2018 harvest, I'm not sure which tea type (credit the Wuyi Origin FB page)
Cindy! this was last year though.
Cindy of Wuyi Origin sent some teas for review, including this one, an old bush Mi Lan Xiang. Their season's Wuyishan oolongs, the Wuyi Yancha, aren't finished processing quite yet but Fujian black teas and Dan Cong oolongs are.
For regular readers there's no need to add background about this producer. For others I'll just say they're the unrealistically rare case of a tea producer trying to sell directly to "the West." If 100 random contacts on Facebook tell you that they are Chinese tea farmers maybe all 100 of them really aren't. Farmers in China don't tend to speak English, use Facebook (it's blocked there, but people can use a VPN), or develop websites. Eventually there was going to be an exception, though.
I wrote a post showing pictures and video of Cindy and her family harvesting and processing teas last year. That could all be staged, and those could just be separate vendors they source tea from, not her family making it, but I'm pretty sure they're the real deal. That's also supported by accounts from a number of people who have visited there.
I should get back to ordering more instead of just trying a little but I can get to that after this set of samples, once the other oolongs come out. Their fruit intensive Rou Gui (typically with pronounced citrus) is probably my overall favorite, a tea that's won them first place in local competitions before. Of course it depends on a lot of factors coming together year to year; nature has to cooperate. And on preference; I tend to love fruit intensive teas with a bit of natural citrus (or cocoa, so some Dian Hong--Yunnan black teas--work really well for me too). While I'm mentioning it their wild Lapsang Souchong is another favorite (unsmoked, obviously), and their Jin Jun Mei versions are really nice, just a bit outside that range I tend to like most.
At the risk of adding too many tangents I was just recommending their teas in an online discussion and mentioned that checking different people's inputs is probably a good idea. I could be biased and judge this vendor's teas more positively, even if that's unintentional, or might have unusual preferences. I just looked up the closest reviews to this version on Steepster, reviewing last year's, and beyond one saying they thought it was a black tea they seemed to match up and were positive. That reviewer also reviewed their most closely related black tea so I'm not sure what was up with that; maybe just a slip.
I'd expect this is about as good a Mi Lan Xiang as I've ever tried; so much for not burdening the experience with expectations. Level of roast changes character quite a bit so there's that for variability. Going lighter on roast brighter fruit character can emerge, and roasting a bit more adds depth, transitioning bright fruit and floral tones to deeper versions, maybe mixing a bit of caramel aspect in. Producers would probably favor a certain style or else try to optimize what each season's harvest brings as a starting point each year.
For other kinds of tea (not really how it works out with Dan Cong) upper medium roast levels and beyond can be used to mask flaws in the tea. Producers tend to keep level of roast light to medium with this general category of oolong, both per standard convention and related to what works out best.
it's nice looking tea
Even on the first light infusion the tea is amazing. It's bright, smooth, intense, creamy, sweet, and complex. I'll need to add more specifics about aspects to that. It's definitely not light or heavy roasted, it seems to me (on the relative scale for the type; this would be quite lightly roasted as Wuyi Yancha goes), so it doesn't give up anything for brightness but it does pick up some warmth. The aspect flavors transition just a little into lightly cooked sugars versus just fruit and floral range flavors.
Is all that clear? I'm mixing some different ideas about how typical flavor aspects tend to pair up. I'll do more with flavor description aspect by aspect next round, and say more about what "full feel" means. As for basics this isn't just floral and not mostly fruit; that peach flavor that tends to come across in some versions mixes with floral tones in this version.
not quite fully opened yet
The tea seems similar the next round but also exponentially more intense, even for being very lightly brewed. I'd expect it to take one more leap in intensity on the next round and then level off, transitioning less over later infusions, and to last for an awful lot of them brewed so lightly.
This is definitely the kind of tea that I'm trying to let people know exists. It's so good that someone might try it and then not tell a soul in order to keep the supply availability intact. I can break the experience down as a set of individual aspects but it would be like describing a sunset as a range of specific colors. You really have to be there.
The main flavor aspect, it seems to me, is very lightly roasted peach, or maybe just fresh, ripe peach with a trace of browned sugar. Not commercial browned sugar, the effect of actually lightly browning white sugar, like a very light caramel. There is more floral range to it than that aspect, but it's a trace that pulls how the peach comes across; the impact of the two interacts. The peach seems like a front end effect; that hits you first, then the depth and fullness of that floral range sweeps in and stays with you. It's amazing the way the tea can be so intense but also bright, clean, and balanced; it seems it would have to give up one to some extent to include the others.
I can't imagine that there would be a much better version than this, that there's any room left for improvement. Of course there's always something a bit more exceptional out there.
that one infusion brewed stronger
I let the next infusion go a little longer, now on 15 or 20 seconds being a long infusion versus letting sheng go over 30 to check how that changes things. I'd mentioned more about the reasoning behind that practice in the last post, just to see what changes, and to identify feel aspects better, or notice flaws.
I'd hesitate to call the tea astringent but that structure and edge does pick up a little. The tea will be much better brewed fast, between 5 and 10 seconds, with plenty of flavor and full feel in that range, but it's still interesting looking at it from different perspectives. That feel is so subdued compared to lower quality level versions that it's probably misleading to say anything at all about it. The trace of astringency gives better Dan Cong a full range of aspect character, and in lower quality examples it's something to brew around, more negative, something to compensate for.
It's not even astringent at all, in the same sense as in an Assam or more challenging sheng. It's more a fullness in feel that comes across in a certain way, and a component that lingers in a long aftertaste, along with that sweetness and flavor range (peach and floral). It's a very pleasant experience, all the parts of it, but how it comes together is indescribable. It would be a shame to drink this tea without plenty of time and space to just absorb it. There's one part about the feel and the flavor sensation moving across your tongue, settling in a different place than it lands in while tasting, ending up as a sensation in the rear of your throat. That's different. The aftertaste never ends, it just keeps trailing off. Minutes later it's just less, not gone.
I went with a faster infusion the next round, more standard, around 10 seconds, and it's nicer, but then it was amazing on that last round too. I can see why someone would prefer it at that strength to get the most out of the feel and aftertaste effect. The flavor was still great but in drinking the tea for taste faster works better, and it's not at all thin. I guess it would come down to preference.
There's not more transition to go on about; it's still expressing a lot of peach and floral, with a slight trace of light caramel or toffee. "Peach and floral" really could be developed a bit. That hint of astringency tapers into flavor just a little but it's more a light structure to the tea, which comes across as soft and full. More of the same on the next too. The warmth might be picking up a little, the aspects shifting balance some, but the character stays similar.
I did keep drinking it for lots of infusions, but I'll spare the detailed notes since as can occur the aspects shifted balance more than changed. I don't feel like I got as far as I typically do with separating aspects into a description; I kind of lost focus a bit in just enjoying the tea. But I'll include more details in a conclusion section.
Celebrity guest review video
She loved it. I didn't get any real description out of her though, just her joking around in that part.
After the actual tasting I checked the producer's notes for their description:
2018 old bushes Mi Lan xiang 蜜兰香老枞
Location:Li zhai ping village in Phoenix Moutian about 1200m
Harvest date :2018.4.5th
Cultivar: Mi lan xiang (Magnolia )
Roasting level: one time roasting by traditional charcoal fire by 90'c fire degree, 15 hours, Medium roasting style
Feature : this tea just finished processing on 5th, and than we did the hands -sorting and Roasting by Litchi Charcoal. The age of the tea bushes is about 100 years old, we used the ladder to do the picking. 4 trees together. This year is 15 kg in all. More than 2017 Quantity. Because of small quantity, we get ready them more quicker than other big quantity tea. The tasting feature is similar to 2017, because from same garden ,same bushes, and same makers processing, Peach or Nectarine, Lychee, Juicy Fruity cocktail and very milky aroma.
I was going to edit that but somehow it makes sense to include it nearly character for character. Note that this tea isn't being re-sold by someone with a Western background; the person or persons writing those words helped make the tea. Cindy probably wrote that. She wears a few different hats so she's not out picking tea or processing it all day but she is involved.
Lychee stands out; I wouldn't be surprised if I re-tasted that tea I'd notice that it is a good description, and it matches up from recent memory. I just had fresh lychee over the last few days, and tried that tea too, but didn't make the connection.
lychee in the upper right (that other is rambutan)
Lychee varies a good bit, by variety of that fruit plant type (there are several), and by how ripe it is, and how good versions are. The one I just had was so-so, only sort of sweet and just a little sour. A really good version is very sweet and complex, with bright citrus-like tones that span almost into light spice range. I haven't have had a really good lychee in a year since the season is just starting now and I've only had fresh versions twice so far. I think expecting the tea to taste like peach and flowers and it also tasting like those things threw off making that connection. And the effect of the feel and aftertaste were really interesting to me this time, so I was doing a bit less free-associating about flavor components.
As for the milky aroma I'm not sure. It can be hard to pin down feel aspects as a description, and per my understanding she uses "aroma" in a specific different sense, not in a way I'd be likely to shed light on by describing it.
Unless I'm remembering wrong this version is just a little better than last year's. The character seemed similar but there was something about the way it all came together that worked better, just that extra bit more exceptional. Some of that could be a match of aspects with preference, or bias can come into play, expectations leading interpretation and memory.
This is probably the best example of a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong I've yet to try. I did quite a bit more with the category last year so I'm basing that on memory, but I don't think I've ever experienced positive aspects coming together to this extent or one balancing as well. Even theirs; it seems similar to prior versions but slightly better. I might qualify that by saying that in general Mi Lan Xiang versions have typically come across as a bit more straightforward to me, more flavor intensive, with types like Ya Shi (duck shit) more interesting for being complex in different ways.
It's not as if it's completely different than other years', except for that overall effect, and related to the way the taste and feel seemed to really impact my mouth differently. I suppose it's possible that also relates to trying a lot of sheng, to focusing more on those aspect ranges, and experiencing lots of different complex teas over the past half a year.
cartoon addicts watching Peppa Pig