As you may know, people who have become members of Tea Geek are sent a free sample of tea every quarter, and sometimes I get teas in that are available only to members because they’re only available in very small amounts. This quarter, both happened: a members-only tea is what was sent out as free samples. Coincidentally, one of our members—Eric Glass—got the same kind of tea (same cultivar, same region, different farm and perhaps different season) when he took a recent tea tour of China. Eric was good enough to taste both versions and write up the experience.
General notes on the tea: Huang Zhi Xiang (黄枝香), or “Yellow Branch Fragrance” is a Dan Cong wulong from the Phoenix Mountain area, near Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China. The cultivar, also called Huang Zhi Xiang, is a descendant of the more widely distributed Shui Xian (“water sprite” or “narcissus”) cultivar.
Here, slightly edited, is his comparison of his Huang Zhi Xiang (“EG”) and Tea Geek’s Huang Zhi Xiang (“TG”):
The Hung Zhi Xiang I bought came from Mr. Zhang’s family farm located on Wu Dong Shan, not far from the more famous Feng Huan Shan (Phoenix Mountain.)
The first thing I noticed was how loose TeaGeek’s (TG) tea was twisted compared to mine (EG). The TG’s dry leaves were also a darker green and each EG leaf had a more uneven color. TG was unfortunately more brittle, which I found a bit odd since I have been not storing EG well by keeping it in the plastic Ziploc bag I had originally bought it in when I was in China.
The fragrance of EG dry leaves was much more fresh, more green and never had a roasted scent like TG had. When wet, the same basic smells were there but TG had a hint of peach. In later steepings, EG developed this as well, and got stronger with each steep, even more so than TG (I only did a total of 3 infusions.)
Comparing the first cup, after a rinse, TG was much smoother than EG but it didn’t have as much flavor. Its mild sourness and citrus flavor I tasted in both teas seemed to be more apparent in EG from the beginning, however TG seemed to always be at a pleasant level. For some reason I found TG to be slightly sweet, something that was never apparent in EG or any other subsequent brew.
In mouthfeel, EG from the beginning always had a slight stickiness to it; I like to use the word “gummy.” EG’s gumminess only got worse but it seemed that TG’s first infusion was the only cup that was smooth. Compared to EG, TG increased its gummy character at a higher rate than EG and at the 3rd infusion it was worse than EG. Not to say that it’s overwhelming, far from it, but it was noticeable to me.
The liquor of both TG and EG were of the same basic color. I won’t go into RBG levels; I’m sure TeaGeek would, at least he should for that matter. Both were a bit yellow, I first thought of olive oil but these teas weren’t as green. Both were very clear but TG was darker yet duller where as EG always turned out more green and very bright.
I always like to study the leaves when I’m finished. This had some odd results. Even though the liquid of EG was greener, the wet, brewed leaves were much more yellow and TG was much more green and a lot darker. TG also had unfolded in the cup more, probably due to the fact that they weren’t twisted as much as EG. The amount of bruising from leaf to leaf was very consistent in TG, where as some EG leaves had more than others. Also, most EG leaf had spots of bruising within the leaf, not just around the edges like TG. The shape of EG’s fully untwisted leaves had the same width but were much longer and there was more difference in leaf sizes in EG as well, from about 3cm to 6cm. TG had leaves that were more equal, from about 3cm to 4.5cm. But those were just the size of the leaves I brewed; smaller and larger leaves could very well exist.
All in all I didn’t have a favorite between the two; TG was roastier with more fragrance and EG was more “fresh tasting.” These are both the same tea, believe me. But I was amazed at how many subtle differences there were between the two.
Photo credits: Eric Glass.