The East is Red is an interesting Dancong Oolong varietal. Originally cultivated during the Maoist Era, the name itself comes from a famous revolutionary song. While this tea is often grown and sold as a gift tea, the quality of this less-common varietal is always stunning for us. On Wudong Mountain, this cultivar is one of young maker Wen Zitong's favorites, when visiting neighbors in the village, he would always request to try their East is Red, this tea has a lot of local fame and appreciation.
The leaves are a little larger, more robust than a lot of other varietals, as this tea is often harvested later in the season. The roast is rich and warm offering up immediately notes of caramel, toast, and something meatier still. When placed in the warm gaiwan, their vegetation begins to show, but still balanced and tempered by the superb charcoal roasting.
Although the roast smells strong on the dry leaves, it is actually a medium roasted tea rather than a thrice roasted heavy style, this allows the leaves themselves more expression in the cup. While the leaves have deep mineral notes, when brewed the bouquet opens up like a pine forest after rain, cedar resin and fresh cut wood all mixed with rocky mineral undertones of the volcanic terroir from which this tea grew.
The tea soup is a perfect gold and slightly viscous. The mouthfeel is silky smooth and pleasantly thick offering similar cream and umami notes on the tongue as is found in the more common Duck Shit Fragrance. The pine fragrance from the leaves transmutes through the session into something more akin to cooking sage and stewed spices. The empty cup holds the aroma of rain on dry stone for a long time.
While the roast is medium, the oxidization level of this tea is remarkably low. Toward the end of the session, the green leaves shine through and their vegetal body is unveiled in floral sweetness around the sixth or seventh infusion.
The East is Red is a very popular revolutionary song from Maoist China, and this tea is an homage to that tune and its time.
During the Maoist Era, all the villages in the present day Phoenix Township of Eastern Guangdong were organized into a single massive commune － for two decades this commune produced virtually all of China's Dancong Tea. Although the commune has been defunct now for almost forty years and many of the innovations of that time (including dual-hand picking) have largely disappeared, one tea variety has stood the test of time: "Dongfanghong" AKA the East is Red. This tea was first developed and produced commercially during the height of the Cultural Revolution and has remained in production ever since, though grown now on a relatively small scale.