Nutty, charcoal, and orchid aromatics transform into a cooling minty enlivening palate experience with a slight astringency that is replaced by sensations that pique the imagination. This 水仙 Shuǐ Xiān has a medium roast, having experienced a 炭焙 tàn bèi charcoal roast of 3 separate times for 10 hours each time. Given the mineral content, the nature of the cultivar, and the roast level, expect a smooth 嚴韵 yán yùn, pleasant, agreeable soup, and a kind of lively dance quality 活 huó, that unfolds as the layers wash over the palate.
An incredibly large leaf cultivar and one of the most propagated in the Wuyi area, Shui Xian’s charm is in its thick broth, fragrance, and classic flavor delivered in a gentle, yin way.
While there are more than a few phrases that reference the influence Shui Xian has, here may be the most commonly spoken:
“As aromatic as rougui, as mellow/simple a soup as shui xian”
(Sometimes this phrase includes the addition of “霸道不过铁罗汉 ‘as strong as tie luo han’” towards the end)
醇厚 chún hòu, when describing Shui Xian in this context, has the connotation of not just the qualities of mellow and rich, yet also of simple, kind, as well as thick.
Many Shui Xian bushes were propagated in the Wuyishan area in the mid 20th century, and the continued craft from the remaining bushes have given rise to a specialty genre of older growth Shui Xian class, commonly marketed as 老丛 Lǎo cóng or old bush Shui Xian. Bushes not as old as the disputed benchmark of 80 years old or more, are often called 高丛 Gāo cóng Shui Xian, or high bush Shui Xian.
Yue Jun’s grandmother was the first one to grow and process tea in her village outside of Wuyishan, and planted these shui xian bushes in the early 1970s. As they are now over 50 years old, they can be considered mature gao cong Shui Xian bushes, they have the characteristic moss on their branches, and their root systems have become established to enough to yield a deep, mineral-rich, slippery texture in the throat when drinking an infusion of their leaves.
Another Wuyi phrase that (should) apply to a good Shui Xian:
"The 7th and 8th brews retain a lingering fragrance, while the 9th and 10th retain an aftertaste."
Indeed this tea can yield many a 泡 pào, or infusion. Extra credit goes to those that boil their Shui Xian leaves after their gong fu session to unlock more of its mineral rich, gentle nature, exactly like how some boil their aged white teas for their medicinal benefits.
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 responded:
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 High 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.