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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Friday, August 21, 2009

2008 Zhi Lan Xiang - Orchid Fragrance

I had actually written this post during lunch today at work, but I forgot to email it to myself, so I'm really kicking myself for doing that. I wonder how different my post now will be from what I wrote earlier today. Anyway, in light of Tea Habitat's new-found publicity, I decided I should blog about my first single-bush Dan Cong, the 2008 Zhi Lan Xiang - Orchid Fragrance.

2008 Zhi Lan Xiang - Orchid Fragrance ($30/1 oz.; product description)

This was the tea I ordered when I ordered my Chao Zhou pot. I had asked Imen for some suggestions, and this was suggested to me. Having experience with only commercial Dan Cong I expected the two to be fairly similar. Commercial Dan Cong didn't thrill me that much, because of their capricious nature to turn astringent with poor brewing skills, and an aroma that almost seems artificial. I've had some good commercial Dan Cong before (best one is The Tea Gallery's Phoenix), but I think that you can't put the two in the same category. The difference between commercial and single-bush is like the difference between night and day.

Imen had suggested that I first try brew using a Gaiwan, and although I was anxious to put my Chao Zhou pot into action, I refrained at the advice from a professional. I used 3 grams for my first attempt, and followed Imen's instructions on her blog (which can be found here). I used 4 and 5 grams for my later attempts, settling at 4 grams as my sweet spot.

The dry leaf is like autumn, with the scent of spring and the sweetness of summer

When I first smelled the dry leaf there was an exquisite scent. Although it was very "strong," it was at the same time very subtle. It's like the difference between good perfume and cheap , bad perfume (I think Imen said this somewhere? Her interview with Steven I think?). And the taste, well, the product description sums it up pretty well...but to me, it felt like I could taste the orchid's scent, if that makes any sense.

I also loved the evolution of this tea through multiple infusions. Whereas most other teas, once they get to the 5th infusion and beyond are only paler versions of their former self, the Zhi Lan kept revealing new tricks, new tastes, new experiences in which I relished in. When I brewed this tea for the fourth time, I brewed it for 26 infusions. Sure, the later infusions tasted like rose water, but I still loved it. By the 12 infusion and beyond I was steeping for up to 5 minutes or so, and I was rewarding with a faintly floral but sweet brew. It was like drinking something sweet without the sugar in it. It was exciting, as I pondered if this next infusion will be the one that the tea finally putters out on.

And just when the sweetness began to die around the 22nd steeping, a new floral aroma showed up and kept me captivated for 4 more infusions. This was easily one of the top three teas I've tasted, though I think once I start exploring Imen's other selections, it will be a much stiffer competition.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention. There was a remarkable difference between brewing in a Gaiwan and brewing in the Chao Zhou pot. I feel that the Gaiwan protects the tea's aroma better, but the Chao Zhou pot gives the tea better flavor and better mouth-feel. I think with all her teas, I'm going to brew with both just to get a complete picture of the tea.

Congratulations once again, Imen, on your outstanding tea and the public recognition and accolades you have received. My hat is off to you.

Addendum: I'm beginning to realize how Single Bush Dan Cong can be more masculine and feminine. As I'm drinking this Zhi Lan Xiang, the initial infusions have a bolder flavor and greater "mouth-feel," while the later brews reveals a softer, more refined and delicate brew, with better aroma and a lingering rose water flavor.


Imen said...

Maitre Tea,

Thanks for the review! I am glad that you get to fully taste this tea to the extend no one would believe if I wrote this. :) These great old bush teas have potential much longer and better in such illusive and subtle ways, I am always worry no one else would spend the time and patience to explore them as they deserve. Thank you!

Steven Knoerr said...

Maitre, I received this same tea from Imen, and I concur, it's astonishing.

I'm preparing to write up these teas, but I've been taking my time as I learn about them. It feels funny to speak of brownish leaf juice as life-altering, but this stuff has opened up my palate in a way that has shocked me. I mean, I am smelling other fragrances and noticing subtleties that I never noticed before, in whatever I taste or smell.

Thank you for writing up the review, because I'm happy to see this type of tea being championed a bit. (And imagine, only a couple years ago, this tea was all but unknown in the Western world.)

Maitre_Tea said...

Dan Cong have definitely helped my perception of different flavors and aromas in tea. Imen, about spending the time...I must remember never to start one of your old-bush DC too late at night...I was up until 3 AM once, and even though I was really tired, I didn't want to go to slep because the infusions were so delicious!