Friday, August 29, 2014

Aged Old Bush, Wu Yi "Shui Xian"老歲水仙茶

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After being amazed so far by every tea I've tasted from cliffs of Wuyi Mounatin, and Da Hong Pao being the very tea that first got me interested in Chinese tea, I decided to order a small amount of aged "Shui Xian", harvested from 100-year-old trees to further my figurative exploration of the mountain.

Before we get into the tea itself, I'd like to delve into its name a bit. Shui Xian is actually the name of the cultivar that all Wuyi "yan chan" (cliff teas) are produced from. There are several translations for its name, including Narcissus, Sacred Lily, Water Fairy, or the name of a Taoist Immortal. According to the Chinese character for Xian (仙, person + mountain/person on a mountain), it has the connotation of a mountain hermit which is what the Taoist Immortals essential were. It also fits with the tendency of famous teas to have some mystical legend attached to them. Another theory claims that the Shui Xian cultivar originated not too far north of Wuyi mountain, in a cave called Zhu Xian and the local dialect lead to the confusion of "Zhu" with "Shui" (水, water). There is also speculation that Zhu was the local word for pray, which could mean it was a cave where an Immortal prayed and perhaps he found a tea bush which he cultivated and passed on to the local farmers or the farmers may have named their local cultivar in honor of him.

Alas, a tea by another name would still taste as sweet (or bitter), so let's get brewing...

Looking at the leaves, the first thing that caught my cognition was how dark they are. Certainly putting the "oo" in oolong, except for slight reddish-brown highlights, they are the blackest oolong leaves I've encountered. It would make sense if these were, in fact, the leaves that gave oolong its name.

The scent was rich, the heat of the high-fire roast apparent, quite similar to the aroma of dark-roast coffee beans. The leaves were so dark that even an instant rinse is darker than many puer teas I've drank. The first full infusion was even darker, as black as black could be (The photos below start from the third steep. I was so consumed, that I forgot to take a photo, twice...), fading to brown around the walls of the cup. The aroma of the tea soup was consistent with that of the leaves. Though it definitely tasted like tea, with a slight woodiness, and a strong presence of charcoal, it was very reminiscent of a strong cafe mocha or a shot of espresso (is that a thing? maybe it should be! or maybe I should just stick to making tea...). I found the residual taste of the firing quite strong but enjoyable. After all, it's part of what interested me about this tea. With trends pushing tea farmers more and more towards lightly fermented, barely roasted teas, a good traditional oolong like this is becoming rare. I'm also thinking perhaps this tea was recently re-roasted and just needs a few more months to soothe and mellow.

The leaves proved to be durable and consistent. Personally, I felt they lacked the "pow" of Da Hong Pao or the intricacy of Ruo Gui but since the price was comparably to an average grade Da Hong Pao and a quarter the price of a medium grade Ruo Gui, it stood its ground. Since Da Hong Pao, Ruo Gui, Tie Lo Han, and all the other Wuyi varieties, are essentially Shui Xian, and the variations are a result of the different growing conditions. My reasoning may be off a bit on this, but as they all do share a unique characteristic that makes them Wuyi Yan Cha, I consider this a good standard yan cha for comparison.

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