Cindy of Wuyi Origin sent a few samples to try not so long ago and so far I've only reviewed a Lapsang Souchong and Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong. Both were really nice, although to be fair people who aren't into fruitier teas probably wouldn't really appreciate either. Or Dan Cong in general, for that matter, since those universally express pronounced fruit or floral aspects, and it would seem strange for someone to hate fruity tea and love floral versions.
I love citrus and other fruit as main elements in better black teas and oolongs, which explains why Oriental Beauty oolongs are one of my favorite types, or why second flush Darjeeling can really work well for me. I'm not reviewing much for Darjeeling these days, or even drinking much (beyond trying a decent first flush version in the past week), but for me that sort of thing goes in a cycle. I've been more inclined towards Chinese blacks, but am trying more sheng and shou, along with some Dian Hong and orthodox Assam.
Of course this is almond flavor Dan Cong, more or less. Those really do taste a bit like almond but that range can vary. It will probably be subtle and a bit aromatic, a term people could use in slightly different ways. Let's see though. I'll cite the website description of it first, which I didn't read before the tasting:
Location: Wudong village of the Phoenix mountain
Harvest date: 2017.4.4th
Cultivar: Xing ren xiang ( Almond Flavor )
Roasting level: Medium roasting, after sorting we roast it by Litchi Charcoal
Feature: Xing ren xiang, another name is Ju duo zhai 剧朵仔. At the two side of edge of leaves there are Sawthooth, the leave of this cultivar is very small, thin and long. This tea has an obvious almond and nut aroma and very strong tea body. You can feel the tea energy in the tea soup, enduring, with a long sweet back [finish].
Pretty good, for a description written in English by a non-native speaker (cleaned up a little for form).
I didn't use a rinse on the tea, no short first infusion to be thrown away. I kept the first infusion limited in timing, around 10 to 15 seconds, even though it really won't express the full flavor range made that way. Once this tea gets brewing using hot water--boiling point, or at least near that--short infusions would work well, between 5 and 10 seconds. Or it's possible to drink it stronger; just a matter of preference.
The tea won't have astringency to work around, as some Dan Cong do. In my experience that tends to come up more in some types (specific Dan Cong type versions) but really varies more by quality level. It would be possible to work around astringency a little (if it were present) by using 90 C water instead but more conventional to just go with short infusion times. One school of thought, covered in this post about oolong brewing temperature, would claim that you'd be out of your mind to use anything but full boiling point water to brew this tea, which would give the best results, but I tend to accept that people could easily use trial and error to see and judge for themselves.
Almond does work as well as anything else to describe the main flavor range but an initial blind impression would probably focus on the floral range instead. In this tea it's closer to ripe peach than it might often be, usually more prominent in Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong. It's complex though, to me balancing almond, that peach fruit, and underlying floral range. The fruit covers stone fruit range but also a soft version of citrus, and there will be more to say about how the sweetness comes across, about light toffee or whatever else. And about how the base that's related to astringency works, the unripe fruit theme that's subdued in this version. There's a lot going on, but the overall effect is simple and unified, not challenging.
I went just over 10 seconds again to get the tea to finish unfurling and opening up, slightly stronger than necessary, but it will make it easy to pass on a full impression. It's really intense. Warmer sweet tones did pick up a lot, not exactly close to light toffee but not that far from that either. Some else might interpret it as close to sugar cane but it's not that either. The almond range is dominant anyway, coming out even more, with either fruit or floral tones or whatever it is dropping back a little in proportion.
This is a really nice, complex, and well-refined tea. The astringency or feel that is present gives it a fullness and hangs around long after drinking it, trailing off in a sweet flavor range that matches the fruit tone more. The almond flavor is well developed during tasting the tea with sweet fruit and some floral trailing more, an interesting transition.
very slightly stronger; I won't mess around and try a longer steep for this tea
The next infusion I just went around 5 seconds, to see how it works out quite light. I'm guessing right in between 5 and 10 seconds is the closest match for my preference but it's nice to experience the range. The intensity at this fast infusion time is interesting; maybe I'm wrong about that part, and quite light is best. It won't communicate well but all those aspects that I mentioned fall into a great balance in this round. Each taken alone is nice but together it really works.
The subtlety, complexity, and overall tone remind me of how Ya Shi (duck shit) versions often come across, just not that almond flavor part. The way the sweetness is expressed is familiar from that, and the underlying floral tone too. I think part of that is just how well a light-medium roast works for this tea, which would be very light compared to other oolong styles, just more in the middle of the typically lighter Dan Cong range. It's almost as far from Wuyi Yancha char roast effect as lighter Taiwanese oolongs are, just in a completely different tea version.
It does keep transitioning on the next round, picking up a perfume or liqueur like effect that comes across in some teas. Using the concept in one way people sometimes refer to that as aroma. In part it relates to the floral tone picking up but it's also an effect that seems to go beyond taste / flavor changes. Some of it does seem to be happening related to what your tongue picks up (taste, in one sense), but also to what aroma / scent carries (flavor, used in one limited sense). Something vaguely related to astringency does give the tea a fuller feel but it's more the opposite of "astringent."
The next infusion is more of the same, really great. It did continue to cycle through another half of the round of infusions and transition just a little throughout that but I left off here taking notes about it.
I really liked the tea, but then it was just what I expected: complex, well-balanced, characteristic of the type, sweet and intense but subtle and refined at the same time. But just how good is it? And how could a reader judge my judgment about that?
Part of what brings that line of questioning up is the familiar exchange where one person claims a tea is a good version in online discussion and then a self-professed "more experienced" tea enthusiast claims that they've had much better tea than that, that it's not even close to the higher end (often even without having tried the tea, which can be regarded as a bit problematic). I'm not talking about any one specific case but that theme does repeat. Of course there are ever-higher levels of tea quality for different types, so the claim always could be true in different senses.
In order to resolve that, for a reader to be clear on what I mean and how my judgement matches theirs, I would have to pass judgment on a similar tea already familiar to them and our impressions would have to match. Even then one would have to just assume that aptitude for judgement and personal preference as a factor remains consistent. That set of conditions is unlikely, unless I could map out a matrix of reviews of other recognized versions, so I'll go with the next best thing: trying to find a comparable online description of this tea by someone else, to use third-party input as a benchmark instead.
I couldn't find a 2018 version description, and working from 2017 is going to be slightly less specific, since tea versions will change a little year to year. Growing conditions aren't completely identical, and some harvest and processing steps require nature to cooperate too. It would be similar, and of course it's processed by the same people, so for critiquing my review description it wouldn't work but for pegging a general quality level it should, or at least it'll make for a start. Of course there still are better and worse years for specific teas or general areas.
One of the three 2017 version reviews on Steepster seems to work to summarize that set of takes (from Tanluwils; nice job!, very clear and detailed):
I’ve had many sessions with this tea and it continues to impress. Dried leaves smell like roasted leaves without any remarkable scent, but once hot water hits them I am immediately hit with rich, almond (yes, really!) essence, sweet buttercream, orchids, and hazelnut. The rinse is thin-bodied, but already exudes a nice mouthfeel. This is a testament to the skill and expertise that went into the roasting, which has enhanced the inherent qualities in the leaf.
The next 4 steeps intensify in aroma, qi, texture, mouthfeel, and flavor. The almond here reminds me of fresh traditional Cantonese almond cookies. It’s very full in the mouth and feels nice in the throat. This one goes strong until the 7th or so steep where it gradually fades. It performs best in a chaozhou red clay teapot.
Steepster reviews can be useful as input, with some interpretation of them required
The tea was a bit like cookies, come to think of it, and I bet I might've expressed more about that creaminess. That one is most descriptive and the other two are even more positive, with one surprised the tea tastes that much like almonds (the 2018 version did, and also a bit floral and so on), and the third moved to compare the experience to that of romantic love (by Jorge Luis Vazquez Ochoa; again admirable work):
...Difficult to resist its charm. Until the third infusion the tea hugs me, very slowly with an irresistible seduction. Oh my God! its sweetness makes me drunk. Then I was spellbound with it’s flavor. It’s like the kiss of a beautiful woman who just brushes my lips. Then the liquor runs through my body giving it a warmth of life. Then, after the ninth infusion it’s beginning to slow down, but now I’m full of it’s wonderful flavor...
This next years' version was really good tea but I wasn't quite that affected by it. If someone hadn't tried Dan Cong on this level before it could be a shocking experience, and for someone who has it would still be really nice. I suspect that I might be a bit dispassionate in approach to life in general compared to him, which is not necessarily a good thing.
I checked if he'd reviewed the Ya Shi and he had, with really positive things to say about that, but framed in more conventional language. As I recall that tea was similar in nature (their versions I've tried, including the 2017 he reviewed), just slightly different related to flavor profile. But then comparing a tea version to one drank a year ago is pushing it; it's easy to remember wrong, at least for me.
Steepster scoring in particular should be taken for what it's worth, defined differently by everyone
Another popular blog reviewed the 2017 version, Tea DB (so a video version; how most of their posts go). I'd have to summarize them instead of citing something, but the general take seemed to be that it was a high quality tea, most pronounced related to aroma and length of finish, but also with good sweetness and flavor complexity. Those guys drink Wuyi Yancha and Dan Cong but focus more on sheng pu'er, so their take is far from inexperienced but they probably would have did more with placing it if the tea had been that type. One funny comment was that since the tea wasn't astringent and had good flavor and sweetness someone's mom might like it. That's an interesting way to place the tea style, which they joked they would edit back out since it's both sexist and ageist. But it works. As long as their mom could use a gaiwan and do 10 second infusions it's easy to brew as well.
It's kind of strange to survey other blogs about a tea, especially since I'm going on about 2017 version reviews, but it was an interesting theme to consider. This tea is refined and subtle in one sense and straightforward and approachable in another, so it's interesting seeing how different reviewers talked around that.
One take was consistent: all those reviewers really liked the 2017 version. The Steepster reviews seemed to frame it as a type you tend to focus on and appreciate more as you drink it, and the Tea DB guys seemed to see it as just another good Dan Cong, but that's how varying type preference and level of exposure goes. I might prefer Wuyi Origin's Mi Lan Xiang version for flavor intensity and their Ya Shi (duck shit) for being really subtle and unique but this tea is on a comparable level with both. I agree with some of those comments that Xing Ren Dan Congs don't always taste much at all like almond but this one did, along with other flavor aspect range, which does seem favorable, matching the general type convention and name.