Sunday, October 23, 2016

#21 vs #21 - Hong Yun (Taiwan Tea Crafts & Taiwan Sourcing)

Despite all the nice black teas that the White2Tea club sent this year from Fujian and Yunnan China, I still think my favorite black teas are those from the Sun Moon Lake area of Taiwan.  I have been meaning for a while to round up a bunch of samples from Taiwan Sourcing and Taiwan Tea Crafts, and thanks to some recent sales on both sites, I finally have done that.

Taiwan Sourcing and Taiwan Tea Crafts sample haul.

Although both of these vendors offer an interesting selection of Taiwanese black tea, there is definitely some overlap in their offerings.  For example, they both offer Ruby #18, which is one of the most popular Taiwanese black teas, and they each have at least one "wild" variety of Taiwanese black tea.    For this write up I am focusing on the "#21" variety that both vendors offer.

Similar to some Taiwanese black teas I have reviewed in the past, this is another one of the tea varieties developed by the Taiwanese "Tea Research and Extension Station" (TRES), and thus calling the variety "TRES #21" is an acceptable name for it.  Another official name for it is "Hong Yun" or 紅韻.  The best translation I can find of this is "Red Rhyme."  Interestingly though, Taiwan Sourcing is calling this tea "Rhythm 21."  The tea on Taiwan Tea Crafts is simply labeled "Hong Yun T-21."  TRES #21 was developed in 2008 as a cross between Keemun and a Napalese assamica from Kyang.  Many vendors that sell Hong Yun mention that it is a premium/rare/precious tea due to a growing cycle that makes planning the harvest more time sensitive than other varieties, and other challenges exist during processing which is critical to bringing out the best flavor that #21 can offer.

Today I am drinking side-by-side the Spring 2016 "Rhythm 21" from Taiwan Sourcing (TS) (a.k.a. and from Taiwan Tea Crafts (TTC) the "Sun Moon Lake Premium Hong Yun T-21," specifically Lot 435 which is a summer (June) 2015 harvest.

Taiwan Tea Crafts #21 (left) and Taiwan Sourcing #21 (right)
Both versions show a similar leaf size and shape, with the TS version being slightly lighter in color.  The dry leaf of both versions smells very sweet, with the TTC reminding me of fruity red wine and the TS like that of grapefruit.

Upon hydration, the leaf aroma profile of the two teas completely flipped.   Now the grapefruit note came through more on the TTC version along with a wonderful aroma of fresh baked blueberry muffins.  The TS version had a darker aroma like that of molasses, blackberry cream soda, purple raisins, and raspberry chocolate chip ice cream.  Needless to say, the aroma of both was very very sweet.

The taste of both of these teas remained consistent with the wet leaf aroma.  Both have a very impressive natural sweetness, and the TTC version has those citrus high notes supported by a blueberry bread base and blackberry jam.  The TS hong yun has plenty of fruit berry flavors, though creamier, and has less high notes; instead a hint of spices comes through such as cinnamon, and the base notes are darker, slightly earthy and toasty.  Someone new to tea would probably have a hard time believing that these flavor notes and sweetness are naturally occurring and that no additional flavors have been added.

These flavor/aroma trends continue into the aftertaste.  The TTC aftertaste has the notable sweet grapefruit citrus note, but it also has a good heavy "black tea" base that gives it some depth and keeps the citrus characteristic from being too prominent.  It's important to note here that the "grapefruit" flavor is very sweet, not a sour grapefruit.   I found the TTC #21 aftertaste so strong and lingering that I had to wait several minutes and drink some water before I felt ready to move on to the next infusion of the TS #21.  With a clean palate, the TS #21 aftertaste again had less high notes and seemed more toasty.  Baked berry confections such as blackberry cobbler and blueberry muffins dominate but kept in balance with a hint of port-wine.

Taiwan Tea Crafts #21 (left) and Taiwan Sourcing #21 (right)

Seeing the brewed leaf and liquor side-by-side shows a few differences.  The TTC leaf is slightly more red than the TS leaf which has a hint of green to it.  The TS product page does mention that the leaf is "85% oxidized."  TTC does not try to quantitate the oxidation level, but simply says that it is "high," as you would expect for a black tea.  The liquor of both teas is crystal clear, with the TTC version being what I call "deep orange" and the TS version "medium orange."  As far as liquor mouthfeel, they are similar, with TTC feeling thick and very soft, and TS feeling creamy and coating.

This is another side-by-side comparison tasting where I am not going to try to declare one of these teas a winner or loser.  The similarities of dessert-like berry sweetness in these teas indicate why I love certain Taiwanese black teas so much, and the differences I found in these teas indicate that even the same cultivar can produce slightly different teas depending on variations in, presumably, processing, harvest date/season, exact farm location, farming methods, etc.

One final difference between these two teas is the price.  Both are sold out at the time of writing this, but I will mention it anyway.  The Taiwan Tea Crafts version comes out to be 52 cents per gram up to 50g (with bulk discounts at 150g and above), and the the Taiwan Sourcing version is 30-36 cents per gram depending on the quantity up to 150g.  If buying 25g, the TTC version would be $13 and the TS version would be $9.  Depending on what flavor notes you prefer or if you have no preference, this price difference could be significant.  Unfortunately though it is hard to know for sure if the same flavor notes will be consistent season to season, and a vendor's description can only tell us so much since much of taste perception is subjective.  Both of these vendors occasionally have sales and coupon codes, but these types of teas sell out fast so if you catch them in stock, it might be a risky bet to wait for a sale to come along if you aren't lucky to catch one.  Hopefully the vendors will have these in stock again in the future.

Link to Taiwan Sourcing:
Link to Taiwan Tea Crafts: