Early this fall, we had the great pleasure of spending several days with Li Xiangxi, our partner in Wuyishan.
Between filming lectures and classes at her new school for Wuyi tea ceremony and hiking Wuyishan’s beautiful parks to share tea outdoors and discuss the connection between Daoism and Cha Dao (the way of tea), Li Xiangxi also worked with us to plan the CSA-style Tea of the Month Club box for the month of September.
Every month, one of our partner tea farmers has the opportunity to fill a Tea of the Month Club box with any tea they choose. Sometimes, the boxes are filled with the freshest harvests, often picked and finished just a few days before the boxes are sent to club members. Other times, our friends will take the opportunity to challenge tea lovers and fill the box with some of their family’s most unusual and unique harvests – teas that our partners rarely have the opportunity to share outside of close friends and family.
For September, Li Xiangxi decided to fill the box with a selection of truly unusual black teas. Her family included their classic Jin Jun Mei and Wuyi Gongfu Black teas as a baseline – a place to start so that the tea lovers receiving their box would have a good point of comparison for the more unusual teas in the box.
The rest of the teas in September’s box were totally unusual, and unlike anything we would ever be able to request or commission! Two of the black teas were essentially club exclusives – a Purple Buds Wuyi Black tea and a Three Year Aged Old Tree Black (the latter given from Li Xiangxi’s personal store, and her very favorite tea to drink!). The other two teas were just as unusual and just as delicious, and after many, many requests from club members, we are super excited for the opportunity to add Jin Xiao Zhong and Feng Huang Wuyi Black tea to Li Xiangxi’s collection!
Jin Xiao Zhong is definitely an uncommon Wuyi black tea, made with hand picked leaves from Jin Guanyin bushes, and processed as an unsmoked wuyi black tea in the “xiao zhong” style.
Jin Guanyin itself is better known for being a juicy and floral oolong tea, created by grafting Huang Jin Gui varietal onto Tieguanyin varietal root stock. All of these teas – Huang Jin Gui, Tieguanyin, and Jin Guanyin – are probably most famous as Anxi varietals, but Jin Guanyin has also found fame and followers in Wuyishan, where it is also finished as a strip-style Wuyi oolong.
No matter how it’s processed, the combined Jin Guanyin cultivar planted in Wuyi takes on the rocky minerality of the region’s terroir. The florals are tempered by a savory finish from the Li Family’s expert Xiao Zhong processing techniques.
With bold and sweet floral notes of rose, saffron, and marigold, paired with cozy rosewood, savory cream, and that wuyi minerality, it’s no wonder the Jin Xiao Zhong has been so popular with our club members! The woody texture reminded us of sweet incense, and even long steepings produce sweet cups without astringency. The long and lingering aftertaste will be familiar to lovers of Jin Guanyin, and is definitely a big part of this tea’s broad appeal.
Feng Huang Wuyi Black tea is a beautiful example of the influence that a growing region has on a tea’s flavor.
This black tea is created from transplanted Fenghuang Dancong plants from Guangdong that have been established in the rocky slopes of Wuyi!
As in Guangdong, these plants are cultivated as single bush trees instead of hedges. The result is a beautifully elegant expression of the bright, fruity, complex and sweet flavor of Fenghuang Dancong with the deep mineral notes of Wuyi. Just as with the Jin Xiao Zhong, the black tea “Xiao Zhong” style of processing tempers the tropical fruit of Dancong and pushes it towards blackberry.
Whenever we brew up this tea, we feel as though we’re strolling through country gardens or picnicing in the sunshine. The beautiful fruity aromas take you away to tea rooms full of pastries and fine porcelain, with windows overlooking flowers and sunny days. With notes of rose candies, strawberry cakes, sweet bread and more, this elegant brew definitely feels like a luxurious dessert tea. The long finish lingers for minutes after every sip, with each brew and rebrew revealing more of this nuanced tea.
Because this tea is grown as single bushes and picked only once a year, the annual yield for the Li Family is very small. We are lucky to share this small batch from the Li Family’s tea gardens, and very excited for the opportunity to share with everyone in Li Xiangxi’s collection!