Purple Bamboo Black is a uniquely special dian hong from Yunnan Province, the mountainous region of the Mekong River Valley that defines the western border of China. This stunningly beautiful and rugged region supports old-growth tea forest areas and is famous for Pu-erh and the ethnic minorities that populate its villages. When exploring there, one has the sense more of being in southeast Asia than China, as the number of Han Chinese living there is quite small.
This dian hong has plenty of buds and is technically a mao feng pluck (a bud and two leaves). Purple Bamboo Black tea is made from ‘old tea tree’ leaf materials – evidenced in the impressive and beautiful size of the tea leaves. This is only realized after the leaf is re-hydrated and they can extend to their ‘on-the-bush’ size and shape. This is because Purple Bamboo Black tea is a rolled & shaped tea in the style of a bi lo chun (snail), but it is among the largest examples of this laborious, hand-rolled shaping.
The flavor of Purple Bamboo Black is rich, creamy, well-balanced and satisfying. It is a quintessential ‘dry’ tea that straddles the flavor border between the dark oolongs and western China black teas. The flavor is extremely ‘clean’ and refreshing. The flavor does not linger on the palate until the third steeping or later, and by then it has a clean, polished sense of itself and so is welcome to linger. While still a young tea, Purple Bamboo Black offers a medley of woodsy, mossy, and dutch-process cocoa flavors. Purple Bamboo Black is a perfect bridge from a light Pu-erh to a soft Yunnan dian hong. It shows elements of both, but is its own distinct leaf material and is not fermented, just dry and earthy. There will be mellowing and deepening of its flavor during the leaf’s inevitable resting and ageing process, which is great news for drinking this leaf for the next half-to-full decade.
The aroma of the leaf is soft and has the fresh, woodsy aroma of a quick shower or heavy dew on fully-leafed trees in dense mountains. We love Yunnan black teas, especially teas from this area. With minimal ‘resting’ under its belt at this time, this dian hong has yet to develop the cascade of buttery, caramel flavor notes that it will in time. It is still ‘dry’, especially in the finish, with just a hint of raisins, toast, and mild cacao showing at this still-youthful stage of its development, there is much to look forward to with this leaf. Buy as much as you can and put it in a safe, stable environment and you will have a special tea for many years.
We know that it is just fine with a little milk, and combines well with sweetener too.
But for truest flavor, drink it as the locals in Yunnan do – plain. It is smooth (no negative astringency) and really quite full and rich in mouth-feel. It is most delicious and enjoyable in the cup now or do as we have done, and set some aside for further resting and improvement.