultural universities — their knowledge is usually the most useful and elucidating.

In one memorable tasting, we were led by one tea specialist who had been at his position for 27 years. Somewhat reticent at first – no doubt gauging the extent of our true interest — he opened up as the tasting proceeded, injecting wry humor as we all got well steeped in cupping. Early in our 3 hour session, he directed our attention to a Black tea, Golden Peony.

He was almost apologetic about the appearance of the dry leaf, as being “not very pretty.” I suppose comparing this with a gold tipped Black would give validation to his view, but the “gold” in this tea’s name is part of the cultivar’s name, and does not refer to gold tips, as in the case of a Black tea such as Gold Monkey.

“MuDan” is familiar to us from the white tea sub-group, and the flavor of this Black more than makes up for whatever might be wanting in the dry leaf’s appearance. A whiff of the dry leaves gives a hint of the floral notes that follow, and they bloom in a most wonderful fashion, suggestive of honeysuckle.

To get the fullest sense of the amazing floral aroma and finish, if you have a gaiwan/covered bowl, try brewing this with 6 to 7 grams with a very short steep of less a minute for the first brew. Continue a bit longer for each subsequent brew, and you’ll agree this is an Oolong lover’s Black tea.

As for the story behind the finished product:

  1. the cultivar, Jin Mudan/Gold Peony is a cultivar originally from Fujian.
  2. In fact, at a garden of various cultivars (located elsewhere), a sign by this cultivar proclaims that this Fujian specimen is used to make Oolong.
  3. Transplanted in northwestern Hunan, at an elevation of between 400-600 m, the tea yields a quite different character.
  4. This tea was made before Qing Ming (April 5th) and at the time of this writing, there remain only 100 kgs., a very small yield tea. What I find most intriguing is that spark that led the tea specialist to use this cultivar to make Black tea, instead of Oolong. What intuitive sense led him to experiment in this way? (still researching…)

So we have in one tea:

  1. a very place-specific tea, albeit in a new place, offering a fine example of the role that terroir can have on the outcome;
  2. a product made in a non-traditional, fully oxidized manner when previous practice was to make a semi-oxidized tea from the cultivar;
  3. a good value Black from early spring, exhibiting warm floral notes with a honey finish.

May 7, 2019