Onto something of particular interest to me in this review, teas shared by an online friend, Shana Zhang of Wild Qi Tea. She is the primary founder of the International Tea Talk group that I've been an admin for and active in since the group origin. Shana doesn't advertise her tea business there, in strict keeping with the group theme and rules, even though the training branch of her business overlaps with tea background and education themes.
Her take on tea themes is original. She's concerned about sustainability issues, and focuses on an experiential approach to tea, related to meditational aspects and ties back to nature. That all makes perfect sense for someone connected with the production side. The website sections break down teas by type related to Chinese character aspects (wood, metal, yin / yang); that's interesting to check out. I'll leave it at that intro and get on with trying the tea.
I see these more as teas shared by an online friend than teas sent by a vendor for review, but it works out as both, especially since I've been curious just how good the teas are. They're probably pretty good; we've not talked much about her past history with tea (covered more here) but she has a lot of history with the subject.
She sent a Yunnan black tea (Dian Hong), Moonlight White, Longjing, and Wuyi Yancha (I think it was that), with that diversity in keeping with the theme of seeking out good examples of a broad range of types.
Dian Hong can express a lot of sweet, rich, and savory flavors, and this shows off some of the last on first sip. That's promising; sweetness and other rich flavors will join that, developing across rounds. It stands out even more since teas are less often savory. The last one I tried along that line was a novel Laos Moonlight White version from Kinnari Tea, from a Laos producer.
Pleasant rich flavors are also present, along with that one savory note. The savory range reminds me most of sun-dried tomato (how that tends to go), with richness tied to how that comes across and beyond, a little towards warm bark spice but not exactly cinnamon. It's complex; wood tones fill in a bit beyond that. The oxidation level seems moderate, so those seem to relate to cured hardwood range, not to darker or warmer flavor range like tree bark or variations of forest floor. The feel is rich, which I'll say more about that in a later round.
Given this context I'll eventually summarize just how good this tea seems (more a concern here given the context theme), but this is already pretty good. It's distinctive enough in style that personal preference tied to that part would define how much someone liked it more than finer quality level determination.
A little on brewing approach, since I've repeated that over and over in past posts related to every type, but I certainly don't expect anyone to have read these hundreds of reviews. I'm brewing this Gong Fu style, at a relatively high proportion (which I never measure as a weight), infused for around 15 seconds. That is a long time compared to how I prepare sheng (brewed fast) or even roasted oolongs, which would be in the middle; often in the narrow range between that and the 5-10 seconds common for a high proportion ratio of sheng, varied with the character of the tea and across infusions. I brew each round related to how the last worked out; that approach seems to work across types.
This tea would be fine prepared lightly, and probably even easier to review in terms of aspects present (which is a bit counter-intuitive, but how that seems to work out). I like Dian Hong brewed a bit stronger because there are no negative aspects to work around, and due to general preference that it isn't possible to describe; I just do. I could try a fast round to say how that changes things though. I noticed in the page information they recommend brewing it quite fast, starting around 3 seconds and adding time as you go; that would work. I could brew this for 5 seconds a round for 4 or 5 infusions and would be writing a relatively different review description, and would probably like it about as much made that way.
It's still quite savory; other range is developing beyond that but the intensity of that aspect didn't drop. It's a fairly intense tea; lighter might work better related to that, but it's not exactly overbrewed, just stronger than it needs to be, or perhaps an optimum. That warm spice related tone is slightly more evident, again not far off the same proportion though. With other range picking up it's easier to try to tease out if other flavor range is floral or fruit related, probably mostly related to a rose-petal range, but complex enough that it's definitely not just one other thing. Most likely a bit of warmer mineral tone is supporting this coming across as complex as it does, but the warm, clean earthy range is stronger.
That cured hardwood tone could come across as somewhat related to tree bark instead, with a slight mustiness, like just a hint of balsa wood. The overall character is very clean though, and the mineral that is difficult to describe is almost as strong, with the other main elements much more pronounced (sun-dried tomato, warm spice, etc.).
As for potential negatives or limitations what's not present stands out the most. It's rich in feel but it could be a little sweeter. Dian Hong spans lots of range for flavors, just not quite as much for feel character, and this could include different versions of fruit tone, more cinnamon (actual cinnamon; this spice tone is just related), roasted sweet potato or yam (that is common), or cocoa. The warm tone that is present could naturally be described as cocoa; experienced flavors would vary based on interpretation. Sometimes Dian Hong flavor can come across as straight, intense cocoa though.
It helps drinking teas a few times to settle on a more natural interpretation, versus whatever happens to occur in free association, but I very much dislike combining multiple tasting notes into a review in an editing step. This is already plenty of work using one set of notes, passing on a first impression instead.
I brewed this round quickly, to see how it would come across light. It occurs to me that I should mention that it's obviously a lighter oxidized version of Dian Hong, evident from the leaf appearance, from the color. It often doesn't work that way, that you can tell as easily, but some of the leaves being slightly greener stands out.
Lightly oxidized black tea is different but not necessarily better or worse; the character just changes. Oxidizing them more draws out warmer tones, more of the cinnamon, cocoa, and other warm sweet range, and oxidizing them less enables a lighter, complex, different character range. The wood tone and milder spice effect seem like what one would expect, and maybe even that sun-dried savory tone, which could develop to just be sweeter and simpler with more oxidation.
Obviously I'm guessing a bit related to all that. I've tried a lot of different black teas but it only goes so far. I might clarify that black tea oxidized less than the standard range isn't what I'm talking about here; that can work as a valid style choice, leading to potentially pleasant but atypical character, but within the range of typical oxidation levels that level can still vary.
It still works as well brewed very lightly. Character didn't change enough that it makes sense to go through a list like that last one again; it's just lighter. To be clear this aspects balance and sweetness level works. It's good, just different from more typical more oxidized versions. I'm sure that was a very intentional style choice, that the producer likes teas made this way, and is well aware of options related to changes.
Proportion would shift a little for what one experiences (relative levels of individual aspects), but even that's not worth the trouble of noting it. Especially since I'm off to roller blading class again soon, and we're almost into the shouting phase of getting ready (ok, well into that part).
Spice seems to be ramping up a bit, with the savory aspect dropping back, and complexity more tied to rich floral or dried fruit picking up as well. That is as close as this has been to roasted sweet potato, so close it could be potentially judged to be that, but to me it's as close to roasted butternut squash with just a hint of dried mango filling in a trace of higher end. Sweetness seemed to pick up a little, not in the same way or at the same level as more oxidized versions, but in a good balance. It's good. Rushing this tasting isn't helping; it's nice that I have enough to try it again.
This tea has enough complexity that minor shifts in preparation style probably would draw out different aspects range (adjusting timing and proportion, using different water, etc.). The feel is rich and full; I never did try to pin that down further.
On the next round (skipping the header) straight cinnamon did seem to pick up, transitioning from what had been closer to cocoa; the tea is still transitioning positively. This won't brew for the same infusion count young shengs get to, to a dozen rounds or beyond, but it's not fading or changing negatively, far from finished. These notes are finished though; in raising kids that has to be the priority, and tea experience fits in the space available for it beyond that. I'm off to that class.
Related to the "qi" aspect I think I am feeling this. I'm not sure it's as calming and body-centered or as head-buzz oriented as feeling teas often is, but hurrying is no way to embrace that side of tea experience. Usually I only notice feel effect from sheng, potentially present in different forms in young or old versions, but there's no reason some of the same couldn't apply to a black tea, it's just not typical. In looking up the listing page the teas are separated by feel effect; why not?
a little light
Later notes and conclusions
I drank a few more rounds of this after the class and it was just as good, maybe balancing even better than it had in the earliest rounds. It's nice when flavors transition to be quite positive in extended rounds, especially for a black tea, since those more often just fade out. It's also typical for flavors to get woody instead, to be less positive, but this stayed complex and well balanced for longer than black tea would typically extend.
It felt thick in feel, even in those later rounds. I mentioned mouth-feel as a positive aspect in these notes but surely understated that due to rushing the review. So it goes trying to evaluate a tea quickly, on a set time-line; I tend to focus on flavor as a main experience and miss a lot related to describing the rest.
It's a perfectly reasonable trade-off related to raising kids, the difficulty in setting aside two hour-and-a-half blocks of time on the weekend to do two long review sessions. That might sound like longer than it actually takes to focus on a tea, especially without mixing in a comparison theme, but the writing notes adds demand too. To me there is no point in even trying to review a tea in less than an hour since it takes at least that long.
Related to personal preference and less oxidized black teas, it seems to me that for someone completely new to better tea more oxidized versions (the most typical styles) would be easier to relate to at first. That's probably just my judgment, not some sort of universal truth. Someone in the sales page comments mentioned finally getting black teas based on trying this, which indirectly runs counter to that idea. I see light oolongs like Tie Guan Yin and the most drinkable and simple Dian Hong as two natural starting points for exploring teas, and then teas like Wuyi Yancha better for someone further along the experience curve, with this version maybe more typical of that range tied to this factor.
It's not hard to relate to, for me, and there's not less to appreciate, but the style has a subtle complexity that probably isn't as universal in appeal as a straight-cocoa or simpler roasted-sweet potato flavor version. Sheng in general I see as an example of that idea extended further; it really takes some getting used to, there's an acclimation curve. For someone already into Dian Hong this is a great version, novel and pleasant, clearly a well-made and complex tea.
Usually in reviewing Dian Hong I end up discussing that if the tea is oven dried (maybe the most common processing form) it will be more intense initially, and not suitable for aging more than a year, and if it's sun-dried (sometimes also referred to as Shai Hong in that case) the flavors may start out more subtle and gain intensity over a year or two of aging. Of course that depends on other processing factors too; it's just a rough generality. I didn't notice that distinction in the description but this tea may actually increase in sweetness and flavor intensity over time.
skating class, with that friend from China again