Thursday, November 24, 2016

Lin farm Wu Dong Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong

I'm reviewing the last of four Dan Cong samples the Lin farm sent, another Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong (review of another and a "duck shit" version here).  It's described as from Wu Dong, a reference to the primary growing area, per my understanding.  But I hadn't planned to do research with this post, to really sort out growing range issues; maybe another time.

Loy Krathong, the last Thai holiday

I also want to express a wish to readers for a happy holiday season.  I'm working on Thanksgiving and Black Friday myself, because of course Thailand doesn't celebrate US holidays, but I'm still thankful.  I go through ups and downs, as anyone does, and I'm particularly concerned about the US these days, but it's a good time to also focus on things that go well.  I'm grateful for the family I have, I just miss those back in the US, and some of the rest of what goes on there.

We just celebrated Loy Krathong here recently, maybe closer to Easter than Thanksgiving.  The theme is atonement for sins, just not related to setting things straight with the Christian God.  Budhism doesn't really reject that there is such a god, kind of a long story.  It's also a good time to take stock in how things go, to appreciate what you have.  They will put up Christmas trees here soon but we're still waiting on temperatures to dip into the low 80's for the cool season (mid 20s C).  The rest of the meaning of the holidays doesn't really translate.

Back to business; I'm tasting this tea version along with the other Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong version, labeled as Qing Xiang Mi Lan Xiang, which I'd already reviewed.  That will help place the two in relation to each other, and to some extent to highlight finer variations in aspects.  The scent of both teas is wonderful, floral and fruity, sweet, warm, complex and intense; tasting them should be nice.

The Wu Dong version brews slightly darker, with a slight rose-colored shift away from the light golden color of the other.  Maybe due to a roasting level difference?  Tasting should indicate other differences.

Qing Xiang Mi Lan Xiang left, Wudong right

Again the Qing Xiang Mi Lan Xiang is nice, right in that bright, sweet floral range, with a trace of characteristic astringency balancing that sweetness.  It will be as well to just call these "qing" and "wu dong," to drop writing the rest out, and also skip the caps to soften the feel of the text.  The wu dong version has a bit more peach aspect than floral, the balance is different, although the sweet floral range is partly common to both.  The flavor is a bit warmer and fuller, without giving up much brightness.  The guess about a roasting difference is interesting to consider but I don't have the background to say anything remotely informed about that.  The look of the completely brewed leaves may tell more of the story but that would be at the end.

It's odd how much more scent the empty cup carries for the Wu Dong version.  It's a lot like the tea, bright, warm, floral and fruity, probably more towards fruit, with lots of sweetness in the range of a light honey.  The other cup retains a nice scent but not nearly as intense in comparison.  I'm more into the teas themselves but it's interesting, and it must relate to the effect of the tea as well, probably more than I'm really picking up.

Letting the infusion run a little longer--not long at all, still well under 30 seconds--draws out more of the flavor and allows for more consideration of the astringency.  It's not as if the teas are difficult to brew but they work better prepared lightly, with a lot of flavor coming out even made that way.  The wu dong tea has amazing depth of complexity, with an aromatic characteristic that is not really possible to describe, a perfume-like trait.  The fruit flavor is great, plenty of peach, combined with plenty of sweet floral aspect, surely in the range of orchid.  The qing version is still nice but it does suffer a little in comparison.  It comes across as slightly thinner, not as complex.  There is a great floral flavor to it but the range is more limited, with less of the aromatic aspect.

The astringency effect is similar in both but at the same time different.  It's not really stronger, overly pronounced, or more negative in either.  It's not really negative at all in either, to me, although that would depend on preferences.  But it doesn't describe easily, the feel is just very slightly different.  In any case going slightly lighter drops the balance of that aspect and the flavors are still quite pronounced.

Brewing the next infusion on the light side shifts flavors back to a balance I prefer.  The teas' flavors aren't really developing in terms of changing, maybe just transitioning to soften a little and becoming slightly more full.  There seems to be a significant style difference in the two teas, so it's not really as if what I'm describing is just differences in one being better than the other.

The "qing" version I'd tried before is a bit brighter and lighter, still plenty sweet, heavy on floral tones, but a bit thinner in terms of profile.  The "wu dong" version is richer, fuller, warmer, with peach fruit joining floral tones.  Both are really clean in terms of flavors and other character, quite pleasant.  It's at least conceivable that someone could prefer either but the wu dong version being sold as a higher grade of tea makes perfect sense.

On the next infusion the qing dan cong starts to shift to add a slight spice note, which is nice.  As with the last review it's not an easy aspect to describe, somewhere in between nutmeg and sassafrass root.  The wu dong stays similar but the warmth and aromatic aspect might extend a little, even brewed lightly.  Again there is a whole review worth of content I might be expressing about the feel of these teas, or I could go on more about the drawn-out aftertaste effects, and how those differ in the two.  Taste works better for common reference base through ordinary language, and I myself don't relate to slight variations in feel so much in terms of preferring those aspects.

"qing" left, "wudong" right; it is a little darker

After lots and lots of infusions the teas lighten up but stay in those aspect ranges.  As with Dan Congs in general the longer infusion times required to draw out flavors after a lot of brewing shifts the overall balance of aspects, but even then both still work out really well.  They were both great teas, and trying them was a really nice experience.

It might seem odd that in the original post about these teas I seemed more blown away by them, but here it's been more business as usual, more aspect-by-aspect description.  So it goes with trying new versions or different levels of tea quality; it's really something at first but normal enough soon in.  This Wu Dong Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong really is one of the best teas I've ever tried, and probably my favorite Dan Cong version yet, a general type of tea that I love.  I think I also got a bit too caught up in tasting details to mix in more personal reactions to those aspects.

That effect of better and better teas becoming normal could turn someone into a tea junkie, always chasing the dragon related to trying new styles or turning up better versions.  I try to vary what I drink enough to really appreciate different types without always pushing onto something new, or always needing better tea to match the norm, but the review focus does lead to emphasizing novelty.  That point reminds me of some ideas that came up in online discussion recently.

Tea discussions section

Anyone here only to read a review can consider themselves dismissed; I'll just ramble on a little about recent discussion themes related to these teas.

my favorite tea drinker

Someone relatively new to better teas recently asked about natural sweetness in tea, not really "getting it" related to their expectations.  To me these two teas were amazingly flavorful and quite sweet, but not sweet in the same sense a commercial grade black tea with large spoonfuls of sugar added would be, or in the same way that Mountain Dew is.  The sweetness isn't coming from sugars, so it's more a somewhat related effect.  I'd like to think that anyone could really appreciate a lot of what is going on in these teas but expectations and preferences may take time to adjust.  It's strange to think that a sugary bottled iced tea might be more appealing than these.

My advice was that it might take time, that preferences shift relatively quickly, but maybe not right away.  A nice soft, sweet, floral light oolong might make for a good starting point.  Someone weaning themselves off Starbucks caramel lattes might also add a touch of sugar or honey initially (or forever; it's their tea, but adding sugar to these two Dan Cong versions would seem disrespectful to the tea).

Another discussion related to drinking high quality tea versus ordinary types of teas, with these being a good example of some pretty good tea.  That's all relative, of course, it's not as if there is really a well defined ceiling for that.  I get it why people would want to drink the best teas they could; why not?  I offered a couple of reasons for not pushing only in that direction though, aside from the most obvious, cost.  Lots of teas turn out much better prepared Gongfu style, with these as a good example of that, or pu'er, in general.  I don't really set aside time for that longer brewing process in the week-day mornings, or at work, so five days a week I'd only use Western style brewing, or a variation in between the two.  The difference relates to proportion of tea to water and brewing time, so there is no reason someone couldn't brew tea Western style in a gaiwan, or Gongfu style in a French Press or English-style teapot (although it's not quite that simple).

A second reason:  I tend to try a lot of teas from different places, from various countries, and from different types of suppliers, and quality level can vary along with other aspects range.  That person I was talking to mentioned sticking to better teas from Taiwan, and in particular that approach could also work for teas from China or Japan.  Those countries are producing some refined, well-made teas, and it would be possible to get some good sources sorted out.  I'm not saying that Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, or Nepalese teas aren't as good but it doesn't seem to work as well to narrow in on the highest quality level teas from those countries.  And to some extent the highest quality level versions I've tried yet don't completely match up.  But some teas from those other countries gain back a lot of ground in terms of novelty; aspects vary, and they can be very interesting and desirable without seeming quite as refined in nature.  Or at least that's my take.

That's part of the interesting range of scope in tea; it could be a completely different experience for different people, and that's just fine.  I love experiencing my own exposure and preferences changing.  If you have something to share about what is new and interesting to you in tea I'd love to hear about it, maybe in this Facebook tea group that I help run.  There are tea enthusiasts and professionals from around the world in that group but a less experienced perspective is just as valid, in one sense a better position to be in because even more of an interesting path of discovery lies ahead.

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