Monday, April 16, 2007

Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin from Jing Tea Shop

Class: Oolong
Origin: Gan De area of Anxi County, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop
Price: $23.80 (100g packet) / $6.20 (25g sample)
Verdict: 8/10


Jing Tea Shop LabelI frequently hear praise of a particular tea's "strong fruity flavor" or "amazing cinnamon smell," but rarely do I experience the same level of intensity when I try it for myself. This tea, Jing Tea Shop's Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin, is a remarkable exception. For once, I have found the description on a product page to be an understatement.

The dry leaves shocked me a bit when I first smelled them. I thought I would open up the bag to find a nice, delicate floral aroma, but what I found could be better described as an intense buttered broccoli/cauliflower smell. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice smell, but I wasn't expecting what I found. It's definitely a vegetal aroma that I hadn't come across until now.

Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin Dry LeafAs for looks, the dry leaf appears quite nice. There is a lovely mixture of bright green and dark blue-green colors in the leaves, and a bit of tan in the stems. Purty!

These leaves squeezed (not literally-- don't squeeze your tea) out more infusions than I could have possibly imagined. I got through 8 infusions without any significant loss of flavor, and I may have gotten 1 or 2 more in that session, but I was just too tired to keep going. Though I don't know much about how wet tea leaves should look, I do remember seeing something over at Hou De that said 3 leaves on a stem is a sign of hand-picked tea and of good quality. Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin Wet LeavesAs you can see, there are some of these in this tea. I wouldn't say that most of the leaves were this way-- actually, this is the best example I could find. Still, it's not as though the rest of the leaves are all fannings, they're just not clustered the same way. Anyway, on to the tasting:

Parameters:

Brewing vessel: Prewarmed glazed zisha gaiwan (I probably should have used the white porcelain one, but this seemed to work well enough)
Leaf amount: 1/5 of the gaiwan (I need a good scale, I know)
Water temperature: 165°F
Steep times: 5s wash, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 25s, 30s, 30s

Observations:

I'm just beginning to take these kinds of notes, so go easy on me. I just typed up my observations of the wet leaves and the liquor itself, though I tried to be attentive to other things as well. If you have any recommendations for me so that I can take better notes, I would be happy to hear them.

1st infusion: 10s, 165F
Wet Leaves: Smells like buttered broccoli, in a good way.
Liquor: Faint green-yellow color. Sweet, floral taste, lingers on the tip of the tongue. Light broccoli flavor, which becomes stronger as the infusion cools. Slightly buttery. Fuller body than I would have expected for such a light-colored tea. Very light astringency-- does not mask anything, but keeps the brew from feeling flat in the mouth.

2nd infusion: 10s, 165F
Wet Leaves: Starting to expand quite a bit. Stronger savory butter aroma... mmm!
Liquor: Slightly more intense color. Also a stronger buttery aroma. Behind the vegetal taste, there is a nice floral sweetness.

3rd infusion: 15s, 165F
Wet Leaves: More savory, even salty, buttery nose. There is still a noticable floral note (perhaps orange blossoms?), but it is overwhelmed by the intense buttery aroma.
Liquor: Similar color, a bit more yellow. Savory character is excellently displayed in this infusion, and the orange blossom just teases, like it is waiting to come out. Slightly stronger astringency, but very pleasant. It is drying and mouth-watering at the same time. [Note: this is the stimulating astringency that I described earlier.]

4th infusion: 20s, 165F
Wet Leaves: Similar to last time. Perhaps a bit more sweetness now.
Liquor: Sweeter taste coming through, definitely floral. Still buttery, but not quite as savory as before.

5th infusion: 25s, 165F
Wet leaves: More savory again. The leaves have expanded so much, they are overflowing out of the gaiwan. Still some floral aroma.
Liquor: A bit of a sharp bitter taste is present now. Slightly odd combination of sweetness and butteryness, as the sweetness is beginning to take over.

6th infusion: 25s, 165F
Wet leaves: The orange blossom note is now dominant, but only by a hair-- the butter is still well-established. There are several other minute aromas, but they elude characterization. Still, they make the aroma nicely complex.
Liquor: Still slightly awkward flavor. The floral sweetness is definitely kicking in, and I'm interested in seeing whether the buttery flavor will eventually give way.

7th infusion: 30s, 165F
Wet leaves: Fairly similar to last infusion. Perhaps a bit more butter again.
Liquor: Yes, orange blossom is now quite dominant. Butter is still lingering in the background, but orange blossom is the heart now.

8th infusion: 30s, 165F
Wet leaves: More butter, also starting to smell a little off, like bad butter.
Liquor: A little bitter, perhaps overbrewed, or maybe just running out of steam.

Results:

This was certainly an interesting tea, and I appreciate its complexity and its unique character. Still, it is tiresome to get through the middle infusions (4th-6th), which have an awkward combination of savory and sweet flavors. I also have a hard time preparing myself for such a savory tea as I tend to favor sweeter ones, but that is my fault and not that of the tea itself.

My favorite infusion was the 3rd, followed closely by the 7th. These were my favorites because they were the brews when the butter and floral notes best complemented each other. In the 3rd infusion, there was a subtle hint of orange blossom that I found intriguing, and in the 7th infusion, I found myself with more of a floral-tasting tea, but without any real loss of character.

Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin Dry LeafConclusion:

I didn't think that I would ever find a tea with such a strong pair of independent flavors, and I am quite impressed with how it completely transformed in flavor from the first infusion to the last. On technical details alone, I would give this tea a 9.5, but unfortunately I just didn't find it extremely enjoyable. The salty, savory flavor is nice, but not usually what I want in my tea; and the middle infusions are, unfortunately, not very pleasant. Even though Jing Tea Shop's Anxi Gan De Hong Xin Tie Guan Yin isn't as enjoyable as some other teas I have had, it was extremely interesting. Overall, it gets an 8/10.

2 comments:

Salsero said...

What an entertaining and instructive review of this tea! There is even a dramatic conflict, good vs evil (aka sweet vs savory), although buttery and floral seem somehow to win out in the end.

Especially revealing were your meditation on the tea, your preferences, and the issues of what constitutes a "good" tea. Curiously, VL has a different sort of inquiry into the same issue on his blog today. While I feel that point scale evaluations have limited value, I can see how the need to arrive at such a figure helps the reviewer think through the value of the tea in question and the experience that goes with its consumption.

Of course, now I'll have to order this stuff myself.

Thanks for an exceptional post.

Salsero said...

I went back to this tea today, with your notes in hand. When I first tried it on 05/18/07 (about a month after your post) my experience very much matched your description. Today -- two months after your post and a month since my first session with it -- I find the same character, but dramatically reduced in intensity and restricted in duration. I barely squeezed out 6 infusions and the last of those was a full 5 minutes.

Is this stuff that ephermeral? What's you recent experience?

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