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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.