[Edit: Garret, the owner of Mandala Tea, has looked into the questions I raised in this tasting note. His supplier has assured him that the tea is indeed from the Da Hong Pao bush, but light-roasted in a style that is similar to the one typically used for Dan Cong oolongs. This clarifies the similarity I mention experiencing between this Da Hong Pao and Mi Lan Dan Cong. See the attached comments for additional detail.]
This came as a sample with my order from Mandala. I was excited to try it as my yixing teapot is dedicated to Big Red Robe. I had waited until a couple of my tea friends were over, and we brewed this up as the fourth or fifth tea of the evening. As it happens we had just finished drinking a lackluster Mi Lan Dan Cong (Honey Fragrance Phoenix Mountain Oolong), and when the first infusion of this Big Red Robe was brewed up the most peculiar thing happened… One of my tea friends tasted it and exclaimed, “This tea tastes like it actually is what that Mi Lan Dan Cong was trying to be.”
I then tasted it myself. What!? Wait a minute, I thought, what is this? This tea, labelled and sold as a “light roast” Da Hong Pao, bore an uncanny resemblance to Mi Lan Dan Cong in its flavor, in its fragrance, and in the look of the leaves (when we compared the samples side by side). Could it have been a miscommunication? If we hadn’t just tried another Mi Lan Dan Cong immediately beforehand, I might never have noticed.
If it really is a Mi Lan Dan Cong, rather than a Da Hong Pao, I think it’s a pretty good quality one. This was unambiguously better than the Mi Lan Dan Cong oolong I tried from Asha, and also another Mi Lan Dan Cong oolong my friends brought over to try. The sample I tried from Goldfish Tea still wins out over this one, but I’d definitely be happy to drink this tea from Mandala any time. It’s really nice!
But now, let me leave a qualification on this…. If the tea in question really is a “Light Roast” Big Red Robe, I’m kind of perplexed. The leaves are smaller, the characteristic smoky/roasted flavor at the beginning is absent, and it’s just far from what one would generally expect from Big Red Robe. The only kinship this tea has with Big Red Robe that I can draw on is a fruitiness in it’s profile that bears some resemblance to the fruit notes in a Qilan Big Red Robe I’ve tried, which was the best example of this kind of tea I’ve ever tried. This tea from Mandala and that Qilan Big Red Robe aren’t in the same league at all, but it’s the only reference point for similarity I can draw. It makes much more sense to me that Mandala’s “Light Roast” Big Red Robe is actually a pretty good Mi Lan Dan Cong.
Anyway… maybe this will be cleared up at some point. Good tea, but made for some curious head scratching. [Addendum: In light of the insight that this tea is indeed Da Hong Pao, I am interested in trying it again and re-assessing it with that knowledge at some point.]