Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Taste of Yunnan Province

I've read extensively about how the region in which a tea is grown influences its flavor, and as I've sampled more teas and honed my palate, I've begun to taste some of these distinctions, particularly the unique characteristics of tea from Darjeeling and nearby Himalayan regions, but also in other areas as well, such as Vietnam. Most other regional distinctions still elude me.

Today I became newly aware such a phenomenon when drinking a cup of Rishi Tea's China Breakfast, which is a Yunnan Red or Dian Hong, a black tea produced in China's Yunnan province, the same province famous for being the origin of Pu-erh. The location of Yunnan is highlighted on this map of China:

The cup of Rishi's China Breakfast that inspired me is pictured below:

I've drunk numerous cups of this particular tea, but today, I noticed something different about it. My brain somehow isolated and identified a particular component of the aroma, and recognized it as one familiar from Pu-erh teas, and that has been present in all Yunnan red/Dian Hong that I've tried, and one that I do not recall ever experiencing in any other teas, black or otherwise. Unfortunately, I can't find words to clearly articulate what this aroma smells like. It's a quality that I like, however, and one that I like when Pu-erh has more of.

If I had to grope in the dark for words to describe this quality, I'd say it is suggestive of incense and slightly of shitaake mushrooms, but not at all like the familiar button mushrooms.

Have you noticed any qualities like this, unique to Yunnan province, or any other tea-producing region, independent of the style or variety of tea? Are you able to articulate them at all? I'd be curious to hear different perspectives on this.


  1. Another thing you might want to try is cupping a yunnan black against a keemun. Those are both chinese black teas, but very different. And it is all because of the region.
    I understand what you mean by not being able to isolate the specific flavor, but I can say that when I do taste a yunnan black, I know it. It is very unique!

  2. Yes, I wouldn't think of Keemun as being remotely similar to a Yunnan black. If I had to pick some other tea-producing region that produces Yunnan-like black teas, my first choice would be an Assam, but even those are rather different.

    I'm particularly interested though in trying teas of different styles from the same region. Yunnan is particularly interesting to me because it produces quite a variety of black, green, and Pu-erh teas, and I've tried multiple of all of these categories of tea. Another region like that is Darjeeling.

  3. Oh, goodness. First, I have to say I am very thankful I have come across this particular posting your yours. Also, I have been enjoying your blog.

    I have come across a similar situation. I have decided to only drink single origin teas so that I would be able to taste a tea and tell which part of the world it comes from. Currently my favorite tea is Yunnan black tea. I've been drinking Pu-erh, which is a Yunnan tea. One day recently I was driving to work drinking a cup of Yunnan black tea from Red Blossom Tea. If I remember correctly it was the second or third steeping. I distinctly remember this experience that was sort of an epiphany to my palate. I could pick up very distinct notes from that Yunnan tea that are very present in Pu-erh teas. I have not been able to recreate exactly the same experience, although I will keep trying. As I was drinking Yunnan black it was almost as if I was able to tell that that particular tea is near to the Pu-erh tea I was drinking early that week. I also was enjoying the Black Dragon Pearl tea from Adagio, which is an awesome tea. That too, is a Yunnan tea which I was also able to closely compare with the Red Blossom Yunnan tea and the Shou Pu-erh.
    Drinking tea by region is a pleasant experience. Definitely continue to compare and contrast teas of different regions. Also be aware that there are different tea plant varietals. Assam is a different varietal (Assamica) than what is grown in China (Sinensis). I haven't really tried to taste the difference yet. But I'm sure there is.