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2023 Golden Water Turtle Rock Oolong

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Experience a stony hearthfire minerality framed and just slightly squeezed in by the leaf’s astringency, one that quickly transforms to a lubricative warming sensation as the mouth’s tissues resalivate and the dignified light roast begins to linger on the breath.  Empty cup fragrance for days; an absolute treat.

Golden Water Turtle is a translation of 水金龟 Shuǐ Jīn Guī, and is one of the 四大名丛 Sì Dà Míng Cóng, the 4 great bushes of Wuyi.

Though the tea liquor pours slightly darker hued than this year's Big Red Robe Da Hong Pao, their 炭焙 tàn bèi charcoal roasting treatment is identical, just twice roasted for 10 hours each time.  The roasting level the same, this color difference can be attributed to the difference in the thickness of the leaves.  Whereas the Da Hong Pao is crafted from a smaller leaf orchid fragrance variety, Shui Jin Gui is a cultivar that features a more classic larger + robust leaf with more substance.  Their catechin profile is inherently different, affecting the way they oxidize.



There's a lot of creation mythology behind each of these famous teas that aren't really worth relaying, but I find the main tale told of Shui Jin Gui to be a fun one:

This particular story tells of ancient Daoists high in the cliffs of Wuyi at one time cultivating special tea plants.  One monsoon season the skies gave way to a deluge, soon flooding the land.  These unabating cataclysmic conditions loosened even the crags that these special plants were nestled into high up in the cliffs, sliding them down into the flooding rivers below, still attached to their clumps of loosened cliffrock.  Those who witnessed these plants bobbing up and down as they drifted with the flood's currents remarked that they appeared as golden turtles of the water.

By the time the flood subsided, these special tea plants had washed all the way down to the lower farmlands, to be discovered and claimed by excited peasants and farmers.  Appalled, the monks of the high cliffs demanded their tea plants back.  Disagreements between the two parties heightened, and eventually had to be settled in the land's courts.  After a fervent legal battle, the courts eventually sided with the peasants and farmers, stating that Shui Jin Gui tea was given to them and all commoners as an act of God.

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another story tells of the special venation of each leaf appearing as the design seen on a turtle's shell



The Yue family is our connection to well crafted and unpretentious 岩茶 yánchá or rock oolong.  These remarkable teas hail from the Wuyi Mountains, the site of a UNESCO world heritage site that features stunning (previously volcanic) mountain crags that stand as a kingdom above lush forests, valleys, rivers, and springs.  The mineral profile and acidity in these rocks and soil brings to life brilliant tea cultivars fostered for generations.  While the scenic park's teas demand the highest prices, the price of admission to this club has become more elitist over the years.  Incredible rock oolong in similar and proximal environs isn't impossible to be found upon careful searching.

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photo taken during our 2019 adventures to the area


During our latest trip to Wuyishan, we forged relations with the Yue family, an established greater Wuyi area tea family that tends to 8 acres of tea gardens just outside the Wuyishan Forest Park 森林公园 武夷山, another preserve located upstream just west of the more famous scenic area; north of Tongmu village. The Wuyishan Forest Park hosts a rich ecosystem of rare species of flora and fauna, old-growth forests, waterfalls, and shares the same volcanic mountain range as the scenic area, sitting at a similar elevation.

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When asked about the specifics of their location and its terroir, they respond:

We are located at an altitude of 457 meters in 山口自然村 Shānkǒu Natural Village, with 吴三地 Wu Sandi to the west, located on the windward slope of the Wuyi Mountains, with sufficient precipitation, coupled with dense vegetation, sufficient evaporation, and high humidity. Heavy, readily forming clouds with mist create a warm and humid semi-shady environment with more scattered light suitable for the growth of tea trees. In addition, the soil in the mountain pass is weathered gravel suitable for the growth of tea trees. The soil has good permeability and high mineral content, which makes the growth of tea trees reach an ideal level.

In an industry fraught with newcomers claiming mastery of marketable + popular styles after just a handful of years, the Yue family has been honing their yancha craft for 3 generations. Yue Jun’s grandmother was the first to begin growing and processing tea in the township of 洋庄 Yángzhuāng. It was her who planted their original 奇丹 Qídān Da Hong Pao bushes, their Old Bush Shui Xian, as well as others.

Also noteworty is that the Yue family's work in Tea has been matrilineal, a line of female "tea bosses" in an industry dominated by good ol boys.  Tea in Chinese society might be as old school as you can get, and deals can often be colored by a distinct machismo, a kind of patriarchal old guard influence that can seem inextricable from the eastern tea table, so much so that working with the Yue family can be refreshing.

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2 comments on “2023 Golden Water Turtle Rock Oolong”

  1. Thanks for the legendary story that tells so much about the ancient culture. The gorgeous leaf image makes an indelible visual impression to help remember the name of the tea. I’m having a better feeling about yancha with this year’s release than last year. I appreciate your careful descriptions of tea’s attributes that avoid comparisons to specific foods.

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