On our last trip to Anxi, Master Zhang took us out to his fields to show us the incredible biodiversity of the region. His ancestors planted more than just Tieguanyin varietal on the terraced fields above Daping village. Master Zhang proudly continues the tradition of cultivating dozens of different varietals on his land, and we got the chance to see the difference between each one’s leaves and buds in the fields.
We asked Master Zhang to pick out ten of his favorite varietals besides Tieguanyin to share for the February 2016 Tea of the Month Club, and the results were thrilling. We got the chance to try ten teas, processed like Tieguanyin with completely different profiles, all worth sharing. Their differences reveal the effect that varietal has on taste, while their similarities celebrate the flavor of the land itself and the the processing skill of Master Zhang.
Last week we released the first five varietals offered in February’s Tea of the Month Club, and this week we are excited to complete the collection!
We started our tasting with Ruan Zhi, an incredible varietal better known for its use in Taiwan and Thailand. While there is healthy debate, some tea scientists in Taiwan believe that Ruan Zhi is the same as the ‘Qing Xin’ varietal, though some believe that slight differences distinguish the two varietals as unique. Developed in Taiwan, the cultivar’s close connection to Taiwanese oolong is clear from its flavor profile, which in general had much more of the savory and creamy quality that our favorite Taiwanese teas seem to share.
The aroma is a combination of eucalyptus, barley and oatmeal with a touch of vanilla. The first infusions were extremely elegant and clean, with a great minerality. Our wine maker friend tasting these teas with us was excited to find strong connections between this tea and the profile of an Alsacian Pinot Grigio!
The aftertaste has the aromatics of mandarin orange zest. As the tea opens up, it gets thicker and more buttery with an aftertaste of sweet greens -evoking butter lettuce or the sweet smell of fresh pea pods. The whole experience was very sophisticated and very well balanced. Anyone that loves Taiwanese oolong would be fascinated to see the effect of Anxi terroir on a Taiwanese varietal like Ruan Zhi.
We were super excited to taste this Anxi Qilan. Wuyi Roasted Qilan is one of our favorite teas out there, and we had never experienced such a green expression of the Qilan varietal. The tasting experience did not disappoint! The feeling of the tea was deep, dark and reverent, like sipping tea in a mountaintop temple.
The aroma of this Qilan is full of orchid, with deep minerality and a crisp burdock undertone. The first infusion was so juicy and sweet, packed with floral honey tones and a supremely smooth texture. The aftertaste was full of orchid, but with a fresh green burdock undertone and light citrus bite.
As the tea opened up, we got an unexpected brown rice genmaicha flavor, a sweet savory experience with a very nostalgic feeling. This earthy sweet flavor perfectly accented the floral aromas. The aftertaste moved towards osmanthus and lotus flower, with deep mineral texture supporting the whole experience.
Anyone who loves Wuyi oolong will be interested in seeing the Anxi perspective on this classic Wuyi varietal! The balance of florals, vegetals and savory makes this a knock out tasting experience.
Master Zhang refers to this varietal as Da Dan, literally ‘big red,’ in a reference to the flowers of this tea plant and it’s big, fruity- floral flavor. The tasting experience really reminds us of a fine Dancong oolong, an exciting find in an Anxi tea!
The aroma is full of orange blossom and citrus marmalade. Indeed, the first infusions were packed with big cistus and neroli flavor with angostura clove notes and orange citrus peel. The texture was woody like Huang Zhi Xiang Dancong, and slightly cooling on the tongue.
As the tea steeps out, the citrus and spice move towards tropical mango, aromatic jasmine, and coconut sticky rice. More and more tropical notes came through with each steeping as the orange flavor shifted towards pineapple. Throughout steeping, the natural jasmine aroma becomes stronger and stronger. Any Dancong tea lover will want to add Da Dan to their collection, as will floral tea devotees.
Jin Guanyin is an exciting development in tea. It is produced by grafting Huang Jin Gui varietal onto Tieguanyin root stock for a completely new and unique profile. Jin Guanyin has become popular in both Anxi for rolled oolong and in Wuyi for dark, strip style oolong teas. In many ways, Jin Guanyin takes the best of both varietals and brings them forward. We tasted the thick mouthfeel and balance of Tieguanyin combined with the intense fruit and florals of Huang Jin Gui.
The aroma was very similar to a fine Tieguanyin, but with more buttery malty qualities. The first steeping were full of big, juicy fruit flavors with supporting citrus and a strong nutty sweet mouthfeel. As the tea steeped out, we got more violet florals and a deep Wuyi-style mineral texture. Very late in steeping, the fruity notes shifted towards tropical plantains and mango.
Jin Guanyin is great for people who love the sweet, floral juicy flavor of Spring Tieguanyin but appreciate the deeper creamier texture of the autumn harvest, as it picks up elements of both profiles. It should come as no surprise that many vendors sell Jin Guanyin under the more famous name of Tieguanyin, and it is often with this particular unique balance of florals and fruit that so many have fallen in love.
Finally, we were ready to move onto the tenth and last tea Master Zhang sent us: his Dan Gui. Like Zi Mu Dan and many of the others, Dan Gui is also a relatively new varietal from within the last twenty years, is often used to make strip-style Wuyi oolong. Processed as a green, rolled oolong, this Dan Gui varietal tasted very Japanese on the whole, packed with chlorophyll and more thick, rich deep green flavor than any other varietal we tasted.
The aroma was full of lilac, elderflower, and sweet spinach. The first sips reminded us of thick matcha. The tea was super sweet, with fruity support notes and massive green flavor. The thick, almost oily texture was quite thrilling. The tea captured all the sweetness of greens with none of the savory.
As the tea steeped out into the afternoon, we tasted nutmeg spice and a touch of eucalyptus cooling texture to accent the thick and satisfying green flavor.
Fans of green teas or greener oolong teas grown outside of China will find this tea intriguing and rewarding, especially for its uniquely thick and elegant mouthfeel and aftertaste.
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