Mi Lan Xiang, honey orchid aroma Dan Cong
Ya Shi (duck shit) Dan Cong
I've been drinking some Dan Cong relatively recently so I decided to start with these teas before moving on to oolong samples sent by Cindy (from Wuyi Origin, their brand name). Of course I've been drinking Wuyi Yancha too (Wuyishan oolong), but I decide what to review next by way of immediate impulse, the same way I pick what to drink with breakfast. I already said plenty about Cindy and the source in the last post so I'll skip that part, and ramble on about other things instead before the review.
An online friend passed through town recently and gave me some samples of other Dan Cong, after visiting a few tea regions in China. He's a vendor, but with regionally limited business scope, and I don't think it would matter if I mention his business here, so I'll skip that part. The samples were interesting; one a maocha, a tea that isn't completely finished, so interesting related to that. Two others were quite good, and one a bit off, so it made for an interesting refresher for the type. Of course trying only exceptionally good versions also makes for a pleasant reminder or initial introduction, but it's informative in a different sense to try teas across a range of quality.
I had planned to try one of his samples along with one of Cindy's, since I've been on the page of doing comparisons, and it helps to point out differences in body and minor aspects. After thinking it through I really don't want to write a half dozen different reviews of Cindy's teas, since that would get repetitive, both for me to do and for readers, so trying two of Cindy's together resolves that.
Most people reading a tea blog would be quite familiar with these teas. Mi Lan Xiang is honey orchid aroma Dan Cong (oolong from the Chaozhou area), although those tend to taste a lot like peach sometimes. Ya Shi is duck shit (just a funny name; no connection to actual duck shit), and those can be harder to pin down in terms of a characteristic flavor element. They tend to be warmer, fuller, with more going on, and more subtle, maybe bridging ranges of floral, fruit, and spice instead of coming across as one or two main flavors. Per only trying a few they do tend to taste like one thing, it's just not as easy to say what that is related to it being just like a honey orchid flower or peach. They're more complex, heavier on aroma than flavor.
Related to a recent online discussion about flavor being identified as taste (what the tongue does) versus aroma (related to sensors in the lower rear of the nasal passages, where most subtle distinctions in flavors are identified) I'm not using "aroma" in a conventional sense here. I think I covered what I mean by that in the last post, about how Chinese producers tend to use the term as a distinction within the range of what we would call aroma based flavor. You can read back to that last post to reference it, or just read past it here; it's not critical to the explanation.
On to these version specifics in tasting then.
Skipping the appearance and scent parts, the initial infusion--more a rinse that I didn't discard--shows the characters to be like that expectations summary I just covered. The Mi Lan Xiang is bright, sweet, intense, and complex, mostly in the range of peach with a good bit of supporting floral tone. The Ya Shi (I should probably just say "duck shit" instead, since it's catchy) is warm, full, complex, and aromatic, and won't be so easy to describe in terms of two or three main flavor elements. I won't even start on that until the first real infusion.
The Mi Lan is the same but more pronounced in aspects intensity at the normal infusion strength. It's brewed to a medium level of infusion concentration to me, but people might well tend to drink Dan Cong either on the lighter side compared to some other types, or on the much lighter side, and this could be in between those ranges. The peach really ramps up in intensity. It's interesting the way that the astringency (which is moderate, but one of the main defining aspects) seems to mimic the way that peach skin comes across, the separate flavor of that from ripe flesh. It trails into that unripe fruit range, with a slight bite of an unusual type of astringency, nothing like that found in black teas or sheng pu'er. But it's in great balance, not negative, even if it would be a matter of preference deciding if that added or took away from the effect of the other aspects.
The roast is not heavy but you can notice it, a bit of caramel or light toffee in the back, or really not exactly that but in that range. Maybe if you fire-roasted a peach and it picked up a brown-sugar to cooked fruit tone that's closer to what I mean, although of course there is no smoke aspect in this tea, so the "fire" part might just be for descriptive color. With some allowance for preferences varying this is more or less exactly how this tea should taste, to me. It's tempting to try and put it on a scale of good to unbelievably good but I would need more experience with very high end Dan Cong to reference against. It's a lot better than typical generalist specialty versions would be, teas typically sold in the $15 dollars per 50 grams range, described as great examples that are really just not that bad, only in the general range of type-correct. I suppose there is always room for improvement but it's quite good.
The Duck Shit version is warm, complex, and subtle; a totally different kind of experience. It's also aromatic, not pronounced in terms of flavor, although there is plenty going on with that, as much as in a broad range that covers sensation trailing off into sensory ranges that you sense but don't fully capture.
I'm having trouble assigning specific flavors to the experience, but it has to come to that if I'm going to review it; it would be strange doing a tea review and never getting there. The main range is floral, but not in the same sense as bright, sweet, pronounced flowers, so I suppose just an earthier, richer, more subtle flower range. Tropical flowers here seem to be bright, sweet, and intense, the different orchids, plumeria, and such, more like wildflowers back in the US. This tea's range is on the opposite side of all that. It's not far from how I'd imagine a sunflower to be, but I can't think of a flower type I actually have smelled that's a close match, something warm and complex. It's towards chrysanthemum but not that, with more depth and richness than that flower blended with chamomile, but in that general range.
With all the complexity it wouldn't be wrong to say it also tastes like some warm, subtle, earthy but light fruit, maybe in the range of dried longan. But the flavor range is well integrated, so it doesn't come across as tasting like a few different things. I'll keep tasting, since that complexity may well also related to extension into mineral and spice ranges.
Ya Shi left, Mi Lan Xiang right
On the next infusion I probably went a touch longer on the time--not long at all though, around half a minute--and the strength and astringency of the Mi Lan Xiang picked up. It would be more conventional to use slightly hotter water and go with really fast infusions instead, ten seconds, and the astringency would be light along with the flavors being less pronounced too. This was brewed at 80 C; I tend to like teas prepared a little cooler than some if offsetting astringency is a concern. It's really about personal preference more than one approach being objectively best, or at least that's my take. It would've balanced better brewed for ten seconds less but it's still nice, but at this strength the astringency starts to pick up enough to be more pronounced than the flavors. Nothing like a young sheng, not that type or on that level, I mean related to the balance per what I like to experience.
This same infusion time worked better for the duck shit; without astringency as much of an input at all, not even to the extent of filling in structure. The flavors just intensify and the feel thickens a little. It comes across as richer, almost buttery, just in a completely different sense than for Jin Xuan oolongs. I tried a decent one of those I bought for the staff at the office, a Thai version, so related to me always going on about how mediocre Thai oolongs are I was going to review that and put the record straight. But that tea is not on this quality level, not even close. It may be two full levels down, but for what it is drinking that tea makes for a nice experience, good as a "daily drinker," as people tend to say, as something to have with lunch.
The sweetness and rich flavor changes for this duck shit version, a little, more towards a lightly browned butter effect, which isn't so far from a really light caramel. Someone that absolutely prefers intense floral aspects might not appreciate that but the complexity, fullness of flavor and other range, and the way it all balances makes for a cool effect. It's a good tea. Again I can't map it to best of the best; it's about as good as the best duck shit Dan Cong I've tried, more or less, but I haven't put effort into exploring the highest range. Or expense, more to the point; better Dan Cong moves to $1 a gram or beyond much faster than most other tea types.
Ya Shi left, Mi Lan Xiang right
On the next infusion I went more like 15 seconds for the Mi Lan Xiang and around 30 for the duck shit; brewing and tasting different teas at the same time can go like that. The balance is back to great for the Mi Lan version; the flavor is plenty intense, quite sweet, nicely complex, and the astringency level compliments the tea instead of taking away from it. If someone absolutely loves soft teas instead something like the duck shit version might work better, or another style of tea altogether might, or possibly just a different version. Then again it's hard to imagine someone not liking these teas.
The duck shit version aspects haven't changed. I've tried a version before where the aromatic / complex effect cost the tea in terms of flavor complexity but this one strikes a nice balance, covering a lot of range but still offering up plenty to taste as flavor. It's definitely warmer than the Mi Lan, and richer, in one sense, but perhaps less intense for being more complex. It makes consider how level of roast comes into play, but I really won't venture much about that, since I don't know. The Mi Lan brews darker but the brewed leaves look about the same; I'd guess it's roasted a bit more but that isn't much in the way of an informed guess. With Wuyi Yancha it's possible to tell that medium to darker / heavier roasting occurred because the teas taste more or less charred, slightly toasted in a normal sense if not a bit burnt in cases where it goes too far. It's not possible to pick up anything like that effect in these two teas.
I could keep going for a couple more infusions to talk about transitions, or to pin down a few more flavor aspects, or to stretch this out to some vague, potentially invalid analogy (astringency effect like biting a tree bud, etc.), but I'll skip all that. The teas aren't close to finished but not transitioning a lot.
I will try to mention which I like better, but that's hard to say too. They're both great for what they are expressing, for being so different in type. In different senses I like both best. I think they work really well for tasting two teas that don't overlap all that much in character together, for comparison tasting related to contrast instead of shared range. Usually the opposite works much better, picking out finer levels of aspects related to them sharing common ground, and I may well have missed some levels of range for going against that. This said next to nothing about "feel" aspects, for example, and when two teas share a lot in taste range and that differs your attention tends to drift there (or didn't get that far with taste description, really).
My final assessment: two more great teas from Cindy. Someone that has been drinking the best of the best Dan Cong available for some time might disagree, and these could seem quite ordinary to them, but that's how tea tends to go. I would expect that for someone only exposed to a conventional, typical-supplier quality range of Dan Cong these two teas would be a step up in quality instead, teas that they would really enjoy. For someone only exposed to so-so versions or new to the type they could open a whole new world. I've tried Dan Cong sold as relatively higher end versions--at upper medium level pricing--that wasn't nearly this good. It will be interesting to look around at other reviews and see what other people think, if I get around to that.
my girl surfer at swim lesson with some kid