Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Qi Lan from Cindy Chen

Hopefully I'm back to doing a plain, simple review, this time of a Qi Lan (a Wuyi Yancha roasted oolong).  It's the last of a set of samples sent by Cindy Chen, a tea farmer who needs no introduction (but I will add a picture of her).  It never works out that way though; there is always some tangent that needs chasing, or follow up tasting.  Right to it then.


The scent of the tea is rich and sweet, and implies a higher level of roast than I've been trying for awhile.  It may even be in the range of that Jip Eu Chinatown shop Wuyi Yancha I reviewed, for a Shi Li Xiang, a tea type that probably also goes by Qian Li Xiang.  The initial brew shows some of that roast, and some other intriguing aspects.  It doesn't seem similar to a Da Hong Pao or Rou Gui, but then I'd have to review the type to see what it's supposed to be like (and do at the end of this).

It's a bit sweet, lighter than it seems it would be, with a trace of nuts, and maybe a bit of liquor-like quality.  Subsequent infusions will help add depth to that first take.  Of course I'm preparing it Gongfu style, so there will be plenty of infusions to work with.

It does remind me of that other Chinatown shop tea, on the second infusion.  One main aspect is a nuttiness, like a well roasted almond, but the commonality isn't that part.  It's an aromatic tea, again a little hard to describe exactly what that means, but it does mean something.  It's a description Chinese vendors tend to use for a way teas come across, and rather fitting into words well after trying a few it's clear enough.  That aromatic aspect relates to a perfume or liquor like quality, give or take.  The actual taste range isn't on the pronounced or complex side, with the aroma part expressing a lot of the tea character instead.  I'll try to get the description in order and then move on to my subjective impression of the tea, how I like it.

On the next infusion I'm getting more of the roast effect, but it doesn't come across as overpowering, it's not "char," just significant enough that it plays a role in the tea.  It seems medium, not medium-high.  It integrates relatively well, and works, it's just a different way that tea can be.  There's still a good bit of nuttiness to the flavor profile, with some of that aroma coming across more or less floral, or really defying easy description.  A mineral context is a sub-theme, and underlying range of the tea, but it's completely different than for the other teas I've been drinking lately, autumn harvest Darjeeling and Jing Mai (Yunnan) black tea and Oriental Beauty version.  It's subdued, a light background tone, and in a lighter range, not flinty or towards limestone but in the middle towards that side from darker granite and rich sandstone.

The next infusion is a bit different but not really evolving much, just with those aspects shifting around in balance a little.  A bit of a wood tone may be entering, adding what comes across as a slight earthy range, with the other flavors still more pronounced.  That is reasonable complexity, and the general flavors character is clean, with no negative aspects.

The tea works, and it's clearly nice tea, the only reservation I have relates to this range of aspects not being my favorite.  I think the main concern is the aromatic range; I like my teas to taste like something more than to express that more subtle effect.  At any rate it's good tea, and I like it but I don't love it.

I liked her Jin Jun Mei better, and among those types I preferred the versions that emphasized flavors over the aromatic quality (she sent multiple types that emphasized both ranges, compared here).  I really loved her Rou Gui, and the wild Lapsang Souchong from this set of samples, both of which were exceptional teas and a really good fit for character types I prefer.  I think some of the same trend played out with the Lin farm Dan Cong versions I tasted, a preference for teas with complex tastes but a more limited appreciation for aromatic aspects versus flavor based aspects.

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Although this tea doesn't have a strong char effect--one reason for aging a tea, to moderate that aspect--it seems possible it could change character over the course of another year or two, that it could pick up more depth and round out to a different balance of aspects than it lands at now.  This is at the limit of what I've experienced, in trying teas and keeping versions on hand to try later, so I'm raising it more as a comment than as a prediction.  I'm only guessing that it might change.

Tea research section

I'm out of the habit these days, but I had used this blog for researching new tea types as I tried them, as a place to keep those notes and link.  Related to that, here's what Teapeadia says about this tea type:

Qi Lan (奇兰) is usually translated as "strange orchid" but "rare orchid" is also common. This oolong is less oxidized and lighter roasted than other Wuyi oolongs such as Da Hong Pao or Shui Jin Gui...  The teas liquor is golden-yellow with a aroma which resemble orchids and fruits. Qi Lan's taste is located somewhere between classsic Wuyi Yan Cha and Tie Guan Yin.

All that makes perfect sense.  It is light, as described, and also floral, but it also tastes like almond (not mentioned here).

Yunnan Sourcing (vendor) tends to have clear and simple write-ups, also worth checking out:

Qi Lan (奇兰) Oolong is originally a varietal of oolong grown in Anxi, but adapted to Wu Yi in the 1930's.  Qi Lan is lightly processed and has a natural almond taste and aroma.  The feeling is thick and sweet with a very natural character to it with almost no roasted taste at all.  If you are a fan of a lightly roasted Da Hong Pao or Shui Xian you will find this vibrant, sweet and thick tea to your liking.

There's the almond reference.  The roasted taste is subdued, but I get the impression that it did affect the character of the tea, that it wasn't really lightly processed in the sense of being lighter roasted, more medium.  It could come across more roasted than it is since the tea itself is a bit subtle.

I'm not sure what to make of my impression versus these inputs.  The tea seemed aromatic, and somewhat like these descriptions (floral, subtle, a bit sweet), and it also seemed that a relatively low oxidation level versus medium roast level might have also have defined the aspects balance.  The first description seems to pin down the tea character range better, with the reference to being between standard Wuyi Yancha and Tie Kuan Yin.

That mix of oxidation and roast aspects reminded me of a heavily roasted TKY I reviewed not so long ago.  It's not crazy to make a tea in such a way, contrasting a light tea style with a medium or even slightly heavier roast effect, it's just not a balance I'm completely familiar with, and not really a personal favorite.  Of course a dark-roasted TKY isn't the same thing, with a different character for a starting point and more normal for that to be taken to an even heavier roast level, so I'm talking about parallels in some aspects, not a close similarity.

well-roasted Tie Kuan Yin

I love the warm, earthy tones in better black teas, so I'm more into Wuyi Yancha range that bridges to that a bit.  Da Hong Pao and Shui Xian have more of a woody / earthiness, or even leather flavor range, although some versions can be quite aromatic too.  Rou Gui tends to express spice or fruit, again in a warm, approachable, flavor-intensive character, versus being light and aromatic.  Or at least all that is my take.

It's typical for a tea blogger to not say that a tea type isn't their favorite (as described in this post on unwritten rules of tea blogging), to sort of remain neutral, and only express an opinion when it's quite positive.  I don't write reviews of teas I don't like, since that's not really interesting, unless they're not good in an interesting way, like the rant posts other bloggers tend to write.  Cindy is my favorite tea maker and I consider her a friend so it's all the more odd.  I liked this tea, I just didn't love it.  In this case the tea seemed interesting, and I really do think those two aspects that didn't completely click with me--aromatic, and lighter, subtle tea with a medium level roast--might work really well for someone more on that page.

If I were buying her tea--and I have--I'd go with the Rou Gui and wild Lapsang Souchong instead, then maybe Shui Xian.  I might pick up some Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong too (she has family in that region, and the last version of that tea was floral and sweet, and a bit light but tasty, flavor intensive), all of which follow a different pattern of aspects, or maybe two, really.

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