Sunday, November 14, 2010


As I have mentioned before, Golden Monkey tea from China is currently one of my very favorite teas.  I first had it, and continue to refresh my cannister, from Tao's tea shop.  But when I was in my neighborhood  Tealish recently I was delighted to find they had brought in a 2010 Golden Monkey.  Fresh tea and Golden Monkey -- two of this girl's current loves!

The two teas look very different and have distinct flavours but are both wonderful, exhibiting the tea type's classic sweet flavour and soft mouthfeel.

Golden Monkey is a black Chinese tea originating in the Fujian province.  On the coast, Fujian is the country's biggest tea-producer as well as the producer of the widest range of teas. From what I read, Golden Monkey is traditionally a Mao Jian pluck meaning it's a bud and one slightly larger leaf (as opposed to a Mao Feng pluck which is two equal-length leaves and a bud). 

I want to take a minute on this tea's name.  There are a number of explanations for it and then my own theory.

1.  From  Chinese Tea Supplier
In earlier times Golden Monkey was the tea of Taipans and local overlords. They claimed that the secret for this tea was that it had to be plucked by the golden monkey which centuries ago inhabited the forests of Fujian Province. This special tea was very rare and the Taipans demanded every ounce of tea because they claimed that it gave them ‘the agility and prowess of the patriarch of a golden monkey troop’. 

2. From many sites (probably quoting each other) including Wikipedia:
According to legend, this particular tea grows in lofty and precipitous peaks making it difficult to pluck the leaves so local people trained monkeys to pluck the tea leaves, hence the name.

3. From the Adagio Tea package:
The name comes from its unique appearance: the leaves resemble monkey claws.

Here's my theory.  Have a look at this Sichuan Golden Monkey's colour and lovely furry golden arms and compare it to the photo below of the tea's lovely furry golden buds -- now tell me, where do you think the name came from?
This image of the endangered Golden Monkey
was captured from the site

Please click on this photo to enlarge it to appreciate the
wonderful furry golden leaf bud tips in Tao's Golden Monkey
tea and compare it to the monkey's furry golden arms.  Nuh?

Just off-the-boil water for 2 minutes.

And while we're waiting for the teas to brew, a look at and deep inhalation of the dry leaves. (A colleague in the biz  passed along that if you exhale onto the dry leaves before smelling them you slightly infuse them with the moisture of your breath and they give off a stronger scent.  Neat huh?)
Two Golden Monkeys: Tao's on the left, Tealish's on the right.

These two teas look and feel very different as you can see from the photo above. Tao's Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu (fine Golden Monkey from Zhenghe) is much fluffier, the leaves smaller and more spidery and it's comprised almost entirely of bright furry golden buds.  The aroma of its dry leaves is sweet, already giving off toffee notes.  The Tealish G.M.'s leaves are thicker and larger with fewer furry buds which are a darker, beautiful rich orange.  It is also giving a sweet aroma but less candied and more like lovely sweet buttered spinach.

Tao's G.M. wet leaves are an even light brown, and are long and even looking kind of like miniature brown pea pods.  This is the still-rolled leaf and leaf bud.  The Tealish G.M. wet leaves are broken, darker, and a more traditional coppery brown with a bit of dark green showing.

Both give off first notes that are sweet and soft.  Tao's G.M then comes through like buttered whole wheat toast, while the Tealish G.M.'s sweetness is more sweet buttered spinach and overall has a sharper, darker aroma --is that a breath of anise or liquorice in there too?
Tealish Golden Monkey wet leaves.  Some broken whole
leaves, some buds on left, and a slight green cast
to some of the leaves.

Golden Monkey from Tao's Tea House wet leaves.  Note
one leaf and a bud and the beautiful evenness of the pluck.

The Tao G.M brewed liquor is distinctly orangey-red and abit cloudy which, on closer examintation, is due to the fine bud hairs floating about.  In contrast, the Tealish G.M. is very clear and bright and a lovely, red-brown.
Two Golden Monkey's -- sourced from Tealish on the left,
and from Tao's Tea House on the right.  They brew to quite
different colours -- much more orangey-red on the right.

Both are light to medium bodied with little or no astringency, and when they've cooled give a hint of smokeyness.  Although they both feature buds, I did not find either of these teas to be high in caffeine.  (In general, China bush teas tend to be lower in caffeine.)

I brewed each of these four times over a couple of days, and I must say it's easy to overbrew, especially the Tao's G.M., to bitterness.  However, when not overbrewed both these Golden Monkeys deliver on the type's renowned sweet cup -- caramel to toffee notes, over a light base of typical black tea tangyness.

In a way this is a most unfair brew-off.  Tao's G.M. is a higher grade tea -- starting with its gorgeous good looks, but the Tealish G.M. has the advantage of being fresh and therefore offers a wonderful breadth of tasting notes. 

The Tao G.M is pronouncedly sweeter and smoother with more toffee'd notes.  It really is a very fine tea, and a fine example of a Golden Monkey.  (It's price point is almost double, not surprisingly.)  However, the Tealish G.M did not disappoint and, being fresh, offers some sharp, dark notes and a light toastyness which provide a balance to the sweet caramel notes. Because it's fresh it also gives hints of other things, like the possible flash of liquorice I mentioned.  Although I find it hard to believe, I've read that some people find Golden Monkey too sweet -- the Tealish G.M. could be just right for them.  

Personally, I generally keep Tao's G.M to savour as an afternoon tea but have been digging in to the Tealish G.M. for breakfast. 

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