This runs long. I tried the Wild Tea Qi Wuyi Yancha oolong, and made review notes, but there just didn't seem to be enough story there. It's ok, maybe quite good but not great, or that final judgement on my part could relate most to preference for style. I really liked their Yunnan black tea version (Dian Hong), and a Moonlight White, and to me it wasn't as interesting, positive, and distinctive as those. I went back and forth on whether to even publish that, since I typically won't mention a tea I don't like, but in some cases versions being closer to ordinary isn't much to talk about either.
Then I also had a Myanmar Kokang oolong I've been meaning to try, so I did a second tasting adding that, and adding a Wuyi Origin Rou Gui for comparison, making that a three-way tasting session. It's not fair tasting together with that particular Rou Gui version, any oolong of similar type, because it's my overall favorite Wuyi Yancha example. It still does work as a baseline, just more as a potential end-point than standard type metric. Altogether it's not a story about a single, exceptional, distinctive tea version, but it covers a lot of what different related oolongs are all about, even spanning versions from two countries.
This starts with the first tasting, only the Wild Tea Qi version, cut down a bit so it doesn't run too long. The page for that tea version is here:
Handpicked at over 4,500 feet high in the rich volcanic soils of the Wuyi Mountains, this tea is COFCC Certified Organic. It's a pure wild tea with tender and thick long-shaped smooth brown and green tea leaves, with dark red edges. This is a rare, special Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), with a unique rock aroma unlike any other. You feel it mellow, smooth, round and somewhat complicated with various tastes blended. You'll be further overwhelmed by its fragrance! Rich, lingering fully around your nose and mouth, a special "rock aroma"!
Wuyi Mountain Farmers Collective This is an incredible farmer’s collective deep in the mountains of Wuyi Shan(Wuyi Mountain). The farmer’s livelihood comes from Wuyi Oolong and Wuyi Black teas. This is a rare village wherein the profits are divided equally amongst the group, which is truly “fair trade.”
their website says more about those traditional Chinese themes (qi, fire / earth / air types)
It gets a little strange explaining to what extent that really is versus isn't Da Hong Pao, but I'll go there (with a whole post on that theme here). The two modern cultivars closest to those original plants are Bei Dou and Rou Gui. If a tea version really is one of those it typically gets described as such, versus being called Da Hong Pao, which is now more frequently used as a name for blends. Marketing content tends to never say that though; funny how that works out. Wuyi Origin's site is an exception; here they list a "blended Da Hong Pao" version which is exactly that, a mix of types.
I'll say more about strengths and weaknesses related to both themes in the review comments, but it's what you'd expect; you give up distinctiveness in moving away from a narrow source type, and can achieve a much better character balance even from less balanced tea inputs. Or cover up significant quality flaws in source inputs, which is where the theme shifts a bit, since mixing can offset gaps, but can only go so far in covering over negative aspects.
These groups of plant types can vary in genetic background, so it's possible that a farmer may not have a clear category name to assign to one, and they really could understand a tea plant type to be quite similar to earlier Da Hong Pao (perhaps when no one really knows what it is). As I tend to often comment about sheng pu'er source-plant age claims at some point it's as well to evaluate a tea based on how it is, and take the stories and background with a grain of salt.
Review (Wild Tea Qi version):
It's what one would expect for an above average version of Da Hong Pao. Maybe not specifically a Bei Dou or Qi Dan, but I can't really claim to have those cultivar types completely down, since I've only tried a few examples of each. If I'm remembering right--and if extrapolating from a limited sample set makes sense, which it really doesn't--both are relatively aromatic, lighter and inclined towards a light floral or liqueur like aspect, with plenty of mineral base. But take all that with a grain of salt too; after someone tries a lot of versions only then they can accurately discuss generalities. I'll just stick to describing this version anyway.
This has a lot of that dark caramel flavor medium roasted versions have. It might even be from last year, since per my understanding that allows a producer to use a higher roast level to get a lot of complexity then settle the char effect back out. It probably is, not based on judging the character, but just related to the roasting process taking time after an initial Spring harvest, and related to getting these samples awhile ago.
This doesn't taste like char, a slight carbon flavor that comes along with upper-medium or heavy roast level. Sweetness is good, and it's relatively complex and clean. There's just a hint of the cardboard box flavor range that marks more average versions, but this is really better than that level. It's probably better to let it develop a few rounds before making an final conclusions though.
There isn't really any one narrow set of markers or quality indicators for this type. Flavor matters, feel should be thick, and aftertaste is less of a concern than for lighter oolongs and sheng, but vanishing after you drink it isn't a good sign. Level of roast is an issue; that goes along with flavor. Some better versions have a cool liqueur-like quality, almost like perfume, which can be towards floral range or else tipped a little towards brandy instead (just more about how an impression comes across, not matching the taste). It's not a bad thing if versions include some fruit flavor, and floral variation is normal. For Rui Gui a "dark" or slightly earthy version of cinnamon is normal, and Shui Xian covers broad range, with other types falling across a broad scale.
The effect of the roast changes over the second infusion, as does the flavor profile. That touch of cardboard transitioned towards dark wood and cinnamon; it's better. Char still isn't noticeable, although there's just a trace of it, but this flavor profile is heavy enough that it's not remotely close to a light roast. That balance is good, to draw this much heavier flavor out of it without drifting into a char effect. The cinnamon is similar to the version in Rou Gui; this could be Rou Gui. Sometimes that can completely dominate the flavor of a Rou Gui version, or it can integrate, or in some cases those are fruity. The balance of this is nice, the way the aspects all fall together. It could be a little thicker but Wuyi Yancha aren't usually as viscous as some other oolong types.
I'm going with around 5 second infusion times, related to using a relatively high proportion of tea. This would be fine using 3 or 4 second infusion times; the proportion is that high, and the tea is intense. To me this is close enough to an optimum. I'll probably add more time after another 2 infusions or so, depending on how those work out.
(Third infusion): It's not so far off where it was the last round, shifted just a little in proportion. It still has a mild earthiness standing out, with a dark cinnamon like flavor and dark wood. Related to the "rock" part in rock oolong warm mineral tones are filling in as a base for this. It could stand out more since the hint of char and other flavor complexity is more dominant.
This is definitely an above average quality version of this general type of oolong, but it could be more distinctive in flavor scope. Blending balances out character in teas at the cost of giving up specific aspect range, a distinctiveness related to expressing less scope, and this does cover a bit of range. A single type of tea can still cover a lot of range, be complex, and balance on their own but individual aspects still stand out more. [To be clear these notes were made prior to checking what it is, with the original source description not making mention of any blending].
(Fourth infusion): Roast effect bumps up along with that; using longer times may draw more of that out. In this case that pairs really well with the dark cinnamon effect, so to me it works. At some level heavy roast is used to cover flaws in Wuyi Yancha versions, and to get mixed types to balance together better, but this is made a bit more carefully than that, more along the lines of optimized, but still at an upper medium roast level.
The limitation isn't in the aspects, it's in what isn't expressed, if someone would have a preference for a different style instead. Per my preference the roast level could be lower (or higher, per someone else's, but to me any higher I'd see as a limitation, or even flaw).
(Fifth infusion): this is holding up well, a good sign. If anything the balance may be improving; it may be gaining more subtlety and range, with earthiness dropping off, warmer mineral tones picking up, and a pleasant thick feel also increasing. Brewing a lot of positive infusions or transitioning positively aren't necessarily clear quality markers, in the sense that these would really closely tie to how good a tea of this type is, but they are positive enough to support that. Since it's not all that different I'll try one more round and leave off taking notes, now up to letting this brew around 15 seconds.
(Sixth infusion): this has turned a corner for fading, with char picking back up for the longer time drawing it out. Since cinnamon diminished a bit prior that leaves only less subtle flavors balancing against it, or not really balancing as well. Char will define the taste experience from here on out.
Second tasting, comparing Wild Tea Qi oolong, Wuyi Origin, and Myanmar Kokang oolong
Wuyi Origin lower left, Wild Tea Qi top, Kokang Myanmar oolong right
The color difference alone is interesting in these; the Wuyi Origin Rou Gui is much lighter, certainly not as roasted, with the Wild Tea Qi a good bit darker than the other two.
Wuyi Origin left, Wild Tea Qi middle, Kokang right (in all pictures)
Wuyi Origin (fruit style Rou Gui): as I said it really isn't fair comparing any other Wuyi Yancha version to this one. It's my personal favorite, and a very highly regarded tea version (local Wuyishan competition award winning, or at least a similar version was). It's refined, complex, and incredibly well balanced, with positive aspects that just keep going on. It tastes like peach; somehow some versions taste a lot like the characteristic earthy cinnamon and some don't.
That pronounced fruit balances really nicely with a medium level toffee sweetness, on a base of mild but complex mineral tones. Roast is what I'd consider to be lower medium level. I'd consider the Wild Tea Qi version to be upper-medium roast level, but that's only because so many oolongs in that category are just plain burnt, setting up tea leaf cinders as their own roast level.
Wuyi Origin makes both, cinnamon heavy Rou Gui and this fruitier version. I think the difference is in plant types, with growing conditions also factoring in, and of course processing, but I've not had those sorts of discussions with Cindy for awhile. There's that part to consider too; I'm not impartial when it comes to their teas. When we talk online it's not mostly about tea, more about how our kids are doing, and life in general. This tea version is from 2018, one Cindy sent just to share some. Even though I'm not claiming to be impartial you go to any tea group and search "Wuyi Origin" and other takes will echo mine though.
one of my favorite tea pictures; Cindy out among some bushes
I suppose I should mention that I helped Shana Zhang, an owner of Wild Qi Tea, start the International Tea Talk Facebook group years ago, still one of places I'm most active online related to tea. I really like her; she's kind of trippy and idealistic in interesting and positive ways, all about ancient Chinese traditions and being one with nature.
credit Shana's FB page (which mentions another book coming out soon)
Wild Tea Qi: this wasn't nearly as pleasant during the first infusion trying it the first time and that comes up again; it tastes a bit like cardboard, with woody range beyond that. It's as well to say more on the next infusion, once the first round rinses that flavor into a more promising range, if the last brewing pattern holds, and it really should.
Kokang Myanmar Oolong: it's not fair trying this oolong along with one of the best versions of a comparable style I've ever tried and one that's good but just not on that level. It's woody; wood spans a range of aspect character in this, cured hardwood, with a touch of greener wood, and a heavier note of fermented tree bark. At least it's complex. It will probably show better character on the next round too, or there won't be much point in comparison tasting it. Brewing this quite lightly (these brewed for approaching 10 seconds, adding a few seconds to wet them initially) it might do better. The sweetness level isn't bad, and it's not as muddled / earthy / "off" as it might sound in that description, it's just not expressing as much positive range either.
Oolongs from non-oolong producing areas often tend to miss the general range for style. Sometimes they can strike a really positive balance even for doing that, if a producer can adjust inputs to get to non-standard but interesting and positive results. Again I'll withhold judgment and see if a fast-brewed round works better for this.
Wuyi Origin: as tends to happen flavor intensity has dropped off a little (aroma, if you like to use that concept as a description), with "taste" or depth of the experience picking up since this was made (a year and a half ago). If the roast level was higher giving it that rest time would be ideal; roasted this lightly it probably would have been slightly better one year ago. Or maybe that would be a matter of preference, and the tea would have just changed character slightly instead of getting better or worse. Either way it's still great.
Wild Tea Qi: this is much improved. Brewing it faster and letting the initial rough edges transition changed a lot. It still tastes woody, but cardboard has almost entirely faded, and cinnamon spice is picking up. This needs to be brewed lightly; that level of roast and overall intensity requires it. There's an inky quality to the flavor, as actual pen ink smells, a tie-in to a form of mineral. In the Wuyi Origin version mineral was present as a smooth, light base but in this case it's a main taste instead. There's char too; not a lot of it, but enough that someone opposed to that taste would hate it (or on the other side moderate enough that someone with preference for a lot of that could be disappointed).
The balance is fine; it works. It still seems likely to be a blended tea, that it probably used mixing of types to get to this balance, or variation in more wild-grown plant material would accomplish essentially the same thing in a different way. It's much more straightforward than the Wuyi Origin version, not "sophisticated" and subtle, but for being in a different style that's fine.
Kokang Myanmar oolong: it's working better. It's also still mainly woody; not the most promising range or aspects balance outcome. Fermented tree bark has pulled back; this is a cleaner mix of aged wood, normal cured wood, and some green wood input. Beyond the flavor the character isn't bad; it can be hard to appreciate that. The astringency / feel is in the right range, as the level of sweetness is, and the thickness of feel and aftertaste is positive.
This just may not be suitable leaf type to make oolong; it might be that continuing on with oxidation and making it into black tea could lead into sweeter, different flavor range. I'm not the right person to even guess about that, just throwing it out there. If someone had never drank above average Wuyi Yancha, if the cardboard and woody aspects still seemed normal to them, this might seem fine, a decent example.
Wuyi Origin: the flavor range might be deepening a bit, trading out some fruit for more toffee and light, balanced mineral range. There is a liqueur like quality to this feel and aroma character, a thickness that seems to pair with an unusual type of complexity in the flavor range. Overall effect is clean; there isn't a single trace of aspect out of place, no hint of muddled earthiness or char. The aftertaste is wonderful, the way those flavors taper off as layers. Again it's just not fair comparing other oolongs to this.
Wild Tea Qi: this version compares better than it has in any other round. If someone strongly preferred this flavor range (a bit inky, as mineral go, with some cinnamon, and dark-wood range) I suppose they could like it even better than the first version. They're just quite different things. It covers a lot more aspect range, and heavier roasting shifts the final effect. Char isn't problematic in this round; it's softened, and you can pick it up, but cinnamon is just as heavy. It's probably an above average Wuyi Yancha version, related to trying random types, or definitely better than you'd find in a local shop that doesn't have sourcing down to the same level. To me it's not quite on the same level as the Wuyi Origin tea, but to some extent they're just different things.
Kokang Oolong: this is the best it has been too; nice to see. Wood is giving way a little to other complexity. It's still so woody that it's hard to say what, necessarily, but that range has cleaned up and narrowed down to be much more positive. I guess it's drawing closer to spice, or at a minimum shifting over to include forest floor (right, not a dramatic shift).
If this were a bit more muddled in effect it would be really bad, adding just a touch of sourness or mushroom, for example. As mentioned in the last round it being clean and balanced across all the range beyond flavor saves it. It's not a tea that I'd want to drink regularly but it's not bad tea. It's probably as close to black tea character as to oolong, to be honest. It doesn't have the astringency edge but the earthiness and other flavor range is closer to black teas than to almost any oolongs.
Wuyi Origin left, Wild Tea Qi top, Kokang Myanmar oolong right
There's at least a chance this wasn't roasted at all. The other two versions are much darker in color, even though the Wuyi Origin Rou Gui is relatively light in terms of roast effect (probably lower-medium as they see that scale though; Wuyi Yancha oolongs can be quite light in style). If this is well above average for standard oolong oxidation level and not roasted at all then of course the results would be atypical, related to Fujian Wuyishan oolongs. I can't imagine that any heating step is going to remove the woody flavor range, and swap that out for something else, but then me saying anything at all about processing is already going a bit far.
It's hard to be clear on how well I'm factoring back out personal preference for style. I can appreciate blended Wuyi Yancha versions (not that this Wild Qi Tea version is one, the style just overlaps with that normal outcome), but they're not a personal favorite. It might well be an acquired bias. It's normal enough to see ever-narrower input and type selection as better in modern tea circles. Blending has a place too though, and there are strengths to that approach, and output character. Not just covering up flaws in inputs, I mean. You can get a broader range of aspects that way, and arrive at a more carefully controlled balance of them.
I like lighter roasts too; that would factor in. The general ideal is that whatever level of roast suits that initial attribute set is best, not that lower or medium is objectively better, but preferences for type and character are what they are. It might seem like I just spent two review sessions worth of comments explaining how I saw this Wild Tea Qi oolong as good but not great, then walked back my reason for concluding that. The point here is that "not as good as it could be" related in part to preference for style.
I'm not sure that it makes any sense to remove preference entirely and try to place a tea on some sort of an objective scale. For narrowing down a type to a specific form that could work better (eg. as a light-medium roasted, fruity versus cinnamon style Rou Gui). I kind of kept concluding that "it's a blend," but I hope that framing for that take was clear enough too. It covered more aspect range than very narrow Wuyi Yancha source-input types tend to; how or why that occurred I don't really know. Normally that happens because input plant types were mixed. Using plants growing under slightly different conditions (eg. on a hillside, or a flat section near it), or of different ages, or from slightly different genetic material (naturally inter-bred) could seemingly lead to a similar outcome.
The Myanmar oolong it's hard to be as positive about. If they keep adjusting production process variables maybe they'll get there, or else maybe this should just be made into black tea instead. Their sheng pu'er is definitely from further along that type of learning curve; it's pretty good by Yunnan standards (of course with "pretty good" too vague to be meaningful). I still have a black tea from them to get to but since I've tried it in that expo tasting session I know what it's like; good but not great. It might make for a rare case of trying something unusual and somewhat positive that still doesn't lead to a story worth telling.