I’ve written in the past about how Pu-erh is traditionally sold in tuo-cha, or bird’s nest shaped tea cakes. Well today, I’m trying one that’s just perfect for February and feeds my Frozen fetish: heart-shaped tea cakes called “Dark Heart”. ;)
Dark Heart is easily the cutest tuo-cha i’ve ever seen. It’s a tiny heart brick of tea a little larger than a Smarties heart. Generally you would only use one tuo-cha to make a single cup of tea. Since Dark Heart is so small that I actually used two–I wasn’t completely sure they’d break up like other tuo-cha since they’re so compact and I only have a plastic Wendy’s spoon to agitate with today. You always want to agitate with bamboo if possible. I can’t concretely explain why… it just performs better and fundamentally supports overall tea culture. Turns out my caution paid off: if I’d just gone with one nest the heart would have been too Yin… Err… That is to say, the tea would have been too weak. ;P
I can’t say with any real certainty who produces Dark Heart or exactly which variety it is–I bought it retail rather generically from TranquiliTea, and it’s super cute and delicious and that’s about all i know for sure. But i do have a theory: Dark Heart’s aroma is dusty with a Pu-erh like age (secondary fermentation) and although its grit is a dead ringer for Pu-erh, the taste is a bit smoother and woodier. After a bit of research I’m thinking Dark Heart is actually a Heicha cousin of Pu-erh from Hunan often called “Dark Rose” or “Victorian Rose”. Dominion Tea has one such variant. Despite my usual success at researching rare teas, I haven’t been able to put my finger on the actual Chinese name for Dark Heart. The confusion arises in that Heicha is sometimes called “Hunan Dark” though modern production has shifted to Yunnan. Someday I aspire to be able to tell the difference between a tea produced in Yunnan and Hunan just from sampling it… but unless we’re talking about Royal Gold, that’s probably a ways off yet, if ever. Nevertheless, I’m ecstatic to encounter a new tea, especially one as drinkable as Dark Heart. Since it has a smoother palette than most Pu-erh, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in trying a dirtier tea who might be otherwise be intimidated by a full-on Pu-erh. At any rate, this isn’t a Dark Heart you should be wary of… *ducks*
At this point, I don’t really see the necessity to break out “tuo-cha” as being a different category from Pu-erh. This is literally the first time I’ve encountered one that wasn’t (if you know of any others please don’t hesitate to send them my way! I give props lovingly).