Tasting Notes: Dong Ding Competition Special Mention no5

December 4, 2019
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We gathered the chairs in the studio upstairs. Jasmin and Delphine finished setting up the table. Gaiwans, yixing teapots, kettles, tea cups… everything was ready for a long evening of tea drinking. Ten seats around the square table: one for each of the staff and a couple of extras for close friends. Tonight is Tea Night in Quebec City.

For the employees of Camellia Sinensis, these events are tagged as “not to miss”. They create a lot of excitement. Not only do we get to fully indulge in our passion for tea, but we also taste some really rare leaf, the high-end deals we rarely have access to. For most of us, one of the true perks of the job.

Tonight, we have a special treat. It comes from M. Nen Yu, one of our Taiwanese producers and member of the judges’ panel at the annual Luku Tea Competition. Each year, M. Nen Yu tastes and ranks the very best Dong Ding wulong teas, the special lots that the producers of that region keep for this annual competition. Through our friendship with him, we get access to these precious leaves. This year, he provided us with two of these teas: one is “First Grade” (ranked in the top 2% of the 5000+ entries); and the second is “Special Mention number 5” (literally the 5th place in the competition). In the centre of the table, the small 10g collection box branded 'Camellia Sinensis’ sits waiting. It reads Dong Ding Competition Special Mention #5.

To start the tasting, we warmed up with a few oddities from our personal collections: an unroasted Shui Xian from the Wuyi Moutain range; a Japanese wulong tea from Kyushu Island; and even a silvery-white tea that Jasmin made with the folks at Bitaco Tea Project in Columbia during his most recent trip. Loud slurps filled the room, we exchanged tasting impressions and conversation began to light up. New teas, new tastes, new experiences…always very exciting. Then Jasmin reached for the special box in the centre. For most of us around the table, this may be the only opportunity we have each year to taste such special teas. They come in such small batches that it is company policy that staff sales are restricted (we have to save some for the clients!). So when the occasion does arise we taste diligently.  When produced in this traditional style, Dong Ding teas are deep and complex, demanding attention. So attention is duly given.

From the very first steeping, the staff was off… Someone commented it smelled like toasted buckwheat bread, another like warm honey and I even heard “coffee” mentioned. The tea was already offering more than we expected. 10 grams of leaves in a large gaiwan and everyone seemed to be having a different experience. The flavours in the leaves hadn’t even opened up yet and we were already seduced. The tightly furled leaves in the gaiwan bore very fine aromas, scents so clear and bright they were hard to describe. All comparisons fell short: burnt caramel, molasses, wild berries, marzipan, spring flowers, charred wood… descriptions rang almost true but not precise. Expansive taste, wild fragrances, dynamic profile, and strong mouthfeel.... The group became a little lost in the experience. Throughout the repeated steepings, as sweeter herbal and flowery notes started to appear, we never felt that we had summarized the tea. The tea bore such complexity yet expressed it with such balance, it was remarkable.

We drank seven or eight infusions of this Dong Ding Competition Special Mention #5, then moved on to other teas, then came back to it. It still had much to give and we drank it with thirst. But as the night went on and the tea finally paled, we all left the table with the warm feeling of an incredibly rewarding tasting.

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