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Xing Ren Xiang is an interesting creature among the Dancongs for me. I’ve only had a few Almond Fragrance Phoenix Oolongs – two from other companies and three from Teance. Each so far has held a significantly greener character than the other Dancongs I’ve had. It’s been a good long while since opening this bag, so I might as well give it a go. I really do not worry about year of harvest with Wuyi Yancha or Dancongs, but harvest time is interesting for me. Winter harvest versus spring harvest makes for a pretty dramatic shift and in the realm of many oolongs this is felt easily as a contrast between teas expressing aromatics versus teas expressing body or tactile dynamics. In dancongs, most winter harvest teas I’ve had certainly seem higher in astringency when compared to spring harvest, but I don’t really get as wide a spread in expressiveness of flavor characteristics in the spring tea. Flavor consistency and slightly easier brewing can be a good thing, for sure, but I typically go for a dancong when I want each cup to lend something different compared to the cup before. Unfortunately, greater aromatic expressiveness doesn’t mean aromatic steadfastness and some of the highly aromatic winter teas that change and shift so dramatically do not necessarily carry the same durability as spring harvest teas. 6-9 infusions sure is plenty (especially to wrap up a day full of drinking tea like today) but is kinda wussy compared to the 15-20 I’ve managed to coax out of some other Phoenix Oolongs prepared at high concentrations.

While this group of oolongs is generally categorized as “medium oxidized” due to dry leaf appearance and liquor intensity, looking at the infused leaves typically tells a different story. Most dancongs I’ve had range between 20-30% oxidation, with only those labeled Song Zhong Dancong exceeding this just slightly and “commercial grade teas” reaching higher. O’course, percent oxidation is largely speculative and just based on an estimate of what percentage of the infused leaf appears reddish, not really how long or in what stages it is carried out by a tea maker and does not necessarily translate to direct expression of certain characteristics. As it stands, lighter ox dancongs or – more importantly – less completely dried/cured ones tend to have more intense fragrances up front but aromas may dissipate in a shorter time frame. More completely cured teas may seem even better after a year or two from processing while higher moisture content examples stale a bit just after half a year. This tea falls in the latter group and has definitely changed considerably in dry fragrance. However, staling of one set of characteristics does not necessarily make for flat tea, and this had an overabundance of taste elements that have mellowed nicely.

Another thing about my preference for dancongs lies in my brewing style. I start off with a gongfu mentality and then screw it way up. While I sometimes use an appropriate 4-6g per 100mL, I do like to use absurd concentrations of 8-10g for really short steeps following a double rinse. Tonight I’m using 10g in 100-120mL water at 90C with infusions following a double rinse.

Picture of the leaves from the website is all wrong… These are very green leaves with yellow veins. Very long, intact twisted leaves that can’t fit in even a very shallow tablespoon, let alone a teaspoon.
Dry fragrance is pleasantly floral and lightly nutty (more akin to pumpkin seed than almond, though).
Wet leaf aroma hits almond on the head, but not the nut. The wet leaves give off a heady perfume of an almond tree orchard in full bloom. A truly wonderful aroma I associate with warm evening breezes in the Central Valley (one of the very few pleasant aromas to come from the agriculture there, really).
Liquor aroma holds true to the wet leaf aroma – now how rare is that? Usually the lid of the gaiwan can give a good preview to an infusion’s aromatic expression, but the leaves tell a totally different tale.

First infusion (5sec):
Moderate body.
Crisp and woody – oaky Chardonnay.
All flavor in front of mouth. Somewhat citrusy – pomelo skin. Flowery aroma fills mouth. Bullrush nose.

Second infusion (5sec):
Mouthwatering.
Sandalwood resolving to incense cedar then balsa in aftertaste.
Brief but significant boysenberry sweetness associated with level of aeration for each slurp.

Third infusion (10sec):
Light forward astringency.
Persimmon flavor and aroma.
Lingering dried adobe brick-like mineral undertaste.
Woodiness stuck on balsa.
Crazy perfumey spicy afteraroma (between thyme and hops) and stevia sweetness pops up a minute or so after final draught.

Fourth infusion (10sec):
Much more intense – tannic.
Kind of a rust-like metal and peach pit tang.
Grape skin astringency.
Refreshing lingering crispness similar to taste of cool fog over a gravel road or the air right after it has finished raining on concrete.

Fifth infusion (15sec):
White rice, cinnamon, and a touch of muscovado sugar.
Dry grassland toasty character.
An oddly pleasant characteristic of blackened grilled whitefish.
Stevia-sweet late returning aftertaste from third infusion is present here as well.

Sixth infusion (20sec):
Vegetal overall.
Snappy astringency and light lemony character very similar to eating young Douglas-fir tips.
Yellow nectarine skin tangy taste.
Taste of sucking on a raw almond (with skin intact) – starts lightly toasty-woody and turns to lightly sweet and nutty.

I could get a few more infusions out of this (prolly three more good’uns) but it’s late and I’ve gotta work tomorrow.
Pretty darn vegetal example of a Phoenix Oolong. It’s muted a bit since I first bought it, but in a good way. Takes a while for anything resembling almond nuts to pop up in the characteristics of this tea, but the aroma of almond blossoms starts off heady and sticks as a background character in the nose throughout the brews. Really good tea and it keeps shifting nicely. Can be a bit intense, but short brews help out in this regard. I’m kinda doubting that what is being sold on the Teance website is Winter 2010 like it’s labeled, since it’s left their listing and come back since then. What I’m drinking here I bought last year in late winter and the bag was stamped as “new harvest” so I am thinking there might be a website mistake. Either way, it’s changed since I got it but it’s still very good.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 15 sec
Kashyap

pure tea porn…awesome!

Spoonvonstup

Mm.. boysenberry is a word I’ve been looking for describe Dan Cong lately. A friend of mine just sent over a bundle of Dan Cong as a gift for Chinese new year, and some Xin Ren Xiang made it into my gaiwan just this weekend. I am pleased to see the style available elsewhere, as I loved the small sampling.
Definitely with you on the double-stuffed gaiwan approach. It is thrilling, and oftentimes one of the most rewarding types of tea sessions. I’ve also been finding myself drawn towards tea (in general) with long and dynamic steep-lives.
Loving your notes. Glad to see you back.

Geoffrey

Really great notes, Thomas! I’ve been tasting a superb array of dancong samples at work, which we asked our sourcing agent in China to assemble and send to us recently. The orignal plan was to select one more dancong to add to our offerings, but the quality of the samples across the twenty or so varieties we received has been too high to make one choice a realistic possibility. So the idea of choosing one grew into choosing only three more to carry in the near future, and even that has been a bit painful. A Xing Ren Xiang has been one of the prime candidates, the other two being a Tong Tien Xiang and a Bai Ye.

In any case, the Xing Ren Xiang that we sampled really floored me, and I found that it definitely had almond characteristics from beginning to end. Though it wasn’t a simple and consistent picture of almond, but rather a transforming set of variations on aspects of almond. The initial experience of fragrance and flavor had distinct amaretto notes, along with that somewhat cherry-like top note in almond extract. It later unfolded into blanched and then raw full-skin almond flavor notes. I vividly remember taking the first inhalation of the first-steep bouquet on the underside of my gaiwan lid, and being very impressed with the dimensionality and deep layering of its fragrance, which took about 5-10 seconds for my brain to fully unfold. A truly intoxicating experience. I hope we do bring this one in for sale at some point, but I think we’re likely going to introduce one of the others first.

In any case, I love the wealth of information you provided in this note, especially because dancong is a particular obsession of mine now. I think you’d be fantastic drinking company, by the way. If you ever happen to pass through Minneapolis, I’d be happy to welcome you over for some gongfu cha. I also see that you’re in the process of sourcing some tea selections for this cafe you work for. If you ever want to try Verdant’s wholesale offerings, send me a PM and I’d be happy discuss the possibility of sending you a wholesale sampler kit based on what you’re looking for.

Keep writing! I always appreciate what you have to say.

Kashyap

its conversations like this one that really make the love of tea an inspiration and a community…its enough to make the linkage of people, from plant to plucking, withering to steeping, seller to buyer, random monk to blessed wanderer such a journey that its easy to be grateful for each step and each stone…thanks for making this medium a celebrational expression

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Kashyap

pure tea porn…awesome!

Spoonvonstup

Mm.. boysenberry is a word I’ve been looking for describe Dan Cong lately. A friend of mine just sent over a bundle of Dan Cong as a gift for Chinese new year, and some Xin Ren Xiang made it into my gaiwan just this weekend. I am pleased to see the style available elsewhere, as I loved the small sampling.
Definitely with you on the double-stuffed gaiwan approach. It is thrilling, and oftentimes one of the most rewarding types of tea sessions. I’ve also been finding myself drawn towards tea (in general) with long and dynamic steep-lives.
Loving your notes. Glad to see you back.

Geoffrey

Really great notes, Thomas! I’ve been tasting a superb array of dancong samples at work, which we asked our sourcing agent in China to assemble and send to us recently. The orignal plan was to select one more dancong to add to our offerings, but the quality of the samples across the twenty or so varieties we received has been too high to make one choice a realistic possibility. So the idea of choosing one grew into choosing only three more to carry in the near future, and even that has been a bit painful. A Xing Ren Xiang has been one of the prime candidates, the other two being a Tong Tien Xiang and a Bai Ye.

In any case, the Xing Ren Xiang that we sampled really floored me, and I found that it definitely had almond characteristics from beginning to end. Though it wasn’t a simple and consistent picture of almond, but rather a transforming set of variations on aspects of almond. The initial experience of fragrance and flavor had distinct amaretto notes, along with that somewhat cherry-like top note in almond extract. It later unfolded into blanched and then raw full-skin almond flavor notes. I vividly remember taking the first inhalation of the first-steep bouquet on the underside of my gaiwan lid, and being very impressed with the dimensionality and deep layering of its fragrance, which took about 5-10 seconds for my brain to fully unfold. A truly intoxicating experience. I hope we do bring this one in for sale at some point, but I think we’re likely going to introduce one of the others first.

In any case, I love the wealth of information you provided in this note, especially because dancong is a particular obsession of mine now. I think you’d be fantastic drinking company, by the way. If you ever happen to pass through Minneapolis, I’d be happy to welcome you over for some gongfu cha. I also see that you’re in the process of sourcing some tea selections for this cafe you work for. If you ever want to try Verdant’s wholesale offerings, send me a PM and I’d be happy discuss the possibility of sending you a wholesale sampler kit based on what you’re looking for.

Keep writing! I always appreciate what you have to say.

Kashyap

its conversations like this one that really make the love of tea an inspiration and a community…its enough to make the linkage of people, from plant to plucking, withering to steeping, seller to buyer, random monk to blessed wanderer such a journey that its easy to be grateful for each step and each stone…thanks for making this medium a celebrational expression

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Bio

Tea Geek.

My focus is on Chinese Wulongs and Pu’er but I’m all over the place. I tend to follow a seasonal progression of teas, following the freshness curve of greens through summer and rounding the cooler months out with toastier teas and Masala Chai.
With the exception of Masala Chai milk tea I’m a purist at heart. While I was originally snagged by Earl Grey with bergamot and make blends for gifts, I very rarely go for scented teas or herbals and can’t remember the last time I bought a tea that was blended. Pure tea is just more interesting to me than the product of mixing flavors. I do understand and appreciate their existence, though.

I upload some blends I make or special prep teas I nab under the company name “Green Raven Tea and Coffee” and the vast majority of these posts will be blends crafted to create flavors/characteristics not inherent in any one particular tea.
I’ve worked as a tea buyer for a smallish cafe and try to keep apprized of shifts in offerings even when not selecting for a business so I wind up sampling a ton of wholesale samples from a couple companies in particular but try to branch out to as many companies as I can find. Until Steepster integrates some form of comparative tasting feature, none of my cupping notes will make it onto my reviews unless wrapped up into something I feel compelled to drink multiple times on its own.



Since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my big fat ratings scheme:

0-12…..Ugh, don’t wish on anyone
13-25….Bad, won’t touch again
26-37….Huh, not worth the effort
38-50….Meh, unremarkable
51-62….Okay, good tea
63-75….Tasty, really good tea
76-87….Yum, wonderful
88-100…Wow, really spectacular

There shouldn’t be many postings at all from me ranked 26-50 since unremarkable teas are unlikely to make me remark on ’em but to “earn” a score 37 or below I have to be disappointed to the point where others may ask for a refund or turn down offers even when free or offered as a gift (beyond stale).

I’ve got a ton of respect for anything rated 63 or higher.

For a tea to get 71 or more, it has to be pretty special and kinda blow my socks off.

The 90s are reserved for wonders that make me reevaluate my views of the world of tea as a whole.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States

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