An incredibly complex and unique tea with long lingering tangy citrus notes accompanied by gentle chocolate notes, completely unique.
This was an entirely new kind of tea for me. Balhyocha is unique to Korea, and is sometimes classified as an oolong, sometimes as a yellow tea, sometimes as a black tea. It is all of these, yet none of them at the same time. With that cryptic nonsense out of the way, I did some digging to find out exactly what it is I was drinking.
Hwangcha is a type of yellow tea, which is processed like a green tea, but with the added step of heaping the leaves in a pile, which yellows the leaves and lightly oxidizes them. "Balhyo" literally translates to "fermented" or "oxidized" tea. The leaves aren't rolled or bruised like oolongs typically are; instead most of the oxidation and fermentation takes place in the piling process. The difference between a Korean hwangcha and a traditional Chinese yellow tea is that the hwangcha is not subjected to the fixing process that kills the enzymes. That instead happens during the piling at the end of processing. So what we end up with is something king of like a yellow tea, kind of like an oolong, and kind of like a black tea. Thanks to World of Tea for the great article on balhyocha here.
Dry leaves - I totally forgot to take a picture before pouring the water on them, so sorry for that. The leaves are fairly small, dark and twisted, fairly reminiscent of a Fujian black tea. The aroma is malty, grainy, and citrusy, with just a hint of cocoa.
Brewing parameters - 190F, 10s first, +5s after
Tasting notes - Malt, orange peel, dried hay, cocoa, cane sugar, sweet potato
This one has one of the most diverse flavor profiles I've ever seen. It's just an unique as as the process to make it. The first couple steeps start off fairly malty, with a bit of hay and citrus undertones. It is quite smooth, and has no astringency whatsoever.
Steeps 3-5 start to shift the flavors to the fruity side. The maltiness has subsided a little bit and the citrusy element has become a fairly well defined orange peel flavor. Dried hay and a cane sugar sweetness have started to come out as well. There is just a hint of cocoa at the end of the sip, which I hope will become more prominent later.
Steeps 6-8 are just wonderful. The tea really peaks here. Malt, orange, hay, cocoa, sugar, and just the tiniest touch of sweet potato have all come together to make a truly awesome brew. The flavor profile is very balanced, and no single flavor overwhelms the others.
Steeps 9-12 have mostly petered out, but still retain a similar profile to earlier. The cocoa is very subtle especially. I love chocolatey tea, and this one was sort of a tease with that. Regardless, it is still quite tasty.
I will definitely have to make a point of trying more balhyocha in the future. If they're all as good as this one, they're certainly worth the time. You can buy this tea from What-Cha here: http://what-cha.com/new-teas/korea-jeong-jae-yeuns-hwangcha-balhyocha-tea/
Ninja edit - I noticed right after posting this that this tea is out of stock at What-Cha. Hopefully Alistair will get this tea again this year, but if not there is another balhyocha available that I have yet to try.