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.

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