Zhang Rongde has devoted his life to creating a sustainable biodiverse future for Daping Village, travelling the world to study with master of every tea region and returning to Daping with a vision to bring Tieguanyin and other local varietals to a new level. His tea fields benefit from sweet mountain spring water, ample natural forest cover, rich wildlife and perpetual high mountain mist protecting delicate leaves from the sun.
This collection has been put together as the ultimate introduction to Master Zhang’s craft and the natural beauty of tea from the Daping microclimate. You’ll be able to taste Master Zhang’s award-winning and standard-setting Tieguanyin, Daping's famous Mao Xie, aged oolong tea and experimental new finishing styles. While Master Zhang brings out different aromatics in every tiny hand-finished batch, this collection will give you a full sense of the regions deep sweet minerality, thick intense backbone, and lingering sweetness.
This is arguably Daping Village’s most “classic” tea. Mao Xie varietal is native to the area and grew on the mountains above Daping long before Tieguanyin was planted. Master Zhang’s labor-intensive traditional finish hearkens back to the style before the modern green oolong trend became popular and all Anxi teas were finished with at least a light roast and oxidation. Mao Xie translates to “hairy crab,” a reference to the appearance of the leaves. A classic traditional finish on Mao Xie brings out the iconic savory notes in the varietal and makes it taste almost pastry-like.
Rou Gui is better known as a roasted oolong from Wuyi, famous in Wuyi for its intense and aromatic cinnamon flavor. Master Zhang's Rou Gui varietal bushes grow among Tieguanyin fields and wildflowers, and benefit from sweet mountain spring water. Master Zhang's dark roast on this unique rolled Anxi Rou Gui brings out not just rich cinnamon spice, but also dessert-like complexity and aftertaste.
True Tieguanyin varietal stands out for its deep lingering aftertaste, big texture, and the ability to steep out over many infusions. Master Zhang has honed his Tieguanyin cultivation techniques and finishing process over forty years of experimentation, earning the respect of the entire Daping area as a teacher and community leader. He utilizes organic farming techniques, encourages biodiversity, and advocates against wasteful irrigation to encourage healthy and deeply complex and nuanced tea. This modern green style Tieguanyin requires an intense turning and fluffing process in finishing that needs to be adapted on the spot depending on the weather and the aroma, requiring deep experience.
Master Zhang excels at finishing his traditional Tieguanyin. He works to bring out the florals and strengthen them, allowing the green quality of the tea to shine through while providing a sweet and nuanced counterbalance through delicate roasting. Master Zhang's award-winning technique brings out the deep fruit and dark florals that don't have a chance to shine in greener, more modern finishes. This is the tea that Master Zhang grew up with and is his greatest passion. The mist shaded mountain air and sweet spring water make this true Tieguanyin varietal tea even more nuanced.
Master Zhang is a true innovator. He doesn’t make tea to follow trends. He experiments and takes risks to make tea better for the generations to come. This Original Wulong Revival uses the older Ben Shan varietal leaf and undergoes three times more careful hand turning and fluffing than modern Anxi oolong. For finishing, it is loosely rolled in the oldest style of oolong making that is half strip style and half ball, with many of the leaves more strip-style than rolled. Master Zhang describes the shape as a dragonfly. This hand processing and shaping yields a different tea- a genre of its own outside of Wuyi style, Guangdong style or Anxi style. The light roast is rewarding and brings out a unique savory sweet complexity we don’t see in other teas from Master Zhangl over the years, this tea has grown to be one of our very favorites!
Ba Xian is a rare cultivar pioneered from old rootstock in Fenghuang, Guangdong that yields beautiful textural depth, lingering sparkling complexity and rich aromatics given the right soil conditions and expert craftsmanship. Master Zhang is a colleague of famous Dancong pioneer Huang Ruiguang, and was able to transplant several old Ba Xian plants from Wudongshan to his own fields above Daping in Anxi. These plants have been left mostly unpicked and untrimmed for years, giving them a wild appearance. Master Zhang has picked a limited quantity of his Ba Xian to share. The result is packed with deep minerality, “yun” and creamy florals - a powerful and commanding tea.
This 2000 aged Tieguanyin varietal harvest already has over twenty years of aging. Master Zhang’s terraced fields are overgrown with wildflowers, and fed by naturally sweet and clear mountain spring water. The natural complexity of his tea makes it a perfect candidate for careful aging, which involves yearly re-roasting and sealed storage. The result is a classic rich dark profile that brings out the rich fruity creamy notes in Tieguanyin.
This limited 1990 harvest of aged Tieguanyin stands out as unique from the others because the leaves were hand-processed by Master Zhang using traditional Oolong Revival style, where one end of leaf is slightly curled and the other is extended. Master Zhang describes the shape as a ‘dragonfly’. These leaves were turned and fluffed three times the normal standard for modern Tieguanyin. The result of this unique processing and the 25 years of age creates a deep shu pu’er-like earthy flavor most similar to the clean fermentation of Xingyang shu pu’ers. We have never tasted anything like this in an oolong. It has the foresty richness of shu pu’er but the sweet caramel aftertaste of oolong.
It is my responsibility to listen and not tell. I cannot force a tea into a certain flavor or aroma with craft. This is because true craft starts in the field, not the workshop. Good agricultural craft requires biodiversity, preserving the wildlife and natural forest cover, respecting the natural mountain springs, and keeping chemicals off of my tea and off of my neighbors’ teas.
If craft in the field is done right, craft in the workshop is about listening. It is about helping a tea become what it wants to be.
I have spent my life helping my village of Daping bring honesty and integrity to tea farming and oolong craft. We stand together against the factory farming that weighs so heavily on the Anxi lowlands ecosystems.
We are making Tieguanyin and countless other cultivars the way that they want to be made, in the environment where they want to grow. I invite you to taste our work for yourself and see."
Zhang Rongde was one of the first in Daping village to go to university.
He returned with an advanced degree in agricultural science and helped his community establish responsible chemical-free farming during the commune era. He comes from a long line of tea farmers, picking today plants established by his parents and grandparents.
After the communes were disbanded, Master Zhang was awarded the highest elevation plots in the region for his leadership role in pioneering sustainable, biodiversity-focused agriculture. He has won countless awards for his family’s teas, and still spends every day not only finishing his own teas but helping his neighbors improve their craft by visiting their workshops.
He is most proud not of his awards for quality, but his award for integrity, bestowed by his peers in recognition of his community leadership in transparency and for his work to tie pricing to a set of agreed upon standards of flavor, texture, aroma and aftertaste.
As a pioneer and community leader, Master Zhang is often travelling to far off regions to study other traditions. He has spent time studying and researching in Yiwu, Yunnan learning about old tree management and sun drying techniques, travelling to Japan and Taiwan, and studying in Fenghuang with Master Huang Ruiguang - exchanging Anxi oolong and Fenghuang oolong techniques and continuing to develop his ability to taste and evaluate.
You cannot follow a simple protocol and expect to make great tea. You have to be willing to put aside everything to see a batch through to the end.
Often a single batch of oolong means over 40 hours in the workshop without sleep to get it just right, and that does not count the time in the fields.
My job really starts in the field, working actively to strengthen the natural ecosystem through my farming choices and also working to research, revive and propagate rare, new or nearly lost cultivars, all to increase biodiversity and secure a better future for oolong.
I grow dozens of different cultivars, some planted by my grandparents with old, deep rootstock. Each varietal has different picking times and different “ideals” in the field and in the workshop.
Every weather condition not only changes picking times but changes the way I fluff and turn the leaves to bring out their aroma, the way I roast them, the moisture levels I aim for; this all requires flexibility, determination, and humility in the face of nature.
Despite the hardship, I love what I do.
Tea is a collaboration between the skies, the earth and us, the people, that can create humbling beauty and complexity.
Seeking this complexity has inspired me to go beyond current styles in oolong and research lost styles like Original Wulong Revival.
Too much of the world’s “Tieguanyin” comes from big factory farms that have bought up most of lowland Anxi. These teas are passed off as the real thing because many retailers and importers do not know better.
I want to give anyone who loves tea the education and tools necessary to tell the difference. That is why I work with importer Verdant Teato tell my story. I hope you’ll take the time to learn about the place I call home and the way I work to craft my teas.