Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin Jun Mei is hand picked one bud at a time by the Li Family up in the mountains of the officially designated Tongmu region of the protected Fujian Wuyishan National Nature Reserve (福建武夷山国家级自然保护区).
The Mei Zhan plants are scattered across the Li Family’s mountain plot, grown from seeds to preserve slight genetic variation and diversity. These plants enjoy the rocky volcanic soil and unique microclimate of the Tongmu region.
These Mei Zhan buds are hand picked from the Li Family’s piece of land on the mountain slopes above their ancestral home, inside the Fujian Wuyishan National Nature Reserve.
Each bud is hand-finished and sun roasted to fully oxidize as a black tea. The larger Mei Zhan buds have a very short picking window to yield Jin Jun Mei before opening into the cultivar’s long and distinctive leaves.
The region of Tongmu is unique within the Wuyishan Ecological preserve for its volcanic rock formations, and extremely thick vegetation coverage and biodiversity. Nestled along either bank upstream of the famous Nine Bends Brook, the mountains create a unique microclimate perfect for many species of birds and a healthy ecosystem. Sweet mountain spring water trickles out of every slope, and the rocky land and cold weather make for slow-growing but singularly incredible tea.
Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei and Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin Jun Mei both share the same soil and microclimate but taste extremely different and come in at wildly different price points.
Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei (above) vs. Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin (below)
Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei is foraged throughout the forest, with each wild plant being genetically distinct from another through wild propagation. The wild bushes yield much smaller buds, meaning more buds need to be picked and a larger area has to be hiked to find these buds. This makes it significantly more work to produce a single kilo.
The Mei Zhan Jin Jun Mei in Tongmu is the result of a deliberate project by the Li Family to introduce single-varietal tea plants to the region that compliment the soil and climate. The buds of the Mei Zhan cultivar are much larger than its wild-growing neighbors, and it is planted over a smaller area. Together, this means less buds and effort per kilo, and a much lower price despite sharing the same legendary soil and climate.
ABOVE: Mei Zhan bushes grow untended;
note their distinctively long, pointed leaves
in the same gaiwan, 5g of Mei Zhan buds (above)
vs. 5g of Wild Jin Jun Mei buds (below)
Like the Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei,
Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin is a unique among other black teas.
The first impression of this tea is how incredibly thick it is on the palate. The down on every bud grips the tongue and yields a lovely sparkling-tingling sensation.
In early steepings, we tasted lotus-wrapped steamed rice and hints of candied citrus peel. A malty thick and satisfying flavor of enriched bread started to build up, and slowly yield to a cloud-like meringue texture and flavor.
The aftertaste begins to reveal the unique mineral flavor of Tongmu, complimented by a cedarwood flavor and cooling texture that begins to wash over the palate. The cooling sensation builds and gives way to the mouth-watering circulating quality that Li Xiangxi describes as yun.
The whole experience of tasting this tea is focused.
It is consistent, very quiet, and very meditative.
We continued steeping one five gram packet of tea for over 35 infusions. Ultimately, we lost count and left the tea overnight in a gaiwan. We picked up the same leaves and kept steeping over the next two days.
This tea is rare.
We were only able to obtain one half kilogram this year.
We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try this tea. We also want to offer single servings to bring this opportunity within reach for more people given the cost per gram. A larger package would be prohibitive for many people interested in the tasting opportunity.
Finally, Li Xiangxi personally packaged this tea and weighed each bag to ensure the correct quantity of leaf in a single brew. Single serving packets take the guess work out and ensure the best taste experience.
This tea took so much care to pick and finish.
For an experience that truly reveals how special this quiet and subtle tea can be, a degree of care is needed in brewing.
Jingdezhen is highly vitrified and shows the truest aroma. As a second choice, Longchuan porcelain and Dehua porcelain both work well. The goal is to use a porcelain vessel that holds 5fl oz of water or less, as highly vitrified and fine as possible.
We use Chippewa Spring water here in the midwest, but there are other sweet, full bodied spring waters available around the country. In a pinch, waters like Fiji and Evian can work well.
Strainers will destroy the texture of this tea by filtering out the bud material.
Bring your water to a full boil. Pour a small amount into your gaiwan to heat the porcelain. Pour over your cups and pitcher to get everything to a good temperature.
Once your tools are warmed, add the entire 5g packet to your gaiwan.
Pour boiling water into your pitcher and cool for about 15-20 seconds. This extremely buddy tea will yield the most beautiful texture when brewed with cooler water.
Pour in a circle along the edge of your gaiwan to introduce the water to the buds gently. Immediately pour out. Practice holding your gaiwan to strain all leaves with the lid and try not to pour any into your pitcher.
Discard the first steeping as a rinse. Then you can begin brewing this tea.
Keep your water at boiling and cool each infusion for 15-20 seconds to have precise control. Steep your tea for about 5-8 seconds in early infusions. After 15-20 infusions, you can raise your water temperature by cooling for only 6 seconds and slowly increase steep times, up to about a 45 second infusion.
Take your time. Enjoy at least twenty – thirty steepings.