Monday, February 20, 2012

2011 Dong Cheon "Dan Cha" Semi-Wild Hwagae Valley Red Tea

Arthur Park of Morning Crane Tea kindly sent the four Dong Cheon teas that he distributes. Of all the hundreds of Korean teas one has tried, never were they red tea. Over the last few years Koreans started developing a pallet for red tea (English call it black tea). So, quite naturally, one was egar to try this unlikely Korean tea.

First, there needs to be a comment on the name of this tea, "Dan-cha". Arthur stated that the teamaster at Dong Cheon Tea, Kim Jong Gyun, prefered to call this tea "Dan-cha". This is interesting because red tea in Korea is commonly known as "hongcha", the Chinese transliteration. What is also interesting is that this tea is not named the literal red colour in Korean which is "Bbal kang". So this begs the question, "Why is the name "Dan-cha" preferred?

The name "Dan-cha" has Daoist roots and implies good health. More specifically "Dan" here is alluding to the "Dantian" or "cinnabar field". Essentially it is referring to a deeper essence of red or cinnabar red. It has health implications because it suggests that the chaqi of this tea can touch our essence as it traverses the three chambers of our body. Arthur has since commented that the name was intended to imply "Dan-yak" or "miracle cure", another Daoist view of the teas potential health benefits.

Let's sit down with this tea meditatively and see if this tea is truly red tea, if it stands up to its name, and if its chaqi is at all penetrating.

The dry leaf is comprised of small black saejak grade leaves. They smell of deep, meaty, licorice notes with light woody-raisin notes in the distance. There is an interesting meaty-pungent odour in there as well.

These leaves are placed in a warm pot and water that spends only seconds in the cooling pot is makes its way over these leaves.

The first infusion presents with smooth-creamy bitter-sweet mild astringent black tea initial taste. The colour of the pour is a vibrant red-brown- if any doubts about it being a hongcha have arisen they are completely gone. A woody-raisin taste with a smooth sweet finish fills the mouth. There is a lingering mahogany-date quality to the finishing taste. The mouthfeel is full and goes down to the lower throat, coating it. One breaks a sweat all over, cheeks feel flushed, ones mind accelerated. A maple syrup-like sweetness is left on the breath appearing minutes later.

The second infusion presents with a smooth-deep wood raisin bittersweet taste before a tangy undercurrent passes by. There are strong notes of walnut which present first here as well. The taste fades until faint chocolate notes appear. It finishes as more of a mahogany-chocolate taste, sweetness circles the mouth as well with raisin and deeper foresty wood on the breath. The aftertaste is long and complex, the mouthfeel is deep and full. Each cup pushes one into a hot flash and sweat- this qi is strong and warm, penetrating indeed.

The third infusion has tangy notes that are almost citrus and present first over the wood-raisin base. They evolve to a creamy, raisin, walnut, almost-chocolate, deep wood taste. There is a prominent and even sweetness throughout. The mouthfeel is more chalky and thick but a soft quality coats the full throat and mouth. A sweet syrupy-nut-raisin is left in the long aftertaste.

The fourth has a soft chalky wood start which becomes tangy before the deeper raisin wood is revealed. It turns tangy again as the wood-faded raisin sweetness holds in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel now has a soft, dry quality to it. The qi still pushes hard with each cup.

The fifth sees the soft, sweet, deep walnuty-wood taste becoming lighter now and evolving into a deeper mahogany raisin which comes out later and lingers with sweetness.

In the sixth soft, sweet, tangy wood start fades into a juicy and faint fruity nutty watery raisin taste. The fruit notes come out in this infusion. The mouthfeel is slowly coming out of the throat and more into the mouth, it is a little drying.

The seventh infusion is much the same with fruit notes more obvious and a touch of malty-syurpy sweet finish noted. The mouthfeel continues its evolution to a thinner chalkier type.

The eighth infusion presents more of the fruity-wood bark initial taste with that red tea astringency gone this tea now tastes like quality balhyocha. It evolves into a deeper woody taste. The mouthfeel hold the upper throat and mouth.

This tea is enjoyed for another four or five pots. Here woody notes are more dominant but still full complex flavours can be found. Of note are the appricot and faint coco undertones enjoyed in these late infusions.

Link to Cha Yi Ji's Tasting Notes

Link to dicipleoftheleaf's Tasting Notes

Currently 2011 Dan-cha is available from the following vendors:

Morning Crane Tea

Phoenix Tea House



Centranthus said...

THAT is awesome. Haven't had too much experience with loose leaf hongcha. All mine has been bagged stuff: Earl Grey, Assam, etc. Can this be brewed gongfu style, do you know?

Your reviews of the Balhyocha have me excited for this weekend, where I will finally be able to sample the 2009 from Dao Tea. (Kim Jong Yeol)

Matt said...


Hahaha... Yes much better than bagged tea, but that doesn't say much. This tea does well gong fu (12 infsuions even) as the experience changes much through each infusion.


Unknown said...

Your description is wonderful to read. I've been really enjoying this lovely tea, but finding it hard to define with words.

Matt said...


It is so fitting that your tea company, Phoenix Tea House, sells this tea. Perhaps we should rename this from "Dan-Cha" to "Cinnabar's Cha"! Seriously, thought of this while typing out this post. Hahaha...

Thanks for your kind words and support.


Unknown said...

I continue to discover all kinds of connections to cinnabar and the color red. Discovering the connection with the term "dantian" when I was studying Taijichuan was unexpected, and marvelous, and I certainly appreciate the conceptual association to this tea.

GoodGreenTea said...

Just reading your blog makes me salivate. :-)

Matt, you should consider publishing your own book. Seriously.. ^^

Cho Hak said...

Thanks for the great review of this wonderful tea. I like the idea of Cinnabar calling this tea Cinnabar's Cha and featuring it in her shop. You're right about drinking this tea gong fu style. I've been drinking a lot of this tea lately this way and enjoying the subtle flavor changes. It is almost like meditating.

Unknown said...

Matt & Cho Hak - have you experimented with different temperatures on the Dan-Cha? I'd been brewing it with slightly below boiling water, but yesterday when I was making it for tea friends in the store I used water that was about 170-180 (in the cooling vessel for a couple of minutes), and I was surprised by how much the wonderful aromas and smooth sweetness came forward.

Matt said...


Hahaha... why would you buy a book when you can read it here for free?

You're too kind though.


"It is almost like meditating"



Have only had one session with these leaves, the one used for the material of this post.

Skepticism about it actually being hongcha precluded one to use a bit lower water temperature for the first infusion. Just off boiling water spent maybe one minute in an unwarmed cooling bowl before being poured into the pot. The results were so good that one continued in this manner, with a bit longer than one minute of cooling in the warmed cooling bowl for the second infusion. The time spent in the cooling bowl was decreased (resulting in higher temperatures) with each resulting infusion until boiling water was used for the later infusions.

Thanks for the great question.


sparris said...

Hi Matt,

thanks for the review :)

I found a British online shop, Nothing But Tea that sells two korean teas:

(a green)

and hwang cha

I have bought samples of both but have only tried the green at this time. Something to add to the list of vendors perhaps. They ship all over the world, I think.

Matt said...


Sorry about the late reply. Have been away from the internet for a long time now.

Thanks a bunch, will add them soon. What did you think of these Korean teas?


sparris said...

Still haven't got around to the yellow yet, the green I found decent for the price. Quite tippy leaves, clean taste but not a lot of stamina perhaps.

Since I'm not familiar with these teas yet I'm not at all sure but I'm guessing the leaves are not picked or processed manually, but maybe saejak pluck..?

I put up a review on my blog(in Swedish I'm afraid) but perhaps you'd be able to glean something from the pictures of the leaves?

Any info you could add would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, and the leaves are tender enough to eat! I added a little Japanese soy and furikake, very yummy. =)

Matt said...


Thanks for the link. Have been reading all your Korean tea posts on Google Translator.