Tasting Journal: December 2015 Club Teas

Five new Wuyi black teas!

January 14, 2016

In December 2015, we were excited to share five completely new teas we had never shared before in our CSA-style Tea of the Month Club.
 

All five were “off the beaten track” black teas from Wuyishan, with each selection curated by Li Xiangxi.

 

Li Xiangxi and her brother pick tea within the Wuyishan Nature preserve along the Longchuan river. Their family home and black tea workshop is built on a hillside covered in wild tea bushes deep in Tongmu.

This set of offerings showed off the incredible variety of black tea that can be harvested in Wuyi, highlighting the flavor differences that come from processing, wild vs cultivated, and varietal influences. The December box also showed off the consistent, elegant Wuyi mineral flavor and texture that expresses itself in every single tea because of the unique terroir of the region.

We received so much great feedback from every offering in this box, and heard so many requests to make these teas part of the permanent collection. We are very excited for the opportunity to share all five teas with everyone!

 

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Black Buds Jin Jun Mei

While we are more used to seeing bright orange and gold buds in Jin Jun Mei, the black bud Jin Jun Mei has developed into its own unique style with a flavor all its own. In fact, Li Xiangxi often prefers drinking black Jin Jun Mei for its deep complexity. Black Jin Jun Mei is not to be confused with Wuyi Gongfu Black. While the curled buds are black, the material in a black Jin Jun Mei must be predominantly buds, not leaves.

When we steep this Black Jin Jun Mei, it is easy to see as soon as we do a first rinse that all the unfurling material is bud material. We can tell from the size and shape as well as the orange instead of black color of the wet buds.

The aroma is creamy, yeasty and buttery like a fresh croissant out of the oven. As the tea infuses we get more fruity pineapple undertones and a vegetal watercress texture. Throughout steeping this tea is packed full of the rocky mineral flavor that we love in Wuyi teas.

 

Hua Xiang
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong

This beautiful harvest is made from tiny, delicate leaves and buds. While normally larger, twisted leaves are used for Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, this “hua xiang” (floral aroma) mixture yields a beautiful deep bourbon-red brew and a fruity floral aroma.

The first sips give us the deep textural bite and mineral flavor of a Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong with the delicate perfumed florals and fruit of a Shui Jin Gui Wuyi Oolong. This tea is big bodied, bold and full. It holds nothing back. As the tea continues to steep, it settles into a beautiful, balanced texture forward minerality that dissipates into juicy citrus notes.

 

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Feizi Xiao

This intriguing varietal is sometimes literally translated as Concubine’s Smile (or laugh). However, this doesn’t quite capture the feeling in Chinese. The tea is actually named after a type of lychee fruit, which was originally named Feizi Xiao (妃子笑) or “Concubines Smile”  – a fruit that was so loved by the famously beautiful consort that it always made her smile. In that sense, the name is referring to the fruity aroma of the varietal. We think it is best left in Chinese, as at the end of the day, “Feizi Xiao” now refers to the varietal of Wuyi Oolong and reads like the proper noun that it is without the direct connotations.

This tea is processed like a traditional Wuyi Black Tea in terms of the signature black, thinly twisted leaves, but the name’s reference to the lychee becomes super obvious when we start brewing. The aroma is overwhelmingly fruity, perfumed just like lychee.

The first sips yield a balanced and elegant tea. The tropical lychee fruit flavor is astounding. This black tea is as perfumed as a Tieguanyin, but deep, dark and grounded. The aftertaste is full of not only lychee, but also orchid, like a wet tropical garden.

As the tea steeps out, we get creamy notes, honey and of course the rocky mineral Wuyi flavor. Everything is balanced with an incredibly consistent lychee fruit flavor. Drinking this, we can only speculate that this naturally-occuring flavor profile must be the inspiration for all fruit-flavored black teas.

 

Old Tree Wuyi Gongfu Black

On our most recent visit to Wuyi, where we planned out December’s Tea of the Month offering with Li Xiangxi, we got to go to a village tea competition where farmers from all over Tongmu could enter their teas for their peers to judge. Li Xiangxi took us to watch the day that everyone was tasting nearly two hundred Old Tree Wuyi Gongfu Black Teas. We were so intrigued by the idea of the Wuyi “Old Tree” flavor expressed through a black tea instead of an oolong that we had to get our hands on some of this rare harvest to share.

The flavor of Old Tree Wuyi Gongfu Black is coming in part from the mosses and other plants that grow naturally on and around the old and untended wild tea trees and bushes in Tongmu. That mossy, woody complexity is something that younger cultivated bushes just can’t quite capture.

Brewing up Li Xiangxi’s Old Tree Wuyi Gongu Black, we get tons of piney, woody smokey aroma, an astoundingly powerful aroma considering that this tea is not smoked. By the first infusion, much of the smoke has dissipated leaving that mossy, woody edge that defines this tea.

The first sips are full of wood, juniper, elderberry, and a smooth rock candy sweetness that lingers on the palate. The flavor continues to develop,packed with as much forest flavor as a fine shu pu’er, but with much more sweetness and a much more nuanced, smooth and elegant body.

This tea is an incredible chance to taste not just a varietal or processing technique, but truly taste the place, the environment, in a concentrated way, and better understand what makes Wuyi so special.

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Mei Zhan Jin

Mei Zhan is a varietal usually used for making aromatic oolongs. Li Xiangxi and her brother cultivate a small planting of Mei Zhan bushes, and have fallen in love in the last few years with the unique flavors the tea yields. They decided in recent years to use the large buds from their Mei Zhan bushes to make a bud-based Wuyi black tea processed just like Jin Jun Mei.

The result is thrilling, and we are lucky to get to share any at all. The family only makes about 20 kilos a year. It was exciting to be entrusted with enough to send to in December’s Tea of the Month Club, and even more excited for the opportunity to share it with everyone!

Unlike Jun Jun Mei, which is made from the tiniest little buds, Mei Zhan Jin is made from huge buds more like a Yunnan Black than anything else. In fact, the aroma is very reminiscent of a Wild-Picked large buds Yunnan Black. The aroma is like Golden Fleece in its thick creamy luscious body, but with a touch of malty Jin Jun Mei aroma, and some deep florals that lean more towards the world of oolongs.

The first steepings are sweet, floral and elegant like a very fine Jin Jun Mei, but instead of the malty thick texture of Jin Jun Mei we get the light, more perfumed texture of Mei Zhan oolong. As the tea continues to steep out, we get more and more of the beautiful nuanced mineral notes of Wuyi accenting the sweet honeyed florals that make this tea so unique.

 

6 Responses to “Tasting Journal: December 2015 Club Teas”

    • Lily Duckler

      Great question!

      By and large, it depends on the tea you’re brewing and what your goals are. However, you’ll find recommended steeping instructions for each tea by following the links and scrolling down towards the end of each product page.

      I recommend brewing all of these teas gongfu style for a fun tasting experiences, which calls for lots of leaf, less water, and short brewing times.

      http://verdanttea.com/teas/black-buds-jin-jun-mei-wuyi-black-tea/
      Because this tea is made up of little buds, we recommend trying a lower brewing temperature of about 195 C.
      Use 5g of tea for 5oz of water. After a short rinse, steep for about 5 seconds. Every time you reset, add about 5-10 seconds, or according to your own taste, adding a little more time with each re-steep.

      http://verdanttea.com/teas/hua-xiang-floral-unsmoked-zheng-shan-xiao-zhong-wuyi-black-tea/
      I recommend the same brewing parameters for the Hua Xiang Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong! You can certainly experiment with hotter water, which brings out a more bold, crisp, citrusy flavor profile. Cooler temperatures will bring out more of the rose and vanilla.

      http://verdanttea.com/teas/fei-zi-xiao-wuyi-black-tea-unscented-lychee-aroma/
      Use the same leaf ratio for this tea, but feel free to use hotter water temperatures at about 205 C. This tea is made up of small leaves, rather than tiny buds, and you’ll enjoy the fruity aroma of the tea more easily with hotter water.

      http://verdanttea.com/teas/old-tree-wild-picked-lao-cong-wuyi-gongfu-black-tea/
      Again, use 5g of tea to 5oz of water. We recommend cooler water here at 195 C. Hotter water is also an interesting brew, but it definitely brings out even more of the woody, almost smokey elements of this old tree tea.

      http://verdanttea.com/teas/mei-zhan-jin-wuyi-black-tea/
      Use cooler 195 C water for this buddy, downy tea. We recommend the same leaf-to-water ratio of one-to-one (5g to 5oz).

      Have you had a chance to look at our general brewing guide? If not, I highly recommend it!
      http://verdanttea.com/brewing/

      This lays out the foundations and guiding principles for why you might choose more or less leaf, hotter or cooler water, and shorter or longer brewing times. These recommendations above are guidelines – a place for you to begin. With the foundations of brewing in mind, you can always feel free to brew according to your own taste, depending on what the tea is showing you.

      I hope this is helpful! Thank you so much 🙂
      Best,
      Lily

  1. Gary Turner

    We have wonderful tap water here in Louisville, Ky. My questions are, is it ok to heat your water in a microwave, is there a simple way to get your water at the proper temperatures? and maintain?

    • Lily Duckler

      Finding a nice water supply can be tricky – so happy to hear how much you enjoy your local water!

      It is possible to use a microwave to heat your water. However, you should take care. It is sometimes difficult to notice when your water has begun to boil in the microwave. Though uncommon, water can become overheated, with unpleasant consequences. However, this is a very rare occurrence, and you can avoid this issue by leaving a non-metal item in your cup (for example, a wooden spoon).

      For more, you can start exploring the issue here:
      http://www.snopes.com/science/microwave.asp

      There are many solutions for heating water to a specific temperature and maintaining that temperature. There are special water boilers on the market that aim to do just that, from Zojirushi to sous vide machines. There are also many electric water boilers that work by heating your water to a set temperature, but will need your help to reboil / reheat when they’ve cooled.

      The most popular water boiler would probably be the Zojirushi. I’ve had many over the years, and while it is a more expensive option, it is great for keeping many gallons of water heated for a whole day’s worth of tea sessions. Some models can even been powered with batteries after you’ve gotten your water up to the temperature you want.

      On the other hand, you can always use a stove top kettle! The pots will whistle when the water has boiled, and you can reheat your water simply by refilling from your tap and turning on your range again.

      Happy sipping!
      Lily

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