Monday, November 28, 2016

Farmerleaf Autumn 2016 Jingmai black tea (Dian Hong)

To start, happy birthday to me!  I'm 48 today, getting up there, or at least was when I wrote the initial draft, a day ago now.  I've had a cold lately but I'm ok enough to review tea this weekend, so I finally opened a package of samples provided by Farmerleaf tea.  It felt even more like my birthday; they sent an amazing range of types of teas.  I was expecting pu'er, which is nice, and kind of their thing--they produce and source tea based in Yunnan; see background hereand here--but it went way beyond that.  The tea I'm trying is an Autumn 2016 Jing Mai Black tea, but another is a Chinese version of an Oriental Beauty, and another is a moonlight white.

I've always really had a thing for Chinese black teas, especially well made variety Sinensis versions, sweet, floral or fruity, rich, and unique.  Of course these are going to be variety Assamica, which run earthier, but which have lots of potential to be amazing teas as well.

Review of their Autumn 2016 Jing Mai black tea

The tea is just beautiful, with dark, multi-colored, long and twisted leaves.  Being an autumn version brings up some interesting questions about character differences due to different harvest times; maybe I'll look into that background more later.

The taste is a bit earthy, full and rich, across a range of earth-tone aspects, more or less centered around an autumn leaf smell.  The flavors profile is clean, with next to no astringency, just a bit of fullness to the body.  From there it seems natural to try and break the tea into a flavors list, although the most impressive aspect is the way it works together, the general effect.  The tea is unique, another very nice way that black tea can be.  I've tried teas that are quite similar in style but this pulls the type together as well as any, perhaps a little better.  Back to the flavors-list.

A rich, earthy range stands out, with that autumn leaf maybe alternately described as medium-dark hardwood, but more complex than that.  With some black teas negative aspects that seem related to this flavor range can creep in, a bit of rust or fungus, or coarse astringency.  This tea's flavors and feel are clean and positive instead.  There is a mineral undertone, difficult to pin down as rock-tastes can be, but that's mild and well integrated, and serves as a positive contribution, a base for those other flavors.

Jing Mai pu'er--the few I've tried--run a bit floral (and also mineral; kind of standard for pu'er), but this breaks a bit in a rich fruit direction instead.  It's not so distinctly connected to one fruit that I can call it, maybe be in between cooked dark cherry and yam.  It seems based on personal review style a list-description might just include both of those, rather than to say an aspect lands in between, but that's how it seems.

The feel of the tea is nice, soft but really full, with a bit of structure but not really an edge.  There is a trace of dryness but at the same time it's juicy.  It all balances well.  It's perhaps even a bit soft for someone that prefers more edge and structure but for my preferences it's right where it should be, easy to drink but still interesting.  There's really nothing of flaws to talk about in the range of aspects; it could be a different type of tea, but for the type it's just right.

I'm preparing it by a modified Western style approach, upping the proportion a little from a more typical Western ratio, for me a good fit for the tea type.  That unusual feel starts to stand out even more after a couple of infusions, a slight dryness coupled with juiciness, with an extra quality that hangs around the tongue after.  Unless I'm mistaken this is the aspect described as "resinous" by fellow tea blogger Amanda who writes My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies.  To be clear, that aspect is a good thing, although maybe that's just per having that preference.

The flavor range actually does transition a little, but it's hard to pin down.  It moves towards a light leather element that really was a secondary aspect giving the earlier aspect range more complexity.  This is going to sound crazy, perhaps, but I'm also going to claim that leather is one of the flavor elements that is positive in commercial blended black teas, like Lipton.  I've not been drinking those for ages, so maybe I've just walked off the map into my own imagination a little.  Put another odd way, it tastes like tea.

I haven't mentioned sweetness, but the tea balances fullness, earthiness, and dryness with a good level of sweetness, not really a "sweet" black tea but with the right amount.  Undertones / complexity in terms of flavors might come in the form of other root or bark spice trace aspects (which really needs some unpacking to mean anything), or maybe even that rich sweetness in  the smell of fermenting wet sawdust.

Which leads to a tangent:  how would someone know what fermenting sawdust smells like, or different types of fungus or rusting metals, different rocks or minerals, and forest floor?  As a child I played in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, sometimes barefoot, and we had an old lumbermill on the property, with an old sawdust pile fermenting through the ages.  Old versions of oil well equipment and iron smelting furnaces would turn up in different places, and of course we would play by damming up creeks and digging to see what was underground.  It was a great background for smelling different smells.  Later I lived in Texas, then Maryland, Colorado and Hawaii, and now Bangkok, getting out to experience nature in those places, and visiting the desert Southwest whenever I could.  Cooking helped with scent knowledge too, but that's a completely different story line.

On the last infusions the flavor profile thins a little but stays similar and very positive, and the longer infusion time required to draw out taste brings out more of that interesting feel effect.  None of the flavors go "off" in any way, two good signs of tea quality, brewing lots of infusions and later versions remaining positive.  This is being sold as an inexpensive, basic tea too (unbelievably reasonable, compared to similar versions), a great sign for other teas I have yet to review.

Farmerleaf vendor input:

Not so much related to this tea description, the vendor made some interesting observations about types of black teas, related to processing and how those types would age:

A lot of black tea is made on Jingmai mountain. There are two main types: sun-dried and oven-dried. This one belongs to the second category and could be considered the ambassador of it. 

Sun-dried black tea can age several years and somewhat improve as time goes by, however, just like Pu-erh tea, its fragrance is somewhat smothered; its power is not fully unleashed. 

Oven-dried teas, on the opposite, are not made for long term storage, they are best enjoyed within a year or two. In the months that follow their production, they give you a kind of bite on the tongue that makes you want more; you end up drinking cups after cups and hardly get bored. They are easy-drinkers and can be enjoyed by any tea enthusiast: even the hardcore pu-erh tea addicts would find it entertaining.

This black tea was dried at a relatively high temperature, which gives it a lightly roasted feeling: the taste of fire a.k.a. Huo Wei 火味. It was made from standard grade natural tea garden material from Jingmai mountain and treated well in the expert hands of a Dai lady named Ye Jing Yu and her team. 

That sounds about right.  There was more to this tea than it was easy to describe, a feel and overall effect that made it very enjoyable.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Silver Yeti silver tips style tea from the Nepal Tea Company

This tea was provided by the Nepal Tea company as silver tips, which relates to their Silver Yeti tea (with no mention of the estate / original source).  They sell a second really interesting looking white, a White Prakash by Kanchanjngha Tea Estate, which seems different in style.

I've reviewed teas from this vendor before, a Kanchanjangha gold tips and green tea here, and a black and oolong here.  Odd I was doing paired reviews like that, but somehow it made sense at the time.  Those were nice, good quality teas that were a bit unique in style, so it will be nice if this is more of the same.

It has nothing to do with these but I've also reviewed two other teas from Nepal in the past year or so, a Himalayan Orange and Shangrila White, again solid teas, unique and positive in character to say the least.  So I guess I like teas from Nepal.  It's odd how broad the range of styles they are developing extends.  Some are a lot like Darjeeling, which is relatively nearby, and some are quite novel.


The tea has small needles, on the darker side, with a sweet, rich smell.  My take is that darker needles can relate to more oxidation occurring during the preparation process (not a bad thing, just one style / outcome), or to a tea darkening through aging.  Either way it's not necessarily a good or bad thing; the brewed tea itself tells that part of the story.

The taste of the brewed tea is bright, rich, sweet, and full, right in the normal range for good versions of white tea.  The main aspects in terms of flavor are floral, a typical, pleasant outcome.  I'm not remarkably good with floral scents but it might be in the range of lavender, perhaps a little lighter, with sweet and more neutral flower scents in that range also relating to different types of orchids.  "Under" that flavor range there is the typical warm, neutral tones typical of silver needle style teas, dried hay and sunflower seed.

I've been off this page for awhile, similar white teas, so I'll need to refer back a few months for comparison.  I have been drinking a couple of Bai Mu Dan style whites quite recently, one from China and one from Sri Lanka, but those are quite different, richer in a sense but more subtle in a sense, without the same pronounced floral aspect.

Brewing the tea just a little stronger changes that profile a little.  I'm preparing it Gongfu style so it's easy to shift time around, from a relatively short infusion time of 15 seconds or so up to a bit over 30.  A tea like this really would produce a comparable outcome made in a more Western style, dropping the proportion of tea to water and increasing brew time to 2 to 3 minutes (or longer, depends on preference), but you miss a bit in experiencing aspects transitions.  The floral aspect remains, still pronounced, but light mineral undertones strengthen, something like limestone (hard to pin down since one only smells rocks, not taste them).  The dried hay / sunflower seed doesn't pick up in the same proportion, dropping back even more into the background.

It seems a nice white / Silver Needle style tea.  As a baseline, a version from Indonesia (from Bangkit Wangi, reviewed here) might have showed a slightly stronger bright floral aspect, in a very similar range, maybe a little sweeter, but both are nice for that same aspect.  It's impossible to compare the range of supporting aspects; my taste memory is better than my memory of names or phone numbers, by a lot, but I don't retain that level of detail.  I scanned through the Bangkit Wangi white tea review and it sounds pretty close, but I'm not far along with this one just yet so it could change.

coloring reminds me of oolongs I've been drinking

The next infusion tells a similar story, with flavors transitioning from the bright, sweet floral to that combined with a nice range of other aspects.  The profile transitions more to that clean, mild mineral range. A different interpretation of a similar flavors range would identify it as a very mild muscatel, and the tastes complexity does extend across a good range.  The mineral moves from limestone into struck flint.  I love the smell of struck flint, by the way, although I have to go back to the early parts of my life to reference it.  It wouldn't work nearly as well without that sweetness and floral aspect, and the rich depth from the hay / sunflower seed aspect, which comes across as a clean, integrated, sensible range.

Next infusion, more of that same shift.  I think it might work better than it sounds.  That mineral taste couples with a cool feel, a hint of both the taste and reaction your mouth experiences when you suck on a penny, but only a hint of that, so it works.  There's an odd way that the experience passes across your tongue, with that feel I just mentioned occurring on the sides in the back, which transitions to a mineral aftertaste.

This might well be a relatively more oxidized version of a white tea, but I wouldn't really be able to say that with certainty, it's more a guess.  The brewed tea color is a bit dark for the tea type, not the light golden yellow but a dark golden yellow instead.  That is subdued in light infusions but the color difference is still evident.  I wouldn't really say that the taste experience and general effect is closely leaning towards a black tea, since it's completely different, but it might move towards a distant version of common ground, in some senses.  Along that line it shares aspects in Darjeelings though, not an Assam, Ceylon, or Chinese black tea.  It makes sense, since regional characteristics are closely tied (it's nearby, some tea plants are common to both), so of course it does.  Darjeeling is also made as either white tea or versions that fall in between those basic Chinese oxidation-level styles, so a white tea with a bit of oxidation would be similar.

How would I know if the tea hadn't been affected by storage, instead of oxidation being the only factor in that slightly darkish color and flavors shift?  It's a good question, but one I probably shouldn't even be asking.  I've kept previously opened silver needle for a good while before, over a year, due to just misplacing a version.  In that case I've seen an example of how those changes go, but it wouldn't be fair to extrapolate based on so little.  Doing just that anyway, the tea darkened in that case, and the flavor did shift, not losing a lot in terms of brightness or sweetness wearing off but more related to picking up depth in other aspects.

tasting assistant, not much help today

From there it just seems to fade slightly over many transitions, not changing further.  The general effect shifts a little within the same range as longer infusions are required to draw out taste, relatively common across the range of different styles, although some teas do shift at the end more.  The tea is quite nice, a good example of the type.  There was a time when I didn't really love silver needle style teas, more about just not relating to the aspects range than taking issue with any, but now I get it.

This was supposed to be a simple tea review, covering familiar ground in a quick tasting and write-up.  Oh well.  I still have a couple more samples from this vendor so I'm not off this regional subject yet.

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Grandpa style brewing

I recently went on a road-trip vacation (to the beach, Pattaya), the only time I tend to brew teas grandpa-style, reminding me to write about that subject.  This is one name for a very simple method of brewing, mixing leaves with hot water in something like a tea bottle or tumbler, then drinking the tea from that without straining it first.  I suppose an even more basic version could use a pint beer glass or mason jar, with teeth serving as a straining device.

Forbidden City (credit; I'm not finding ones I took there)

The brewing method name is from the Tea Addict's Journal blog, a reference to that blogger's grandfather, but it's a common practice in China, per my understanding.  If you walk around the Forbidden City in Beijing many of the tourists have tea bottles with them, many only with wet leaves inside, awaiting the next refill and infusion.

The advantages and drawbacks are just what one would expect.  Uncontrolled brewing time eliminates the potential to optimize results, and not every tea is well suited for such an approach.  Since teas need time to cool to drink, assuming relatively hot water is used--175-212 F / 70-100 C, the standard range--longer infusion times are required, even beyond how long it takes to drink the tea.  The advantages are ease of preparation and mobility.  Once you get past adjusting process and preference your tea travels well, only requiring more hot water to brew another infusion, and with a thermos that can travel too.

Some tea types work better than others for such an approach, but for any it would be typical to back off the proportion a little or accept drinking some strong tea initially, which would weaken in later infusions.  On another road trip in Thailand involving more driving earlier in the year I tried a lot of types of teas prepared this way, and I'll add how those worked out here.

she just started "are we there yet?"

lightly oxidized oolong (Tie Kuan Yin, Jin Xuan, etc., with those being plant types that can also imply a typical preparation style):  to me this category is the natural fit for the approach, although I'd guess green tea is at least as commonly brewed this way in China just given its popularity.  These teas work well brewed very lightly or quite strong, to me, and hold up to lots of infusions.  Also potentially relevant, moderate quality level versions of the tea can be nice, so there is less tension between non-optimized brewing of a really good tea and still sourcing something good enough to be enjoyable, with related cost factoring in as well.  I just tried a TKY sample brewed this way on a trip that seemed a bit too good to be prepared like that; it will be interesting to Gongfu brew the rest and see how the outcomes vary.

green tea:  not ideal, it seems to me, since these can be a bit astringent, but that also relates to one's take on astringency.  In Vietnam it's common for green tea to be served with boiling point water in a teapot, the idea being that astringency is a good thing, or at least not a serious concern.  I remember panicking a bit the first time I experienced this since not long after five minutes I knew the tea would be ruined, per my expectations, but gulping down a boiling hot cup of tea wouldn't work to help stop the second cup from infusing more.  The same concern relates to brewing temperature; if only boiling point water is available that might not work well, to some, although I guess mixing different temperature water sources might cover that.  Vietnamese green teas are so nice, a bit mineral-intensive and very fresh in character, even for many modest quality level versions, so it really does seem a shame to brew those with boiling water or for long infusion times.  They really do prefer very astringent tea, it seems, so differing expectations is a part of that.

black tea:  ground up CTC Assamica variety teas are definitely not well-suited for this approach--familiar commercial Assam and Ceylon teas--but softer, sweeter var. Sinensis black teas can work out really well, or orthodox Chinese black teas based on Assamica plant types, like Dian Hong.  They typically don't brew quite as many infusions as lighter oolongs, but they can work well brewed stronger or weaker.  To me some types really work much better brewed to a certain strength, like Jin Jun Mei, or better unsmoked Lapsang Souchongs, or really any of the best black teas you would rather get just right.  But that still leaves room for others that can work out across a range of strengths, like this Jin Xuan based black tea from Thailand, or this Chin Shin based black tea from Taiwan.

in Seoul, kind of a different subject

white tea:  these can work really well.  You might not want to use this style on your favorite white tea versions, or something really delicate that benefits from careful brewing, but decent ordinary-grade versions of such teas are available, teas that could still be nice across a range of preparation styles.  It seems to me the idea of drinking these teas at different strengths already maps onto the two different lines of thought in white tea brewing timing (with more on that here), either shorter for a wispier, subtle version or longer for a version in the same strength range as other tea types, but somehow still subtle.

I've been drinking the last of a Ceylon Peony / Bai Mu Dan recently that shows this well, right in between tasting a bit like mineral water and indescribably full-flavored in catchy way.  I can drink glasses of it and just marvel at the subtle balance it strikes.  I wouldn't brew that tea grandpa style, although it would work, because it's too nice at just the one infusion strength I prefer.

other types, Dan Cong, Darjeeling:  it might seem like these two--which come in ranges of styles, especially Darjeeling--are too delicate, too potentially edgy / astringent, many with too much potential to squander, and too touchy about brewing to even be considered for this approach, but once you get proportion down and shift expectations about optimizing teas things seem to change.  Finding versions good enough to work well that aren't at higher quality levels that absolutely justify precise brewing can be a trick.  In that other travel post I'd tried a hojicha; the brewing approach worked well, but I just don't love hojicha.  Shou pu’er really would work, I’ve just not tried it.

Sometimes it also relates to how much of a tea I have; if only a sample, enough to brew once or twice, I'm more likely to use Gongfu style brewing (or Western, depending on the type), but if I had a couple hundred grams of even a really interesting tea I might be more likely to experiment.  Since I typically only use grandpa style brewing when I travel by car it doesn't come up so much.

It seems like I've not really clarified how this works, that it's far too simple to actually work as well as Western brewing.  What brewing device would be best, or what tea proportion, and how can teas stand up to multiple long infusions?  All of that is part of the paradigm shift, moving away from narrowly isolating brewing factors, seeing which corners can be cut.  Of course scaling back the proportion a little might help.  Related to devices, specialized tea tumblers are out there, but inexpensive plastic tea bottles are the original gear version, something that seals and strains; that's it.  Experimenting with the rest is part of the fun, just less pleasant when experiments aren't successful.

Another natural question:  if someone had access to a tea tumbler that can stop brewing after three or four minutes, why wouldn't they limit that infusion time?  If they would never Western-style brew a tea for six or seven minutes then why drink a tea after ten minutes of brewing--or more--when it had time to cool enough?  In China, the answer might be "tradition;" because their grandfather prepared it that way.  Really someone would need to experiment with the preparation style, using different teas and parameters, to answer that question for themselves, to see if it made sense for them.

a tea and ice cream pit stop

A tea friend just mentioned risk related to using really long brewing times, relating to contaminants or whatever it is supposedly only coming out after extended infusion times, and if someone believed that then they probably shouldn't go with this brewing style.  I had heard this claim before but never followed up in researching it, which probably wouldn't be easy to do.  In the form that friend expressed it there seemed to be a lack of clarity between concern over brewing a tea for a long time, for example leaving tea in contact with hot water for a very long time, and using leaves that had been around awhile, or even drinking a tea that had been sitting.  I'm quite certain the last two are of no concern, although it's a long story why I think that, and I'm just not concerned enough about any potential risk for extended brewing times to completely avoid it.

It would be possible to cheat the long-brewing assumption implied in the style, to add cold water 3 1/2 minutes in to suspend that process.  Maybe interpreting the style in such a different way isn't somehow invalid per any loose convention, even if some Chinese tourists might wonder what that's all about.  Of course even trying it out is optional.  There are surely many people in China that would never make tea this way, or visit the Forbidden City, or use the crowded subways, and it's fine for people to stick to Gongfu-style brewing or a Western approach instead.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lin farm Da Wu Ye Dan Cong

I recently reviewed two versions of Lin farm Dan Congs (contact here), some of the most exceptional teas I've tried, so I was looking forward to continuing to try other versions.  This one is a Da Wu Ye, which I'll review more background on after a tasting.  Tasting relatively blind is interesting, in a sense.  The power of suggestion can change how a tea is perceived, potentially making tasting more accurate, or possibly throwing off the process by adding a bias.  Tasting more than once can help dial in impressions, which I describe in this write up.

If I ever say I'm basing a review on trying a new tea once that could be interpreted as an interim opinion about the tea; it's really not enough to offset minor differences in brewing, or to adjust for palate shifts over time.  That last is also a significant factor.  Factors like eating spicy food diminishe taste (flavor) sensitivity for awhile, but other shifts can occur without a clear reason.  I often taste in the morning and I'm not really a morning person; I suspect that can mute impressions.  Someone recently mentioned tasting in "non-meditative space," a less than ideal environment.  Since I have young kids I'm basically going through life in a non-meditative space, with a background noise level approaching the sound of a car crash.

Relating to changing impressions, I recently wrote about a commercial pu'er (a Menghai Dayi tuocha, here), and I've since had much better results for adjusting brewing parameters.  Or really that difference could relate more to exposure, to shifting expectations a little, hard to say.

There is one other limitation I work past that I've never shared with readers, not that listing out lots of reasons why I can't taste tea very well makes sense.  I wrestled in high school (the sport, like in the Olympics), and had my nose violently rearranged a few times.  Phrased in medical terms I now have a deviated septum; the inside of my nose is crooked.  That can be fixed, I think, and I would get more tasting capacity by adjusting air flow on the one side.  At an rate I can still pass on a pretty good idea of what this tea is like.

Based on dry tea scent and trying the rinse it's sweet and floral.  One more tangent here:  a rinse seems to not be a rinse if you drink it, right, at least definitely not a wash.  I just went through a short discussion about all that, not something I planned to treat much more here, but I'll add a little.  A rinse is to "wake-up" the tea, to activate it, to start it getting wet, and a wash is to clean it.  Of course the same water can do both.  As far as methodology, especially timing, it's as well I don't offer much guidance, I'd just not let the tea steep for long in rinsing / washing myself.

It's typical to definitely wash fermented pu'er, shou or older sheng, and this article gives a good reason for that, cited in this post on fermentation.  Fermentation results in creating toxins, in addition to causing changes that taste good (nothing to panic about though--the tea won't kill you).  Other teas one may or may not rinse or wash; up to the individual.  Older Chinese tradition has every tea being washed, as another tea friend recently recommended.  I had washed teas more in the past, and now typically don't, but it's hard to explain why really.  Some teas I'd definitely not wash, the most delicate, which would give up a lot of flavor to that process.  But don't take what I do as clear guidance; I'm just some guy that drinks tea, mostly self taught, and I'm probably not that great a teacher or student.  Back to that tea then.

It's floral, and light, but then I'm brewing it on the lighter side, which emphasizes that.  Based on the first infusion only I'd guess it would be regarded as aromatic, although that distinction still could be clearer to me.  It doesn't lean towards the spice-oriented complexity (or what I was describing as such) in those other two Dan Cong versions from the Lin family.  It's still soft; I'm not picking up much in the way of astringency, but then brewing lightly offsets that.  It's not tart either, so the floral nature and sweetness, the clean flavors and nice feel all come through without negative aspects to work around, or aspects that could potentially be negative based on balance and preference.  I guess it could also seem too soft, to some.

I'm not feeling as overwhelmed as I was by the other two versions.  Some of that could relate to already trying those other teas; I'm already expecting teas in the same range, it's more normal now.  I think it relates more to how I react to the difference in the teas.  This tea is more pure floral, and it's subtle; potentially that "aromatic" nature is locating the experience differently, of course with that spatial-analogy reference being limited.

Given that I'm just saying "floral" I might as well take a stab at which flower.  It seems still in the orchid range, light and sweet, just more aromatic, and a bit richer, more towards lavender, but not that heavy-handed.  There is a trace of flower-stem type character in the taste, a faint hint of what one might call bitterness, but really it doesn't seem right attaching that concept to this tea.  That aspect is a completely different thing than that young commercial sheng I've been drinking for the last two days; compared to that tea this is exactly the opposite of bitter.

Tasting it is a strong experience, one that occurs as much after you drink as during, but in a different way than for the other teas, not so much focused on taste.  The tea has a full feel, one you feel all across your tongue after drinking it.

I like this tea, but I absolutely loved the other two versions, so I guess in a sense it pales in comparison.  I really think that has to do with personal preference, not the quality level or character of the tea, related to being good or not, or more accurately "how good."

As infusions go on it transitions more to fruit, something tropical and light, but hard to pin down.  Lychee, longkong, longan, and rambutan all have light colored, light, sweet fruit tastes that are related, and it seems to be in that range (more on fruits in Thailand here).  Of those fruits I really love lychee; a good version is transcendent, so sweet and bright, with a faint background of spice-like notes that remind me of a nice Sauvingon Blanc (but this is probably closer to longkong).  The floral is making it hard to separate the fruit out; the tastes aren't so far from each other, so they sort of overlap.

I like the tea better with fruit more pronounced, and slightly more complex.  It picks up a different level of fullness too, related to both feel and the flavor range.  It's the kind of taste that if one is so inclined they could express as an analogy to other foods, as sweet and fruity as fruit loops cereal, maybe (which has a taste that reminds me of pandan leaf).

It's odd that it keeps getting better, softer, just as sweet, but fuller.  Could that just be me warming up to it?  The overall effect is different than I've experienced, which I'll relate to tasting the same tea again later.

Second tasting notes

I tried the tea a second time a week later.  The first tasting never did lead to a clear flavors list description, and I didn't feel like I had a great feel for the tea.

A couple infusions in I still wasn't really getting that, a list of flavors standing out.  The tea is very good, unique and aromatic, but subtle.  Warm and rich flavors do emerge, in the same general range I described the first time, but the effect is not mostly about flavor.  I'm reminded of drinking Bai Mu Dan versions lately (white teas), how at first they just don't taste like much but later the positive effect becomes clearer and clearer, and even the flavors range makes more sense.  But then some teas just aren't mostly about flavor.

The rest of that effect is difficult to describe.   It's round, if that type of meaningless description helps, relating to feel, and sort of also to aroma.

The taste is still vaguely floral, but moves a little towards light and soft mineral range. It might even resemble a light wood tone, or a very mild root spice.  That last type of spice-flavor effect (only a trace aspect) was much more pronounced in the other Lin teas, in different ways in both other versions.  Again there is almost no astringency, not really any of the type-characteristic unripe fruit edge or tartness, although in the late infusions when extended brewing times are required to get the flavor out a hint of it showed up.

It strikes me as the kind of tea that might not be as easy to appreciate on the first try, or in direct comparison with teas with stronger flavor aspects.  It's like taking the Pepsi challenge; based on a sip of both sodas the sweeter version may seem preferrable, but in the longer run one might well prefer a different balance of aspects.

Research section

So what is Da Wu Ye supposed to be like, per online review?  Let's check.  Yunnan Sourcing offers a description:

"Da Wu Ye" known as Big Black Leaf grows almost exclusively in Phoenix Village in the Wu Dong Mountains of Guangdong. Da Wu Ye is a medium leaf varietal and natural hybrid of local "Ya Shi Xiang" bushes and "Shui Xian" varietal...  It is also called "Snowflake Dan Cong" and has the lowest harvest quantity per bush of any Dan Cong.

A bit more on what it "should" taste like and we'd be finished.  There is a bit on names on the "Amateurs de The Chinois" blog, and on some general types within Dan Cong.  There is more in comments since the actual post only translates Chinese characters, it doesn't transliterate them.  Based on those comments this might be "big dark leaf" type (the translation), which doesn't appear on that list, or alternatively possibly "ginger flower."  Dan Cong names are like that, inconsistent, sometimes with different translation names associated with similar or identical original names, quite likely related to variations of plant types beyond naming inconsistency, but who knows.

Oddly Google doesn't turn up much; always strange when that happens.  Passing references seem to confirm Tea Habitat was selling this type (the shop associated with the Tea Obsession blog, or at least the modern name of one), maybe more than one variation by the same name.  No posts in her blog cover the tea type, not even this one on names and types.

I talked to that author of the Tea Obsession blog / owner of Tea Habitat a little about it--who is actively blogging again; check that out--and she confirmed the "big dark leaf" type direct translation, which had also been included in the Lin's description.  She also said that the final characteristics of teas from a similar leaf type can vary a lot, based on processing differences.  Cindy has mentioned something related before in regards to her teas (Wuyishan teas, we tend to discuss, although she does help make Dan Cong related to having family there too), that the same leaves themselves, the starting point, also seem to vary in attributes year to year.  Apparently that would be based on minor changes in growing conditions, but that is just my guess, I don't think she has concluded that in our discussions.

Not much more turns up for any sort of online description; odd.  So it is what it is, and the review stands alone; great tea, something different.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Review of Tea: A User's Guide, a tea reference book by Tony Gebely

Tony wrote the book on tea (credit)

I was just privileged to read and review an early version of a great book on tea (more info on availability here, how to buy it).  Tony Gebely's "Tea:  A User's Guide" provides a wealth of tea background information, covering types, processing, chemical composition, tea growing, brewing and a few other areas of "basics," a lot of it not so basic.  As an engineer I can completely relate to the rational, organized approach to in-depth research.

After writing a summary of the book it occurred to me; why would someone need to know all this?  My own interest in drinking tea, researching tea, and writing are almost separate interests, overlapping, but not always closely related.  To drink tea someone needs to know how to prepare it (covered in basic form here), and would need to know a lot about types to keep trying new ones, or better versions.  Background on general categories, regions, and specific teas is extensive in the work, both broad and deep, so most of what one would need to know to seek out different types is covered, really in more detail than necessary for just knowing what one might try.

Active components in teas--those that affect you, or affect taste--are treated more fully here than research would tend to turn up.  Processing basics are well covered, although it's never really enough.  Once you know the basics steps and how those apply to different teas the next level of questions still comes up, about variations and exceptions, and more specifics.  This book provides a clear starting point, the basic steps, and some general mapping to types.  Range is a strength of the work; there is lots on tea growing, basics on tea preparation, and tea evaluation.  Explaining the scope might work better by saying what it doesn't cover.

from the World of Tea site, but the book goes deeper (credit)

It's not about tea history, or ceremonies, or recipes.  Brewing content stays basic enough that the basic process is described, what happens during brewing, critical parameters, etc., but most related to Gongfu cha approach isn't, about formal, relatively ceremonial brewing, a process version that is also functionally different.  The most basic tea regions are described in good detail (China, Japan, Taiwan, India, and Sri Lanka) so it's down to teas from secondary places like Vietnam and Nepal that aren't.  Tangents like pu'er storage conditions are covered, but just the basics.  Plant-type scope is covered, cultivar background, of course not related to full treatment of the subject, which is endless.

random tea types graphic, not from the book (credit)

I've just spent three years researching tea for blog posts, investing more time than I'd ever admit to, and that level of reading up doesn't cover all the range and completeness of the content in this book.  A lot of the more basic content was familiar, and some review tangents have led further than the book covers, but the range and depth is extensive, some of it suitable for use as a reference resource.  I try a lot of tea but getting around to trying and reading about the most common hundred standard types really can't be rushed, and this book describes those in good detail (130, actually).

Tony's World of Tea site is good for taking review a bit deeper than what often turns up, but the scope there is limited; they get to whatever subjects they get to.  It amounts to a good bit, but that site is not intended as a comprehensive guide, as the book is organized.  They did add a database of cultivars there, which is a huge task to take on.  That's still a work in progress, or perhaps the kind of thing that could never be fully complete, since the range of what is known about many variations of tea plants changes over time.  That's a process that is informed by the modern study of genetics, but slowly informed, one research study and paper at a time, with limited findings adding up to an accepted body of knowledge.  Here's an interesting example of that, a research paper sorting out Darjeeling and Assam clone types, titled "Genetic Diversity and Relationships Among Tea (Camellia Sinensis) Revealed by RAPD and ISSR Based Fingerprinting."  Such articles make for an interesting read but only someone working in that field of study can completely relate to all of the content, so plenty of interpretation is required.

This book is perfect for anyone really interested in tea.  It's not exactly a user's guide; it covers both practical, applied knowledge and also other background tea enthusiasts would love to know that doesn't relate so directly to practice.  But it offers plenty of content on both, so someone looking for only one or the other wouldn't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sheng pu'er from a Bangkok grocery store (Menghai Dayi 2014 Jia Ji Tuo)

The natural reaction to the subject of buying commercial pu'er from a grocery store:  don't do that!  As a rule I'm past even being curious about what teas are in grocery stores, but I still can't help but look if I walk past them.  Grocery stores here range from Tesco-Lotus (the British chain, low to medium range products, good for basics) to higher end specialty shops where selection is better but paying twice as much for dressed-up versions can get old.  Or there are old-style markets, awesome places for deals on better fruit and vegetables, but the smell takes some getting used to.  I was in a better mall store, a Gourmet Market (they might update that name).  It's early in this post for losing the thread but first a tangent about why I was there.

I wanted to find the orange, jack-o-lantern style pumpkins, to make a pie.  They commonly sell Thai and Japanese pumpkins here, and those would be fine, but the taste is a little different, and being November 2nd it seemed I might still catch some left-over Halloween related offerings.  I've bought a similar pumpkin in Isaan / Isarn, North-East Thailand, so they grow them here (maybe not exactly the same type), but the demand is too low for them to turn up.

I visited two Gourmet markets, in two of the highest end malls in Bangkok, Siam Paragon and EmQuartier.  There is risk of a very long tangent about malls in Bangkok.  Suffice it to say a multi-floor vegetation-intensive waterfall feature in one was nice, along with instrumental jazz in the background, but to me that type of higher-end commercial environment somehow seems soulless.  And they didn't have those pumpkins anyway.

I didn't expect to buy any tea.  They had some different things, Thai jasmine green tea, a little oolong, nothing too interesting.  Ordinarily commercial pu'er is in that range, not interesting, but somehow I felt like my journey to pu'er had been missing something.  Recent exploration never covered that well-trampled common ground of trying ordinary commercial teas, or at least not enough of them.  One that caught my eye was that, a Menghai Dayi / Taetea brand tuoucha, apparently a two year old version of sheng, but with a label in Thai some details could've been clearer.

I'd have expected that tea to be bitter, smokey, hard as a rock, unapproachable, really the opposite of what I like in teas, but somehow I still felt drawn to it.  I had walked away from a similar tea in a different mall shop a year ago (in Paradise Park, again from Menghai, the most well-known commercial tea pu'er producer), and passed on a completely generic shou tuocha just a month or so ago.  It was a case of non-buyer's remorse.

I'll cut to the end, what the tea is like.  It's smokey, a little bitter, right in the middle between chewing on an aspirin and drinking a softer green tea version, something decent.  I think it could be even better if I can get washing off tea dust sorted out better; I typically don't use rinses to remove a substantial amount of tea dust, but with bitterness being an issue it seems best to get all that as cleared as possible.  It's not as compressed and ground up as I expected, but exactly as smokey as I'd imagined, with plenty of bitterness.  A colleague asked about the tea and tried it, someone who had a history of stomach problems, and I told him this is probably at the top of the list of teas to avoid related to that.  He hated the taste so that turned out to be secondary.

I wonder what that says

I expected the tea would loosen up a good bit over the next two or three infusions, then produce something more drinkable beyond that (using an approach in between gongfu brewing and western).  The tea did soften a bit by the third infusion, and the smoke diminished a little, but some sourness picked up.  After that the sourness faded as well, and the best of the tea came out, but there wasn't so much left in it, a few more longer infusions that tapered off.

Of course I've not really done a flavor description review yet, but then it's hard to get past smoke and bitterness transitioning to sourness, then fading to more neutral, but still a little sour.  Given that it's pu'er one can just throw "mineral" out there, maybe even "tobacco," and those might even be accurate to some extent.  There is flavor range below that, subtle fruit notes towards plum, and tweaking brewing might bring out more positive results.  Gongfu brewing using very short times should go better.

I tried to find out more about what it is, through online review.  Yunnan Sourcing sells a 2011 version of it (for $5.50; sounds reasonable, I just spent around $10 for this), and they describe it as such:

A high quality blend with that characteristic heavy Menghai are qi!  Good mouth-feel and huigan this is a great choice for aging... This is the 2nd year since 2005 that Da Yi has released a 100 gram tuo, and the 2nd release of the "Jia Ji" (lit. Premium Grade) tuo since 2003!

Finding out more is tricky, but that is a start.  This Shanghai vendor sells the same version I bought for $32.99; seems a bit steep.  There's an interesting review of the 2011 version on Steepster:

I’m a newbie but I’m going to review this tea…  It has a really strong smoke flavour and medium bitternes. I couldn’t find any sweetness in it. Too strong for me. If you like strong smoke flavour you’ll enjoy it, but that’s not my case.

I could relate to that.  He reviewed it a year ago, so maybe in another five or so the tea could be more drinkable.  Or it could just be different but still not what he's looking for.

inner label, the nèi fēi 

It's obvious why I bought the tea, isn't it?  I have a problem, a compulsion, not so different from being an alcoholic.  The tea will still be worth it anyway, a decent option for mixing it up.  It wasn't the kind of expense to get broken up about, nothing like waking up from a three-day black-out in another city wondering how much of my life needs to be put back together.  If I only drink some and manage to forget about the rest for a few years that would make for an interesting second experiment, both worth the expense.  It should soften up, lose some bitterness, and gain some complexity in that fruit / earth range.  Part of the appeal was to get more used to that young sheng profile anyway, edgier and more bitter tea than I'm used to, and it should help with that.

Also like an alcoholic it's best to not let my wife see tea coming through the house, since she makes it seem like the kilogram or two at home is way too much, that I should be clearing it before buying more.  I've been trying to get that drank down for half a year but tea trickles in as fast as I can clear it, even without really buying any.  I bought 50 grams of a Bai Mu Dan in Pattaya two weeks ago, at Tea Village, but that sort of doesn't count, just sampling.  Neither does this tea, anything I buy using cash and keep at the office, or samples vendors send.  And besides, pu'er doesn't count in general, it's supposed to age.  And really, I could quit any time...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ya Shi (duck shit) and Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong from the Lin farm

the Lin farm Mi Lan version, the right general look

I'll come right out with it; trying these teas was the closest I've been to having a religious experience related to tea, like starting over again.  The better versions of Cindy's teas are the only ones I can compare them to, also a bit transcendent, and I do actually make a direct side by side comparison with one of hers in this post.  I was never under the illusion that I am familiar with the best versions of almost any types, and I'm fine with exploring teas organically, pursuing whatever seems most interesting next, drinking teas from different quality levels.  I'm not very far along in general with Dan Cong, so it doesn't come as a surprise to try some examples from the next level.

A chance internet contact offered to send these samples for review, from the Lin tea farming family.  Of course that is a nice part about being a tea blogger.  It's not as nice when teas are good but not really favorites, harder to place in regards to aspects not relating to preferences, or how to describe limitations in the teas.  Those things don't come up in this post; if anything I might switch over to a bit too much of a subjective take.

One might wonder about family history, how long they've been making tea, if there is more to the story to tell, but this post will focus on tea review.  I'm confident the story is what one would like to hear, about production on all levels drawing on generations of tea making.  I'm sure decades have went into honing specialized skills to make the tea, that it is truly organically produced, as described, and so on.

The way that networking worked out seems typical; the family member that I talked to is a more internet savvy younger daughter in a traditional tea farming family.  Their Facebook page has 96 friends in common so I'm guessing that their tea is probably a relatively open secret.  But the end customers that have tried it would probably not typically know details related to the original source.

There is more I could say than I will here about these teas, about the naming, types, or processing style (eg. level of roast), or related to cultivar types, organic farming, brewing method, etc.  The post runs long covering multiple comparison tastings, so I'll stick to only that, after a short introduction to types.

Even the name of the Lin farm Mi Lan Xiang version would take more unpacking than I'll go through; it was labeled as a "Qing Xiang Mi Lan Dan Cong."  A vague Tea Spring vendor reference identifies a tea with the first name as "a variety of lightly oxidized Song Zhong Dan Cong," which doesn't shed much light on it.  This Tea Guardian reference describe Qing Xiang Fenghuang Dan Cong--Feng Huang is the name Cindy uses for the type instead, meaning "phoenix"--as "literally clear fragrance Phoenix single bush — aka bouquet style Phoenix oolongs, floral style Phoenix “single bush” oolongs."  Another reference by the same site divides styles of Dan Cong into two groups, but that sort of categorization tends to not match in different reference sources.

An old Tea Obsession blog post goes into Dan Cong naming, not really fully clarifying use of those names but spelling out some more background and types.  That post points out that Song Zhong is used to mean different things, most generally "old tree" in reference to a past dynasty name, but used inconsistently so still non-specific.  So onto what the teas are like instead.

First review:  Lin farm Qing Xiang Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong

the lighter roast stands out even in the dry leaves

I tried this tea first since I've reviewed another good version of this type recently (Cindy's), which would make it easier to place.  I compare it directly to that tea in a second round of tasting here.

The scent of the dry tea was intriguing, and on tasting the rinse I already knew this tea was one of the best Dan Cong I ever tried, maybe even one of the best teas I ever tried.  There was plenty to the fruit and floral range, honey orchid and peach, or perhaps apricot, even a touch of roasted almond.  Sweetness, complexity, and clean flavors stood out most.

leaves look different in different lighting

It's not that far off the version of the same type Cindy sent not too long ago, maybe just prepared differently, a little off the bright fruit effect to accentuate a warm roasted quality.  That's nothing like even the mid-level roasts in Wuyi Yancha, not just different for basic starting-point flavors but also different in aspects drawn out.  It tastes absolutely nothing like "char," and is light roasted compared to Wuyi Yancha styles, but the typical range is lower related to roasting, with finer levels of variation in that for Dan Cong.

There might be potential for them to have prepared this tea differently but per my initial judgement there is no space left to improve upon it; it's essentially perfect as it is.  Listing aspects and drawing on indirect impressions other ways won't really bring that across, but that's how reviewing goes, so I'll continue on with it.

The flavor of the tea extends well beyond drinking it; it might even get a little stronger right after swallowing it.  Astringency is exactly where it should be; quite limited, barely adding a faint edge to the tea.  There isn't much for "tartness," present in some degree for typical types, maybe just a hint that offsets the much more pronounced sweetness well, but really barely any.

The tea is aromatic.  It wasn't so long ago that wouldn't have meant so much to me; most of taste in terms of complex flavors is carried through scent, so in a sense every tea is aromatic.  But some more so than others; a vague centering of experience can occur in that range for some teas more so than for others.  This post on comparing Jin Jun Mei versions might help explain that, or really only my own take, still a work in progress.

It seems like I'm just saying that it's a great example of the tea type, both the general type and this specific flavor version, Mi Lan Xiang, honey orchid aroma, and it surely is.  The final effect is about the balance of those aspects coming together, not so much about what those are individually.  Tasting comparison with a similar tea could help define both, and since I didn't feel like I got to the bottom of all the complexity in one go I'll do that next.

Comparing two Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong and one Ya Shi (Duck Shit)

Since I just tried Cindy's tea of the same type I'll taste this version in comparison with that, along with the Ya Shi / "duck shit" version.  It typically works better to compare quite similar teas, to help highlight more minor differences, or else it can just get confusing, with too many differences to be as informative.  Hopefully tasting two types and three teas will still strike a reasonable balance.

Ya Shi / "duck shit" Dan Cong:

This general type seemed interesting enough to draw a lot of media hype awhile back, rare for any subject related to tea, perhaps in part due to the name.

The tea is different, very nice, aromatic, round-flavored.  Breaking this tea into flavor aspects is going to be difficult (something I might not want to keep repeating).  It's generally in the floral range, so there's that, but it seems to have a complex, integrated, positive flavor that won't easily be captured by a flavors comparison list.  The normal descriptors of exceptional tea clearly apply:  clean flavored, complex, with a different version of a full feel typical to the general type (no need to dwell on all that; best to stick to these teas, and with three versions to cover easier to stick more to flavors description).

brewed Ya Shi leaves

The flavors range reminds me of root and bark spices.  I tend to reference sassafrass since that's essentially the only one I remember, but it's not that close a match for sassafrass, and definitely not so close to cinnamon, the only bark spice I'm now familiar with.  During a decade plus of drinking various tisanes--herb teas, to some--I crossed paths with lots of others, but I wasn't writing reviews then, or keeping track for any particular reason, and I probably wouldn't be able to refer back to a tisane that I drank over a decade ago anyway.  Or maybe I could, if keeping those sorted back then had seemed more of priority.

The tea definitely includes floral range, I'm just at a loss to mention a specific flower.  I suppose it's perhaps somewhere in the orchid range, just a warmer, richer aspect than honey orchid might be.  Or so I'd guess; I drink teas that are supposed to taste like honey orchid, enough I feel like I have a sense of what that means, but I don't remember smelling one.  More on this tea's transition through different infusions after roughing out the basics on the other two.

Lin Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong compared to Cindy's version:

Cindy's Mi Lan version, in a similar range

Both teas are so nice, both quite different.  On first taste Cindy's comes across as a bit brighter and sweeter, with more dramatic flavor profile, more intense, but in the same general direction.  That could sound like I'm saying it's better, and it would be for some people, but it's not quite that simple.  Having a warmer, more subtle and spice oriented flavor profile isn't necessarily a bad thing for the other tea.  Actually it's fantastic, just in a different sense.  In a way that also maps onto the difference between the Dan Cong version types, with the Lin's Mi Lan Xiang brighter, sweeter, and more intense, with the Ya Shi more subtle, but giving up nothing related to being complex, positive, and enjoyable.

In a sense I'm implying the Lin Mi Lan Xiang is somehow "between" the other two teas in terms of flavors range, and that sort of works, although the spatial analogy only goes so far.  To be more specific, the Lin farm version of Mi Lan Xiang leans towards the Ya Shi version in terms of warmth, and including a bit of the root / bark spice range.  These descriptions seem a bit rough to me though; the teas flavors are basically floral, nothing like brewing spices, I'm just using that to describe real aspects and to place the range.

I didn't notice it before but I'm picking up a similar range of nutmeg, in the Lin Mi Lan tea just a little, a spice that itself seems complex to me, not a simple taste at all.  It doesn't do the tea justice to say that it's nice.  All three are absolutely amazing teas, just in completely different ways.  It's odd how much variation there is in the two teas of a relatively similar type, which stands out a lot more tasting them together.

the look varies with parameters, yellow to light gold in general

There is a touch of spice adding complexity to Cindy's tea version, just very little in the background, likely brought out more by the power of suggestion, looking for it.  But the focus is on the bright floral range, with a little drift into stone-fruit territory (peach / apricot, not so distinct I'd say either one but for a more standard list-style review I'd just list both).  That trace of tartness and mild astringency (mild in good versions) is more pronounced in Cindy's tea, a balance that really works.  Then again I'm also loving how soft and full the other teas are, and of course the mind-blowing complexity.

It's not my place to speculate but I'm wondering how the Lin family made teas like this.  Of course the starting point must have been positive, the leaves, surely properly harvested from very happy, thriving tea trees (old, growing at elevation, all of that), but lots of things must have went right in processing too.  Cindy's family's tea is also great but more like a better version of other teas I've tried, but something fundamentally different in character is going on with those others.  It could be tied to different leaf sourcing, but it seems likely it's a result of a lot of factors coming together, with processing steps as a major input.

Cindy's Mi Lan brewed leaves

The depth of experience of tasting the Lin Mi Lan Xiang defies description (but then I was going to stop saying that).  It's like that first time you try a really nice Anxi Tie Kuan Yin, or Taiwanese light oolong, or Wuyi Yancha.  It feels like turning to a new page, a sort of "now I get it."  Astringency and tartness are not significant aspects of those teas, and the flavors scope extends to spice, or so I'm interpreting it.  But it's really not about a few positive aspects, the novelty relates to the overall experience.

The flavors do transition a bit, for all these teas, but it ends up being a lot to write about.  The Ya Shi might be drifting a little into a more typical range for Dan Cong, showing a bit of that flower-stem type nature that gives them a slight tanginess, just not much, the tea remains quite soft but full in feel and flavor.  It seems to be the case that the longer infusion times required after lots of infusions (in the range of ten) draws out more of that aspect, something I'd noticed the day before in tasting the other tea initially.

Odd that Cindy's tea seems to soften instead, after a lot of brewing; that might mean more to someone else.  The Lin Mi Lan Xiang stays in the same range but changes, shifting balance between the floral and spice tones.  The honey sweetness in the Ya Shi changes a little, with "honey" really too non-specific, so that a more detailed description reference used by someone familiar with different types of honey seems more in order.  I taste different tropical versions here, based on wide variations in flowers, but to me it's just honey, and then a different kind of honey.

Brewing variations would likely bring out lots of different aspects, and over multiple tastings appreciation of minor aspects or even awareness of different levels to appreciate would probably develop.  I've talked mostly about flavors here but there is more going on to appreciate; the aftertaste component is significant, and the feel is nice, lots more going on with that.

In none of these cases are there negative aspects to discuss or brew around.  All the teas could hardly be said to improve or diminish over infusions, they just change.

As far as my favorite of the three, that would be hard to say.  The novelty of the character of the Lin teas gave them a slight edge over Cindy's, but it would be hard to choose between them, and a preference choice might change with more exposure.  The Ya Shi / duck shit was a bit more subtle, not the kind of tea one tasting really takes in, but the Mi Lan gave up nothing in terms of complexity, and the range of aspects overlapped a little.  I feel lucky just to try teas like these three.