Tongmu Reserve Mei Zhan Jin
Tongmu Reserve Mei Zhan Jin
"Us farmers, we are just here to help nature. We work for the tea.
This place is not something we made; this is a gift from nature." - Li Xiangxi
- DATE OF PICKINGSpring 2021
- TongmuWuyishan, Fujian
- ELEVATION1000 METERS
- Mei ZhanTea Varietal
What is Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin?
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.
In wild Tongmu, space is at a premium. The Li Family is a staunch believer in not cutting a single tree- preserving the natural ecosystem on the mountainside around their family home. While Xingcun Xiaozhong grows wild out of cracks in the rocky cliffside and self-propogated from seed, there is a limited amount of space directly behind the workshop and family home with space for deliberate plantings.
When the Li Family uses this preciously small space to plant Mei Zhan varietal and let it grow for years without trimming or tending to encourage deep roots, it is worth taking note. Mr Li chose Mei Zhan for its incredibly downy early spring buds, and the way that it picks up textural nuance from its environment.
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.
Other Teas from within the Tongmu region:
- Tongmu Reserve Old Tree Shui Xian
The Wuyishan Ecological Preserve was established to protect the unique biodiversity of one of the most beautiful natural environments in China. The steep volcanic cliff faces, the old-growth evergreen forests and the lush bamboo are full of bird life, while the sweet mountain spring water nourishes ferns, wild herbs and of course, tea. Within this Ecological Preserve is Tongmu, an even smaller and even more protected region generally closed to outside visitors. Tongmu’s microclimate makes tea from the are some of the most in demand in the world. While the Li Family home in Tongmu is nestled against a mountainside growing wild with Xingcun Xiaozhong varietal, they also inherited a small grove of old-growth Shui Xian trees deeper into the preserve that have been left untended to grow essentially wild for several generations. They are about one hundred years old now, and grow at least 16 feet tall, some closer to 20 feet. These trees have super deep roots, absorb all the crazy volcanic soil nutrients, and have wild Wuyi moss that grows over the branches adding a super unique mossy quality to the tea. When Mr. Li picks these trees, not only does he finish all the yaoqing by hand, but he fires the tea in traditional baskets over a special clean burning charcoal from local hardwoods. The firing process is done three to four times and takes sixteen hours each pass. So you have one of the best microclimates in the world, old trees, deep roots, crazy biodiversity and the most ridiculous craftsmanship all coming together in one tea.
- 2022 Wild Tongmu Unsmoked Zheng Shan Xiao ZhongWild Tongmu Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is picked one bud at a time, entirely by hand, and entirely by native residents living within the reserve. The tea plants are wildly propagated by seed, and are left untended. This natural selection creates genetic variation and diversity between each standalone tea bush. Each bush grows between one and three meters high, and grows out of cracks in the volcanic rock of the Tongmu mountains. Tongmu is a tiny region that has been designated for special protection and recognition. Non-residents are not allowed into the preserve without special approval and sponsorship from a resident. The region of Tongmu is unique within the Wuyishan region for its volcanic rock formations, and extremely thick vegetation coverage and biodiversity. Nestled along either bank upstream of the Jiuqu (Nine Bends) Brook, the mountains create a unique microclimate, perfect for many species of birds and a healthy ecosystem. Mountain spring water springs out of the ground and runs down every slope, and the rocky land and cold weather make for slow-growing but singularly incredible tea.
- Wild Tongmu Jin Jun MeiWild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei is an experience unlike any other black tea. This is a very quiet and very contemplative tasting experience. Li Xiangxi and her family normally only pick this tea by commission because it is so difficult to produce. We were lucky enough to be in Tongmu just a few days before picking and were able to commission a half kilo of this tea. Li Xiangxi wanted to share this tea because it is the clearest, most perfect expression of the flavor of her family’s mountain plot in Tongmu. It is an unmatched textural experience that evokes the mountain spring water, dramatic rocks, and bamboo forest.
What makes Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin valuable?
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.
Tongmu is an incredibly special place - a region protected by the local government from development or even tourism not just for the old-growth wild tea trees, but for its stunning biodiversity and volcanic rock formations. Growing tea in Tongmu is a deep responsibility to the environment and to future generations.
The Li Family handles this responsibility with deep respect in every choice they make, from preserving forest cover to being one the first families to halt pine-smoking Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong within the reserve.
How is it different from Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei?
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 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.
So, what does it actually taste like?
Like the Wild Tongmu Jin Jun Mei, Tongmu Mei Zhan Jin is a unique among other black teas.
This tea is a very quiet
and very contemplative tasting experience.
This Mei Zhan Jin Jun Mei is a chance to taste the volcanic rock, the sweet spring water and the herbaceous forest complexity of the region through the lens of one of the Li Family’s favorite cultivars.
The aroma is packed with sweet dessert-like roasted pumpkin and dark maple syrup, with a touch of cooling juniper and spiced clove. Enveloping the dessert-like qualities is the aroma of fresh bamboo, the signature smell of Tongmu teas.
The texture is dense, fine and thick with an immediate tingling ringing sensation like juicy fresh ginger and a touch of jasmine. The tea bursts forth on the palate like pomegranate, packed with energy and intensity. Notes of cooling nutmeg and numbing star anise build up in the aftertaste.
This tea gets creamier and lighter as it goes, becoming cloud-like, a vaporous whipped mousse with a powerful minerality behind it. By the latest steepings, there is a cooling sensation in the chest - a contrast to the cozy warming pumpkin and maple syrup that linger on the palate.
Why is this tea sold by the single serving?
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.
This tea is packaged 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.
How should I brew this tea?
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.
If at all possible, please use a fine porcelain gaiwan.
Jingdezhen is highly vitrified and shows the truest aroma. Longchuan porcelain and Dehua porcelain also 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.
Source sweet, full bodied spring water for brewing.
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.
When you brew, do not use a strainer.
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.
Do not brew with near-boiling water.
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 leaes with the lid and try not to pour any into your pitcher.
Smell the wet leaves and present them to your guests.
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.