I'm trying the last of four teas shared by Shana of Wild Tea Qi, a Longjing version. She is the official main founder of the tea group I admin for, International Tea Talk. I have mixed feelings about trying this, on a couple of different levels, and this post may never go out [although in the end it did]. I'll go into that background first, a list of reservations.
I'm sick: I'll not taste much of this; I'm probably at around 75% capacity for tasting, much improved from two days ago when my sense of taste was mute, from another sinus infection. The main reason to try this tea is related, to taste it now and then again mid-week to see how different it is. I won't get another chance to test exactly what being sick does to sense of taste, at least for a few weeks until I become ill again, the way things have been going.
Editing note: it's a week later now that I'm publishing this, with a second tasting in the middle. I think I've got this recovery.
It's not Spring: people tend to prefer and review green teas in the Spring. There is less point to mentioning them in what is about to change to be the temperate climate winter. I'm almost not talking to an audience at this point anyway, more writing what is interesting to me, for whoever happens to also be interested to read it.
It's not late fall here in Bangkok either, it's the end of our rainy season, about to be our cool season, which are both close enough to Spring in character, I guess. As to teas being better fresh they do seem to lose a little of the edge, less so if stored refrigerated, but people make more of the change than they need to. Well stored green teas lose just a little freshness, which is really unfortunate, but they're far from ruined a half year or a year later on.
Other factors, not necessarily tied to reservations, just background:
It's a Yunnan origin Longjing: that's not a reason not to review it, just relevant context. The original, main origin for Longjing is elsewhere, and the only example I've tried from Yunnan, included as a sample along with a purchase from Yunnan Sourcing, wasn't type-typical of more standard versions. Let's cite a less than idea but standard reference to cover what Longjing is, a Wikipedia entry citation:
...sometimes called by its literal translated name Dragon Well tea, is a variety of pan-roasted green tea from the area of Longjing Village in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. It is produced mostly by hand and renowned for its high quality, earning it the China Famous Tea title...
...There are various definitions of Longjing; however a common definition is that authentic Longjing at least has to come from the Zhejiang province in China, with the most conservative definition restrict the type to the various villages and plantations in the West Lake area in Hangzhou. It can also be defined as any tea grown within the Xihu District. A large majority of Longjing tea on the market however is actually not from Hangzhou. Many of these inauthentic longjing teas are produced in provinces such as Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Guangdong....
...Authentic Longjing tea tastes sweet, mellow and rounded. Some varieties are distinctly vegetal and grassy, and others carry a hint of roasted chestnut and butter.
I'll add more later about flavor and other character differences, and typical types; the point here was more to clarify that origin issue. Any tea sold from a different area as Longjing that is clearly identified related to source location is in no sense a fake tea. It's just not the most conventional version of this tea type, per the typical definition. The plant type used is probably different, in addition to any other terroir issues or processing variations.
This version was still good, but it's odd discussing any difference when a type is typically associated with being very standard, in terms of aspects. An example helps clarify what I mean. Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong oolong (or any of those) tends to cover a narrow range of associated flavors and character, floral or else peach, as general flavors go, with the rest very familiar to a lot of people. It's odd placing where a version stands if it is slightly off that normal scale range, even if the difference wasn't negative in any way, beyond being less typical. What if a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong was roasted more, in a range more typical of a Wuyi Yancha Fujian oolong, versus flavor profile differing in some other way? That might be fine, it would just be odd placing it. Most likely that wouldn't be an improvement, and the conventional range for a much more limited level of roast is in practice in the Guangdong province / Chaozhou area oolongs for a reason.
Here I'm talking about origin area instead, a different thing, but that will carry over to discussion of character differences as well.
Brewing using 205 F / 97 C water (package recommendation): this is a matter of preference, right? I've rehashed this issue so many times I'm bored of going too far with it, but there are a few sets of themes and perspectives that stand out. The standard temperature brewing table relates mostly to Western style brewing preferences (I think; even that's an interpretation), and those tend to vary. Another school of thought says that it's best to use boiling point water with essentially everything, and adjust intensity or astringency as necessary using timing, dropping infusion time. Of course especially in the case of green teas those sets of ideas conflict. Most people and vendors would recommend brewing this tea at closer to 70 C, I think.
The resolution here is clear enough; someone could try any given tea version made a few different ways, and then their own preference and opinion is the correct yardstick. I suspect I'd like this tea best made using hot water but slightly below 97 C, down around 90, but still hot. Then again I tend to be a bit sloppy when it comes to parameters, guessing things out, going by instinct. Maybe I'm robbing myself of a truly optimized experience, or maybe that somehow makes more than enough sense and works well.
I might also mention seeing notice that Shana is currently running tea training courses in China this week, with more on that kind of thing here. Use of the term "sommelier" tends to draw some heat, related to that kind of thing, since it means a different thing related to wine, and to some implies a close parallel that doesn't hold. Using "master" in any course title would raise similar concerns, but with a more value neutral title there's nothing wrong with different training providers offering different options.
Onto a little more background about this tea then the review:
About a two hour drive from Kunming, Yunnan Province and after a three-hour hike deep into the mountains of Yiliang County we found this gorgeous hidden gem, an ancient tea tree garden hidden right in plain sight.
There were remnants of an old temple and later it was confirmed to be the famous Bao Hong Temple’s old tea garden. This ancient tea tree garden created by a monk who came down from Fujian Province in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He brought with him tea tree seeds, which were a special small leaf variety from Fujian. During the cultural revolution, the temple was destroyed as were many holy sites.
Ok, that's more a story than a description. I kind of like those stories. There really is no description of the tea character there, what it tastes like and such. In a comments section some people claim it's the best Longjing they've tried; that's promising. Who knows what else they've tried though. There's a video link on that page and that probably contains more discussion of how it's made and what it's like.
This tea is sold out so it may be something to think about for next Spring, but isn't available now.
Interesting guessing how much of this experience is dropping out; clearly I'm not tasting this tea normally. It has more of a mineral / metallic edge than I think is actually present, an input from the illness. At the same time I can still guess at what it's actually like, beyond how I'm perceiving it.
It seems to overlap with the most typical Longjing scope, the nutty / toasted rice flavor, mild sweetness, towards-vegetal but not really vegetal nature. It's kind of a joke to break down the flavor to a list though, only a guess how accurate that would be. It leans a little towards floral tone, with some warmth to it, a rich, fermented grain effect. I'm not sure that extends to toasted rice but it seems to be in the ballpark. There probably is a more pronounced mineral aspect to this than is typical, which isn't a bad thing (if it's what I'm perceiving, not an illness-oriented illusion), just unusual.
Savory character picks up in the second round, with plenty of sweetness, fresh aspect range, and good overall balance. Not to overemphasize the point but "as far as I can tell." This probably did move away from malted grain to closer to toasted rice, not completely unrelated flavor ranges but different. There's a fullness to the experience, even for experiencing 3/4ths of it. At first scent of the dry tea I was concerned this version might be too atypical, and I don't think this is completely conventional. It works though, and the second round shifts back to closer to that. Floral still seems a little pronounced, and a mineral undertone. Beyond that the differences are finer than I can pick up.
Intensity might be even more pronounced in the third round; this seems kind of hard-hitting as green teas go. I like that about Longjing, that better versions can be intense, and not vegetal, covering a complex, interesting flavor range that isn't grassy. It will be interesting seeing how much of that mineral is actually there and how much is error input. This actually has aftertaste experience, a significant amount of it, more than is typical for Longjing.
Of course you never really know if you've tried 10 or 20 versions of a tea type and just haven't experienced the best versions yet, or ones in that general range. If you keep buying teas from mass-production resale budget vendors you can be assured that you never will experience that. I don't mean Yunnan Sourcing; a category of vendors that I shouldn't name an example of since that seems rude. Yunnan Sourcing sells so much volume of tea that you can buy good, bad, and very exceptional versions through them; it just depends. The best of the best might tend to not come up in such an outlet but I don't think it fits to lump them in with mass-production resale sources, even if that describes their core theme well enough, the Dayi outlet scope and such.
From here I'll need to turn this over to the next tasting round. It will be interesting checking a take on the underlying mineral, overall intensity, fermented grain versus toasted rice aspect, floral tone (pronounced, but my take on that will shift a little), aftertaste effect, and on what else I missed. It will be odd doing a guided tasting theme informed by my own input.
I went extra long on the next brew, getting caught up in a fight between my daughter and her mother. It's nice to have so much of flavor come through, even though it's definitely not optimized, and I never would've brewed it this strong intentionally. Overbrewing a tea does let you determine flaws in a different way, I just don't practice that enough to be good at it, and using a standard timing and proportion approach to set a baseline would help a lot (the ISO brewing standard theme). All the same I interpret what I'm experiencing as positive, not in the sense that the tea is good this way, but that it's not right in the right ways. Astringency and vegetal edge pick way up but it's still clean; even minor flaws would show through as quite unpleasant aspects made this way. The balance is all wrong, per my preference, but I interpret it as just right for a way-overbrewed version of this particular tea.
I don't think this is exactly like the better standard Longjing character but there seems to be more than enough overlap, and the shift that I'm interpreting (based on partial input) seems quite positive. I generally felt that way about that Yunnan Sourcing version too, that it was non-standard but in a good way. At a guess this might be better tea. I'm basing that on the complexity and intensity more than flavor range, at this point, because the dulling of that level isn't a clear input.
Second tasting impression:
I still think I'm not 100% back to normal related to sense of taste, even though I became sick 9 days ago, and was relatively fully recovered 4 days ago. It's taking time. I re-tried the tea again anyway; it's best to keep this moving.
The first infusion brings up a good bit of the characteristic flavor range that is most typical of the type, a nuttiness, in the range of roasted cashew, or in other forms more like toasted rice. It's not really vegetal or floral; some versions can drift in those directions, even though I don't see that as standard.
Throughout a second and third infusion other aspect range ramped up a lot. There's a much stronger underlying mineral tone and aftertaste based sweetness in this tea than is typical of any green tea, never mind standard Longjing version. Both are characteristic of sheng pu'er, but the context of the other aspects is completely different in this. It's not bitter though, the feel is different, and it lacks dominant floral range, although a bit picks up after the initial rounds.
Intensity level is unusual, related to flavor range, sweetness in general, and especially sweetness of aftertaste. I wondered if that couldn't somehow tie to a carried-over error in my sense of taste, versus being how this tea really is. I'm not tasting it in the other teas I'm drinking day to day but it's so pronounced in this that it's unusual.
It didn't completely match that standard Longjing profile, past the initial infusion impression, and not completely in that too. The main flavor aspect associated with Longjing was present in that round, but additional sweetness and mineral undertone filled in later. In a sense it was either a neutral or positive difference tied to that standard expectation; this is one of the most intense green teas I've ever tried. The flavors are quite clean (I think), and overall intensity is off the scale, especially related to sweetness and aftertaste effect.
I'm surprised that my impression was as close as it was when trying the tea sick versus mostly recovered. Some detail had definitely dropped out the first time but the general impression was quite similar.
One criticism might relate to someone seeing that as lacking balance; teas in general just aren't this intense or sweet, except for some young sheng pu'er. It's easy to counter that by using short infusion times but the sweetness is still really dominant. I've never blamed a tea version for being too sweet in a review, and I don't intend this as doing that, the idea here is to be clear that it's just past the typical maximum for such a scale.
I can relate to why some people claimed that it's the best green tea they've ever tried in those comments. Longjing is my favorite green tea, so that I typically buy some every Spring, and if one can divorce themselves of the expectation of a version being absolutely standard this is as good as it tends to get. To me that's a part of the experience of Longjing though, that for this particular tea type the best case is the closest match to that ideal.
The Yunnan Sourcing version I tried not so long ago varied from standard form in some related ways (also a Yunnan origin version). It swapped in a touch of savory aspect, and was also floral and sweet, just not this sweet, and also wasn't completely typical of Longjing. It probably wasn't quite this good, even though that is a judgment call, tied more to subjective preference than a quality level distinction, without a standard form expectation to ground that. It definitely wasn't this intense; no green teas ever are, except for Japanese green versions.
This works for me. Since it lacks grassiness or other vegetal quality, tasting nothing like spinach or seaweed, the aspects I like least in green teas aren't carried over. It probably does express some umami; that kind of judgment would be clearer tasting this with a more grounded palate, one completely unaffected by illness. That I don't mind though.
I tasted another unusual character green tea recently, a Thai steamed version that I've just made notes for. Again I was surprised by how sweet that tea was, and how it expressed a flavor profile I've never experienced in a green tea, not grassy or vegetal at all. I might have to go back on saying I like green teas least of all the categories if these exceptional versions keep turning up.
I'll keep buying a Longjing version every Spring either way. This one was among the best I've tried, just not exactly conventional in profile, which for some would be an improvement, and for others it could be a deal-breaker.
Happy, a local kitten I've become attached to