$12.00 – $46.00
A fruity savory mouthfeel with a rounding umami sensation refreshes the mouth, throat, and sinus networks leaving a raspberry, sweetgrass and cornsilky afterbreath + fragrance on the empty cup and gaiwan lid.
White Rooster Crest, the translation of 白鸡冠 Bái Jī Guān, is one of the 四大名丛 Sì Dà Míng Cóng, the 4 great bushes of Wuyi, and is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing teas in the world of oolong. An albino cultivar like the famous green tea Anji Bai Cha, the young spring growth flushes a white-ish yellow color (though eventually turning green like the rest of the bush later in the season) lacking typical chlorophyll.
Vernally emerging as white and pigment-less, turning a yellow gold after a few days, and eventually to the standard darker-hued evergreen associated with the tea plant, Bai Ji Guan is harvested during this brief 金 golden phase, also correlating to the time most favorable to harvest the standard one bud, three leaves 一芽三叶 / one bud, four leaves 一芽四叶 plucking grade found in rock oolong.
Due to its irregular phytoconstituency, a special hand is required to implement an effective level of oxidation during the 浪菜 làng cài agitation/bruising phase. The Yue family has chosen to expose the leaves of their Bai Ji Guan to just four hours of charcoal roasting 炭焙 tàn bèi, leaving it nearly unroasted, the most naked and exposed varietal in a genre of teas defined by their roast.
The stewarding of what begins as a natural mutation and eventually becomes reliable cultivation, albinism in Tea displays as a lack of pigment in the tender young growth, and are unusually high in amino acids like L-Theanine, lower in polyphenols like EGCG, in addition to having slightly lower caffeine levels.
L-Theanine, the famous relaxation and focus promoting compound found only in the Tea plant, is typically converted to catechin as the tea plant photosynthesizes in direct sunlight. This is why Japanese teas like Gyokuro and Kabusecha that are crafted to retain L-Theanine and the rich brothy flavor quality of umami must be at least partially shade grown, out of the sun’s reach.
Given the absence of photosynthesizing pigments like chlorophyll and carotenoids, much like famous shade grown teas, amino acids such as L-Theanine in albino cultivars like Bai Ji Guan don’t have the chance to readily convert to catechin.
Without the ability to absorb light energy via photosynthesizing pigments, albino teas like Bai Ji Guan not only have a similarly irregular amino acid and polyphenol profile like shade grown teas, but some of the associated taste differences as well. Humans are known to experience amino acids like L-Theanine as umami and sometimes sweet, catechins and other polyphenols as often bitter. With a potentially more umami, sweet, and less bitter profile due its albinism, this makes Bai Ji Guan a unique varietal just in this fact alone.
Traditional, origin-culture brewing parameters see this tea getting hit with oolong standard 95°+ Celcius temperatures, yet note that L-Theanine and its correlating taste of umami is said to degrade with higher brewing temperatures. If one strives to preserve these qualities in their brewing session, try brewing this tea below boiling with water at an unconventional 70-85° Celcius.
It is perhaps the versatility to display a number of unique qualities depending on the user's brewing parameters that is one of this tea's hidden virtues:
Bai Ji Guan is a rock oolong that can tread where no other yancha can due to its phytocomposition, yet it can also be seen as an L-Theanine rich tea that can tread where no other albino or shade grown tea can due to its processing as an oolong. Choose your own adventure.
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.
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.
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 is always refreshing.