Fringe benefits

Sometimes tea comes to me from completely unexpected sources. A couple of months ago I began working on a project with a woman who had spent a considerable amount of time working in China on business development, in coordination with the US State Department. During the course of our initial conversation talk turned – as it so often does – to tea, and specifically Chinese tea. (Amusingly, this meeting had taken place in a coffee shop, and both of us had valiantly tried to find some sort of palatable tea to order from the menu before we even introduced ourselves to each other.)

At our next in-person meeting, which took place a number of weeks later, she handed me a small, brilliant red and intriguing packet, and told me that one of the Chinese exchange students who she had hosted over the holidays had given it to her. She didn’t know anything about the specific type of tea that it was.

I like the challenge of trying to figure out what something is with very little obvious information, so I looked forward to trying this mystery tea.

When I first opened the package I was struck by a very nice aroma, and noted that the leaf looked like a very nice quality tea, and indeed it brewed into one. My guess was that it was probably some sort of Wuyi Oolong, possibly a medium-grade Da Hong Pao. The packaging is almost useless in providing clues to what tea it is because in the area that I think tells about the tea, the Chinese characters are very small, lightly printed in metallic gold ink on metallic glittery red foil. I don’t think I could read it even if it were in English.

After the tea was gone I flattened out the package and I noticed that there was a faint picture on it. The picture looks to me like it’s a drawing of a mountain, which would seem to indicate to me that it might indeed be from Wuiyi Mountain. Whether it’s Da Hong Pao or not I can’t say for sure, although it does look and taste quite similar to other teas I have had from that same region of China.

Addendum following Charles’ comment and some more research: The answer might have been right in front of me all along. The characters on the left are on the front of the tea package. The three characters on the right are “Da Hong Pao.”


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. The writing is very scribbled, but the second character resembles the character “hong” 红 with it’s left-half “E” and right-half “I” shapes. “Da” 大 and “pao” 袍 can also sort of be seen in those scrawls, but I’d never have guessed “da hong pao” working forward from the characters on the package alone.

    • I originally assumed that the package was just one of those generic foil sealed packs, so I didn’t attempt to translate. Maybe I’ll go onto MDBG and make more of an effort with it.

  2. Then again, as we all know….. what it says on the bag may or may not be what’s actually inside. It’s quite standard for vendors to package any Wuyi teas into bags that say “Dahongpao”, regardless of what it actually is. I have quite a few bags of this sort of thing myself, while the teas in them are quite varied — Beidou #1, Shuixian, even Lapsang.

    • Yes, and that’s a good reminder of the unreliability in labeling. I have no doubt that Da Hong Pao is probably one of the most commonly forged of all Chinese teas. I can definitely say that this particular tea tasted like a fairly good quality WuYi oolong, and it was certainly a surprise to get handed decent tea by someone I had only just recently met.

      • I wouldn’t necessarily say forged, mostly because when they pack it for me, for example, I know what I’m getting and they know what they’re packing. They just use the bag because, well, that’s what they’ve got. A reseller who then sells it as a DHP is the one forging, if anything, and sometimes they don’t even know themselves.

        • I was thinking of the seller who either does not know or is intentionally misleading the buyer, in other words someone that you would not have direct contact with. The other situation is entirely different. I can see why they might want to use those festive red and gold bags for everything, Da Hong Pao or not.