Xingyang is a small team of twenty people in Pu’er city that work with farmers in Honghe, Sanjiacun, and occasionally several other mountain villages in Xishuangbanna. They are the first and only collection we are featuring where the picking and production are done by different people. With the same cooperative both picking and finishing each cake, Qianjiazhai is the exception rather than the rule in the pu’er business We reached out to Xingyang because their point of view, their skill, and their integrity are singular among pu’er blenders.
Most pu’er brands are truly just brands,: pretty labels slapped on to white-label cakes made to spec. Xingyang takes blending seriously. You can think of them like a small, independent scotch blending house, or a small wine maker. They have close relationships with a handful of farmers and stockpile maocha to suit their needs. They have a small collection of “recipes” that strive for a specific and ideal flavor. To achieve this flavor, Xingyang presses cakes from a blend of maocha perfectly suited to create a complex and complementary integrated whole. If they can’t source the maocha in a given year, they just don’t produce that recipe.
Xingyang’s aesthetic ideals and process are a perfect counterpoint to Qianjiazhai in our collection. Unlike the Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative’s wild, terroir focused work, Xingyang’s sheng pu’er is carefully constructed to follow the classic Chinese ideal of sweet, smooth flavor with intense aromatics and long aftertaste. Their shu pu’er is a point of view we have never seen from any other producer. It is perfectly clean, and sparkling. They achieve a clean, sweet flavor unlike any other through a painstakingly long and slow fermentation before drying and finishing their tea.
While Qianjiazhai starts with the trees, pressing cakes according to the flavor the trees give them each season, Xingyang starts with an idea – an aesthetic point of view- and finds the trees to make it happen. This strong point of view is clear in all their work, and we are extremely excited for the chance to share. Though we have been drinking Xingyang since 2008, the timing was perfect this year to start working together. We hope to grow their collection over the years and share their point of view with tea lovers worldwide.
Weiwei, Lily and I sat down to taste all the Xingyang teas together a couple days ago. The back to back tasting of our first four teas from Xingyang Workshop was a true pleasure. Moving from youngest to oldest and sheng to shu, we could see a strong aesthetic consistent throughout every tea, and exciting aging potential for the whole collection.
When we opened the Xingyang 2013 Sheng, we were stunned boy how beautiful the silvery buds and leaves were. We were especially pleased with the delicate, loose stone-pressed compression. The cake was super easy to break without damaging a single leaf. The quality of leaf material and compression are both great signs for future aging potential.
The aroma of the wet leaf was full of apricot with notes of eucalyptus and sweet cut grass. We used cooler, 190 degree water and a fast infusion in a porcelain gaiwan – our favorite technique to bring out the aromatics in young sheng pu’er without over-steeping the delicate leaves. The first infusions were creamy with cooling camphor notes and a light mineral taste.
The second infusion brought out way more camphor and eucalyptus with a big, crunchy mouthfeel and a touch of lemongrass in the aftertaste. The later steeping were sweet with a sparkling texture. This pu’er is sweet and aromatic, just like a classic ideal young sheng should be, and is definitely moving towards greater depth. smoothness and complexity with age.
This beautiful tea comes in a lovely gold-foil and red gift box, tied with red ribbon! It was a pleasure to open one and unwrap the tuo. The leaf material is clearly from smaller, finer, younger buds than the 2013 sheng. When we opened the box, we noticed the bold steeping instructions. Xingyang recommends 3-5 grams of tea in a (4-5oz) gaiwan with 90 degree celsius water and a one minute infusion. We decided to try this long infusion technique – after all, who knows a tea better than its producer? – and were were very pleased with the results!
We didn’t get any bitterness whatsoever, instead smelling deep cedar and burdock aroma on the wet leaf. The first infusion reminded us of being in a Chinese apothecary- tons of mineral texture and camphor goodness. The second infusion brought out more fruity notes – goji, plum and crisp burdock. The aftertaste actually reminded us of a fine cola.
The third infusion brought out a beautiful, tingling sparkling sensation and way more woody birch bark flavor with touches of neroli and sarsaparilla. We can see the connection between this tuo and the younger sheng cake. The direction that Xingyang sheng pu’er ages is a very good sign. If a few years brings so much depth to the 2008 tuo, we can’t wait to see what another five years brings!
Next we turned our attention to Xingyang’s extremely fine shu pu’ers. This cake is a very unique perspective on shu pu’er. Insight of following convention on the ‘classic’ shu pu’er, Xingyang makes a bold departure, pressing a cake entirely out of fine golden buds that look more like leaf material used in a very fine Dian Hong black tea. The result is a cake that is stunningly beautiful to unwrap.
The first infusions were thick and sweet, reminding us more of Jin Jun Mei than shu pu’er. The flavor was sweet and full of vanilla aromatics. It almost tasted like fresh, warm pound cake. The trademark ‘sparkling’ quality of Xingyang’s clean fermenttaion brought out the velvety quality of the buds.
Later infusions were full of sweet whipped cream and cocoa undertones. The sweet malty aroma reminded us of warm rising bread. All together, this is a very luxurious shu pu’er that combines the best of yunnan black tea with the complexity of pu’er. Having tasted this tea for the first time in 2009, we tasted much more textural complexity and thicker mouthfeel this year than we did six years ago. We imagine another five years will make this even more incredible!
Finally we tasted the tea that first made us fall in love with Xingyang’s pu’er and their unique point of view. It is extremely rare to find shu pu’er with real age on it that is as clean and perfect and Xingyang’s Golden Leaf. This tea was made from big leaf material picked from trees as old as one thousand years. Old trees have deeper roots and take up more complex minerals and nutrients from the soil, contributing to a deeper, richer flavor.
The tea was allowed to ferment extremely slowly over controlled conditions for a full year from 2002 to 2003 until the tea was dried and put in storage for dry aging until 2014 when it was packed in canisters. It is exciting to taste tea started so many years ago, just now released for us to enjoy.
The aroma is deep and earthy, like walking into an old mossy forest. Yet despite the very mature aroma, the brew is crystal clean. The tea as translucent and beautiful. The taste is sweet and sparkling, and the refined flavor lingers on the palate for hours. The woody cedar notes are aromatic like sandalwood incense.
We are so excited by this supremely powerful shu pu’er and the chance to share something as old as this on our site. The textural experience of drinking a shu pu’er made with such care and aged for so long is truly beautiful.
All four Xingyang teas in the collection represent a unique a solid point of view, four different approaches to what makes pu’er wonderful. We are excited to share all four this season and hope that we can continue to grow our Xingyang collection in the coming years.
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