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This special limited-offering tasting kit is a chance to do a unique taste-off showdown of three of Wuyishan’s most sought after varietals, crafted by the Li family as both oolong and black tea for six unique offerings.
The purpose of this kit is to show off the intense influence of craft on finished tea, even when that tea is the same varietal grown by the same family in the same place. Mei Zhan, Bai Rui Xiang and Rou Gui are all famous Wuyi teas traditionally finished as oolongs. Indeed, all three have brought the Li Family best in show awards year after year.
Recently, the Li Family has begun to apply their masterful traditional black tea craft to famous “oolong” varietals at the family workshop in Tongmu, yielding exciting new ways to taste and feel the terroir of the region. This kit will let you compare oolong and black tea finishes on the same varietals while these unique limited harvest offerings are available.
The Li Family is becoming famous in Wuyishan for their Rou Gui. The combination of a biodiverse plot, full of wildflowers and natural forest cover, the volcanic rocky soil, mature root stock plants, and multiple twelve hour hand-firing processes spread over several months make their Rou Gui a true standout. Classically, Rou Gui is known for its cinnamon spice, but in the Li Family’s capable hands, the cinnamon spice is bolstered by tingling cooling undertones and deep minerality. This Rou Gui is Li Xiangxi’s focus in all her taste training courses at her family’s Yangxian Academy, served to students and visiting dignitaries as a classic representation of what the varietal is capable of.
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Rou Gui is one of Wuyishan’s most famous and sought after varietals, and one of the Li Family’s most awarded teas. Rou Gui is known for so transparently showcasing the terroir, the unique microclimate, of specific subregions within the Wuyishan Ecological preserve.
The Li Family took the audacious step this year of setting aside a portion of their widely-respected award-winning Rou Gui and trying an experimental new finish, allowing the tea to slowly sun-oxidize into a black tea instead of going through traditional oolong finishing. The result is a stunning but extremely-limited harvest of spice and mineral-driven Rou Gui black tea, bolstered by an intensely creamy backbone and a building oolong-like aftertaste. They’ve achieved the nuance and staying power of an oolong but with the honeyed allure of a black tea.
The Bai Rui is the Winter Daphne, a flower native to China with an intensely sweet fruity aroma. This rich incense-forward varieties shares those heady perfumed overtones with its namesake, along with the rare and sought-after yun xiang, the cooling tingling sensation that build up in the back of the throat. The Li Family finishes their Bai Rui Xiang as a ‘reserve’ quality tea, using a meticulous twelve hour hand-firing to bring out deep complexity. The minerality of the family’s volcanic rocky mountainside plot comes through as a textural foundation for the spices to build on, resulting in a balanced, beautifully structured Wuyi Oolong.
Bai Rui Xiang varietal is named after the Winter Daphne, a heady aromatic flower native to China. Traditionally finished as an oolong, this tea always has a rich nuanced undercurrent of incense spice and cooling tingling minerality. This season, the Li Family saved a small portion of this reserve harvest Bai Rui Xiang to finish as a black tea using old-school sun-oxidation in bamboo baskets at the family workshop in Tongmu. The result is an incredibly complex black tea where the intense florals of the oolong finish take a back seat to the cooling tingling textural excitement this tea has to offer, along for a rich spiced brew full of Wuyi’s famous minerality.
Mei Zhan varietal’s uniquely long leaves yield a big bold flavor and an aroma that fills a room. Mei zhan is typically full of big fruity flavor and a strong savory foundation. The Li family heightens the fruity aromatics with their expert roasting and finishing for evocative dried plum and bright tangerine. The biodiversity and rocky soil of the Li Family’s plot within the Wuyi Ecological Preserve.
Mei Zhan varietal is famous for its rich and focused fruit-forward oolong made from long skinny spring leaves. Recently, Mr. Li has been experimenting with a stand of his family’s iconic Mei Zhan in early spring when the plant puts out huge buds that are too delicate to withstand oolong processing. He personally leads the hand-picking of the Li Family Mei Zhan buds and brings them to the family home and workshop in Tongmu for Jin Jun Mei meticulous black tea hand-finishing. The slow oxidation in bamboo baskets brings out big savory notes and sweet rich honey and cream for an incredible and innovative new tea. The 2018 harvest is notably more mineral-forward with rich mouth-watering and juicy texture.
My family has been tending to wild bushes and farming old tea trees
within the preserve for generations.
Living in a place of such natural beauty, we have come to seek balance
in our agriculture and balance in our tea. We preserve the natural forest cover,
we use beyond-organic methods, and we finish our teas by hand in small batches
– all to honor the gift of the place we call home.
I invite you to take the time to taste in our tea the deep complexity, rich texture, and intense aromatics
that define the true heritage of the Wuyishan Ecological Preserve.”
Li Xiangxi is an ordained Taoist priest, and founded the Yangxian Academy to teach Taoist tea ceremony as well as a philosophy of tasting and growing tea that is in harmony with nature.
While many investor-backed farmers ignored environmental laws in the early 2000’s, tearing out native trees to plant more tea, Li Xiangxi worked with her brother and cousin to reduce the family’s footprint when she inherited the land, encouraging rich wildlife and biodiversity. This effort has made her family pioneers in sustainable farming and local champions as the whole region becomes more mindful of its future and responsibility as the most famous growing region in the world.
Li Xiangxi and her family’s harvests amy be smaller, but their care in agriculture and their meticulous hand-finishing process have won them awards and inspired change throughout the region.
We finish each leaf with the care that it takes to create tea with lingering aromatics, intense aftertaste, rich engaging texture, and the elusive yun, or after-sensation.
We delicately tease out the aromatics through an 18 hour fluffing and turning process so demanding that our family can’t take the time to sleep when tea is being finished. We devote ourselves fully to the process and see it all the way through.
When our teas’ aromatics are just right we lock them in with another 16 hour hand firing, a nearly lost art that we are working to maintain to bring out texture and yun in every leaf. After the initial firing, we rest our teas at least a month and often re-fire up to five time for the perfect balance.
Our dedication wins us gold medals annually at Wuyi tasting competitions, but more importantly, it honors the gift of tea that this incredible region gives us.
We aren’t in this business for money. We share tea as a connection to nature and as a cultural bridge. We work with importer Verdant Tea because of years of friendship and deep shared values. We invite you to explore just a handful of videos from our time together.
If you are buying tea from one of the most famous regions in the world, video sharing the voices of the growers should be one of the most basic minimums from any importer.