Mei Leaf’s Blinding “Summer Haze”
For some background information, be sure to check out the post on my first Mei Leaf tasting experience.
This week, I became well acquainted with Mei Leaf’s Hu Xiao Qi Lan (who see-ow chi lan), or “Summer Haze.” I searched the internet for the characters for “Hu Xiao Qi Lan,” but the only thing I could find was “奇兰” (qi lan), which is a particular type of cliff tea. I typed in various combinations of characters for “hu” and “xiao” but I couldn’t find a combination that made sense. Since this tea came from Tiger Cliff in Fujian province, I’m guessing the “hu xiao” is “虎啸” which means “tiger.” In the end it doesn’t really matter; I don’t need the characters to identify the tea, and “qi lan” will likely be enough for me to find another similar tea and make comparisons. Part two of the tasting experience was not quite as delightful as part one, but that’s not to say it was unpleasant. Rather, qi lan simply isn’t my style. I’m used to darker, fuller-bodied oolongs. If I have to choose between cliff teas, phoenix oolongs and Tie Guan Yin (“tee-eh goo-won yeen”, Iron Goddess), I’m more likely to choose cliff teas. To me, Qi Lan seemed to be more on the lighter end of the cliff tea spectrum. Mei Leaf describes Qi Lan as having an “asian pear” flavor note… but I don’t particularly like pears. Still, the tea was very good.
I tasted the tea in a 100ml gaiwan and boiled the water to just under 100C. I don’t have a kettle that allows me to boil water to a specific temperature, so my only options are to either boil the water and wait for it to cool down or to bring the water to a boil then add cooler water until the temperature is right. I usually bring the water to a boil and pour it from a height so the water reaches the appropriate temperature before it reaches the tea leaves. There’s a little bit of splashing involved in this process, but my hands have been burnt so many times they pretty much don’t feel the heat anymore (this is also convenient when I’m cooking). As with Bei Dou, Qi Lan‘s leaves were long, dark and twisted. There were not a whole lot of broken leaf fragments in the package. I measured out 8 grams of tea for the first brew, because that’s my standard, but I also tried brewing just 5 grams of leaves, which is the amount Mei Leaf recommended. Generally, I prefer the flavorful impact of 8 gram brews, but Qi Lan’s flavor became murky and a little bitter when I used 8 grams. 5 grams of tea seemed to be just the right amount to bring out Qi Lan‘s personality.
The smell of the dry leaf was kind of citrusy– I agree with Mei Leaf’s “mangosteen” description. Wetting the leaf brought out the smokey/earthy aroma one finds in nearly all cliff teas. The first few brews yielded a tea liquor that was a fairly bright yellow-orange. The more I brewed the tea, the more yellow the tea liquor became. If I had to look at color alone, I would have never guessed the tea is a cliff oolong, because all of the cliff oolong’s I’ve tasted tend to stay on the red-brown spectrum.
Qi Lan has been by far one of the most interesting cliff oolong’s I’ve tasted to date. The mouth feel is rather thin, but the flavor is complex. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming brightness of the flavor. If you compare Bei Dou side-by-side with Qi Lan, you’ll notice an immediate difference. Whereas Bei Dou and other cliff teas like Rou Gui (“row gooway”) tend to taste dark and heavy, Qi Lan has a lightness that doesn’t weigh down the tongue. The flavor continued to develop as I chewed on the aroma. Qi Lan reminded me of late spring and early summer fruits, while Bei Dou reminded me of mid-to-late autumn fruit. Bei Dou was a warm tea, but Qi Lan felt cool. Once I opened my mouth again, the flavor dissipated. Qi Lan doesn’t seem to have the long, lingering flavor of darker oolongs.
I still prefer the darker personality of Bei Dou, but Qi Lan is great for casual drinking. In fact, I used Qi Lan for western brews and cold brews that I put in bottles to take with me while I run errands. Qi Lan tastes great but it isn’t overwhelmingly powerful like other cliff teas. I would not, however, suggest drinking Qi Lan with meals that have strong flavors. Qi Lan is a little shy, and I can easily see it hiding behind the taste of a meat dish. As an experiment, though, it might be worth it to see what Qi Lan tastes like as a food flavoring. I wouldn’t use it to make tea eggs (that’d probably be weird) but I wonder if Qi Lan can be used as a cake flavoring. I’m much too incompetent in the kitchen to try it out, but I’d love to hear the results if any of you do wind up testing it.