Throughout the month of October, we're celebrating Wuyishan's famous "rock" teas - from Wuyi "Yancha" Cliff Tea Oolongs to wild-picked Tongmu black teas. Learn about this beloved region and craft traditional by exploring the collection and tasting the Li Family's work for yourself!
What do we mean when we talk about "minerality" in tea?
Minerality is not just the taste of rock. Instead, minerality is our way of understanding a unique texture and physical sensation on the palate that is tingling and precise while being soft at the same time, like the lightest carbonation you could imagine.
This texture creates a sense of contrast that makes aftertastes even sweeter and allows them to build up over time, separate from the aroma.
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 autumn harvest rolled Anxi Rou Gui brings out not just rich cinnamon spice, but also dessert-like complexity and a beautifully floral lingering aftertaste.
Crisp, fruity, floral, nuanced - the new 2021 harvest is here! This year's Zun harvest is offered both loose leaf (5g, 25g) and in two pressings: 100g cakes and 250g Xiao Jin Gua. Zun, a designation chosen by the cooperative, means ‘reverence’ of the ancient Qianjiazhai tea trees themselves, an awareness of the human collaboration with a living tree that has existed for generations before us and hopefully will continue to exist for generations after us. The Zun series cakes use the first early spring growth from only the old-growth (500-1000 year) wild trees above the Li Family’s home high in the mountains, and accessible only on foot. The wild nature of this tea’s provenance come through as a flavor texture and aroma experience that is both reverent of its source, and worthy of reverence for its commanding beauty, full of honey and dried apricot with a hint of wild mountain tulsi, and intense textural depth.
This tea is sustainably wild-foraged from ancient Camellia Crassicolumna (厚轴茶) tree, a close relative of tea native to Qianjiazhai. This year's tea is available both loose and in 100g cake pressings. Crassicolumna is naturally caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants. The giant leaves and buds picked from this wild-growing tree stock are allowed to gently sun dry without any heat processing to keep the most natural flavor. Wild crassicolumna trees can be anywhere between several hundred and over a thousand years old, and are incredibly tall and difficult to climb to harvest these precious leaves, but the rich nuanced flavor and lingering aftertaste is worth the effort. Master Zhou pressed the leaf material from part of this years harvest into 100g cakes and 205g Xiao Jin Gua perfect for aging and long term storage.
#43 Varietal Dragonwell was specifically bred and selected to bud even earlier than classic Dragonwell in Shi Feng and yields yellower plumper buds that make for gorgeous steeping in glassware. While classic Dragonwell is all about rocky mineral texture, the new #43 is a crisp, bright focused experience centered around stronger flavor and aroma and more pronounced sweetness. Mrs. Li's first picking of the year is full of all the nutrients and sugars stored by the plant all winter long and offers a more complex, sweet and subtle taste experience. It has a longer aftertaste and thicker texture than later harvests. The soil is full of quartz and white sand while the water comes from natural mountain springs, yielding a flavor that simply can’t be matched outside of Shi Feng itself.
This early spring tea is all about a fine and subtle sweetness, and a long, drawn out aftertaste and crisp texture. Cool spring weather produces a small harvest of truly sweet tea. This is Mrs. Li’s first picking of the season, carefully hand-finished by her husband, Shui Huamin. Her true original cultivar Dragonwell (Longjing Qunti) grows on the mountain slopes of Shi Feng and draws in sweet mountain spring water.
Under careful airtight conditions, Wuyi teas that are particularly rich and packed with minerality can age into deeper, more complex teas. Li Xiangxi’s personal favorite is to use her old tree Wuyi Gongfu Black, picked from trees approaching one hundred years of age. The Old Tree Wuyi Black gains more foresty notes and deep cooling qualities on the palette that make it thrilling to sip. This is not a yearly release- this is a special must-try one-off from Li Xiangxi. Li Xiangxi has been aging this Old Tree Wuyi Black tea since 2015, and she kindly shared more than half of what is left of her personal reserve.
Rock Milk or Shi Ru is an uncommon varietal that the Li Family cultivates on their mist-shaded, mountain spring-fed biodiverse plot within the Wuyi Ecological Preserve. The naturally rocky elements of this tea come through even stronger as they take in the deep minerality of the volcanic rocky soil. As a rare offering, Mr. Li takes the time to bring out the rich mouthwatering lingering yun sensation of this tea through the hand firing at low heat for hours needed to bring out the very best. This varietal is an excellent chance to taste the terroir of the region.
Fo Shou, or "Buddha's Hand," varietal is an aromatic and luscious tea in the Li Family collection. The Fo Shou is a wonderfully nuanced citrus fruit, and this tea gets its name for its Fo Shou citrus aromas. The citrus is bolstered by a cinnamon and sandalwood spice, a beautiful compliment brought out through slow hand-firing over low heat. The uniquely large leaves of the Fo Shou varietal unfold beautifully over many infusions.
Sparrow's Tongue, or Que She is named after the shorter, smaller leaves of this distinctive and uncommon Wuyi tea varietal. Sipping Que She is a strong example of "Yun": each infusion brings out more and more of an almost electrical tingling sensation on the tongue and back of the throat. This sensation is inherent to the highest quality leaf from older established tea stock growing in the right rocky conditions in Wuyishan, but it is brought out by slow low-temperature firing in bamboo baskets for fifteen hours at a time, resting several weeks and repeating four to six times. Fruity, rich and cooling, thsi year's Sparrow's Tongue Oolong has notes of dried mango, rose, chestnut and nutmeg.
Laoshan Roasted Oolong is the most technically-demanding and labor-intensive tea that the He Family produces. As one of the first people in Northern China to take on oolong craft, Mr. He is defining the flavor and value of this new tea for the entire region. He starts with tender hand-picked leaves from his mountain-spring fed ocean-facing plot, and allows them a full two days to oxidize before beginning the critical kneading and shaking stage that brings out deep rich fruit and florals not normally present. These flavors are locked in with a heavy roast for a tea with the satisfying body of Laoshan Black but with the subtlety of the fine oolong.
Craft and terroir have come together beautifully for this 2021 early autumn harvest from Qianjiazhai's wild tea trees. The Dongsa Cooperative wild-forages buds and tender leaves from tea trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age for this loose sheng pu'er blend. Every hand-picked leaf is withered and sun-dried in bamboo baskets, with little or no heat exposure to lock in the most wild and natural flavor of one of the most remote growing regions in the world.
This tea is wild-foraged by the Li Family of the Dongsa Cooperative within the Mt Ailao National Forest Preserve. The silvery buds and twisting golden leaves are picked from ancient tea trees between one hundred and eight hundred years old scattered between other evergreens, and wildflowers on the rocky mountainside. This incredibly labor-intensive tea to harvest is actually allowed to sun-roast and oxidize without applying heat in a wok. Because more moisture is retained in the leaf, this black tea is a fantastic candidate for aging like traditional sheng pu’er. Only a high-elevation remote place like Qianjiazhai can count on enough sunlight in the spring for this old but rare finishing technique. The result is a tea with the sweet malt of a black tea but the staggering complexity and herbaceous undertones of a sheng pu’er. The loose Maocha is lightly steamed and then meticulously rolled and shaped one pearl at a time by Master Zhou without the use of molds or machinery to preserve the delicate complexity of the tea.
Qianjiazhai Gong Ting Shu Pu'er is still a very new practice, made only by one of Master Zhou's students in the cooperative. Using the giant buds of QIanjiazhai's wild trees between 100 and three hundred years of age, this tea is carefully and slowly pile fermented to bring out a deep rich sweetness.
This new blend of 2014 gong ting shu pu'er and Autumn 2020 tea flowers was pressed in the cooperative's small 100g cake stone mold. This is the first time Master Zhou has pressed tea flowers with Gong Ting Shu in a cake, and the result is a beautiful visual contrast. The floral boost to the textural complexity and nuance of this budset shu pu’er is a welcome addition. The clean natural fermentation preserves the herbaceousness of the tea, and the florals bring it out even further.