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