Verdant Tea

Anxi Cultivar Spotlight: Liao Mian Ji

Anxi Cultivar Spotlight: Liao Mian Ji

Anxi Cultivar Spotlight: Liao Mian Ji

tasting Master Zhang's unusual varietals

January 2, 2021


Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter, Wednesday 12/30/20

This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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If you were a tea farmer, and you found yourself in charge of one of the highest elevation, most pristine plots for Anxi oolong in the world (like Master Zhang!), then it might make perfect sense to devote every inch of that land to that most-famous and in-demand varietal: Tieguanyin. Yet, Zhang Rongde does the opposite.

Over the last decade, he has reclaimed the majority of the mountainside above Daping for bamboo, evergreens and wildflowers. The rocky terraces he has left, carved into steep hills, he devotes not just to the famous Tieguanyin, but to dozens of rare, unknown varietals.

Why does an award-winning farmer on such an beautiful plot employ farming practices that make him less money instead of more? Because Master Zhang thinks of himself as a researcher, teacher and environmentalist first. His farming and his craft are extensions of that curiosity and dedication.

wild grasses and native plants and flowers grow alongside and all around the tea plants

Take a look at Master Zhang’s collection and you’ll certainly see his incredible, rich, deeply nuanced Tieguanyin teas, but beyond that, you’ll find cultivars that you may never have seen before - Jin Suoshi, Bai Mao Hou, Cai Cong, and Liao Mian Ji. Master Zhang fosters these tiny groves of tea in order to preserve biodiversity and have a local “seed bank” of sorts, allowing hearty individual tea bushes to grow and thrive in Daping so that other farmers and colleagues could grow new plants from cuttings or study the way their famous terroir changes with each varietal.

The benefit for all of us is getting to dive deep and experience crazy, "out there" flavors, textures and aromas - all unique expressions of Master Zhang’s craft and terroir.

spring water fills the reservoir above Zhang Rongde's home

One of the foundational experiences for me in Daping was getting to drink water running straight out of the rocks of Master Zhang’s hillside. This water is still the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, and thick with minerality. Every varietal from Master Zhang has this depth of texture, and sweetness, coming from their shaed mountain-spring life-source.

From that essential Daping core, they start to diverge, like light refracted a hundred ways by a prism, each a true piece of the whole, but each unique and true to itself at the same time. Every cultivar and every season adds something new.

Ben Shan tea plants flowering in the Autumn

You might be looking at Master Zhang’s incredible collection and wondering where to begin. Of course, the best way to get to know a tea is to taste it.

So instead of a traditional daily deal coupon, I’ve got a more interesting offer to kick off this multi-part deep dive into Master Zhang’s oolongs. Use the coupon below and get a 25g bag of Dark Roast Liao Mian Ji as a gift on us with any order you place $40+. Consider this an invitation to dive deeper with varietal oolong.

use the coupon code
on any order $40 and up
and receive one free 25g bag of Liao Mian Ji

limited to 20 people

NOTE: we have 20 bags we can allocate to this giveaway. If the tea is already gone by the time you want to use the code, here’s a backup code for a free 25g bag of Dark Roast Anxi Qilan instead. Both still available? Feel free to pick your preference.

use the coupon code
on any order $40 and up
and receive one free 25g bag of Dark Roast Anxi Qilan

So what makes this Liao Mian Ji worth Master Zhang’s labor, his precious allocation of rocky mountainside, and years of cultivation?

The first wafting aromas of the wet leaf are full of satisfying toasty savories- chestnut and barley, contrasted with an underlying luscious floral quality that crystallizes around the savories- made deeper and richer through Master Zhang’s careful roast.

The first sips reveal a satisfying and comforting elderberry quality- that berry tartness tempered by deep caramelized sweet flavors in the way only a sun dried berry could achieve. This core is drawn out by lingering spice- the sweet numbing texture-driven qualities of star anise.

Throughout each steeping there is this moment where taste transitions to aftertaste that really defines the sumptuousness of this tea. It is a feeling of the initial sweet toasty dessert-like qualities of the tea breaking like waves on the palate, not fading or lingering, but expanding out into their full selves and settling back on the tongue almost sparkling and richer than the initial taste itself.

Liao Mian Ji is a beautiful exploration of the way a dark roast can bring intensity and lift to the Daping terroir, brought out by the natural spice and dessert-like sweetness of this particular cultivar.

Looking for a cross-section from Master Zhang? Try his oolong tasting kit at 21% off through the end of the month (01/31/21).

Look out for a new Master Zhang tasting and giveaway later. I love Master Zhang’s work, and can wait to share some more focused varietal tastings in the coming weeks.

All my best wishes,

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