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Zhangping Shui Xian Oolong

$27.00$42.00

Zhangping Shui Xian, an exceptionally fragrant and smooth oolong variety from Southern Fujian even most tea nerds haven't heard of.

Thick, creamy, with hints of frankincense and orchid aromas well-structured in the broth, this tea typically surprises newcomers to the style with its lovable balance of familiarity in its character complemented with plenty of compelling novelty to be inspired by.  Due to advanced production methods emphasizing extensive leaf agitation in the withering phase, there will be next to no astringency when brewing the tea even when steeped long and hot with a full "biscuit" sized dose of leaves in a standard sized teapot.  An absolute must for Oolong lovers, especially those who enjoy the buttery thickness and brew-ability of Taiwanese styles.

Tumbling down Zhangping's rabbit hole, convoyed by local village heads that heartily shared our enthusiasm for spreading the unsung gospel of Zhangping Shui Xian to a more global arena, this spring we were treated to a decathlon of meeting the best tea producers of the area in the choicest pockets of the core production areas in the rural mountains north of Zhangping city.  Equipped with totally premier options to choose from — including an educational visit to Master Li Fa Jin, the 传承人 inheritor of Zhangping Shui Xian heritage (a prestigious government designated torchbearer position) — we're proud to be able to partner with Mr. Lin, a smaller tea producer with some of the cleanest facilities, as well as highest and most naturally tended to gardens in the area.  His traditional, unroasted variety is available as well as a charcoal roasted iteration.

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Lin's Shui Xian trees were planted in the 1960s and 70s, resting at an elevation of over 600 meters, the highest in the area (most of the core production region's gardens are between 300-400 meters).

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Lin maintains some of the cleanest facilities as well as ecologically managed gardens around, producing a clean tea that delivers itself to the palate and body without static

 

Geography and History

The two most influential domains in the ancestral birthplace of Oolong, Fujian province, undoubtedly are the Wuyi Mountains of Northern Fujian where yán chá Rock Oolong is produced, and Anxi County in Southern Fujian where Tiě Guān Yīn "Iron Goddess of Mercy" tea is produced.  The old name for Fujian province, 闽 Mǐn, is often invoked to separate these geographies when referring to their teas: 闽南乌龙 Mǐn nán wū lóng "Southern Fujian Oolong" and 闽北乌龙 Mǐn běi wū lóng "Northern Fujian Oolong".  Though they are in two different administrative districts, Zhangping county and Anxi county are contiguous neighbors to one another, and together are actually geographically closer to the Phoenix Mountains to the south — another important Oolong epicenter — across the provincial border in Guangdong than they are to the Wuyi Mountains in the northwest corner of Fujian.

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As China's response to the growing craze of lesser-oxidized Taiwanese oolong styles (and with the help of steep import tariffs on incoming Taiwanese teas), modern day Tie Guan Yin has become a behemoth in the tea world, becoming reportedly the most gifted tea on the mainland.  As a growing number of low and even lower grades of TGY iterations flood the market, in the recent years it has become nearly inarguable if the quality measures up to the fame; if prices of the fewer and fewer genuine articles are justified.  Though perpetually overshadowed by this neighboring racket, Zhangping's traditionally pressed Shui Xian Oolong — especially when presented with its highest quality versions — has become a compelling contrast to Tie Guan Yin as a representative of the 闽南 Mǐn nán Southern Fujian taste. 

 

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While classified as separate cultivars in 1985, Fujian Shui Xian cultivar (华茶9号) and the Phoenix Shui Xian cultivar (华茶17号) in Guangdong, this large-leafed mellow broth producing cultivar shares an inextricable history as a primary source material for Oolong innovations throughout southeast China's history. Considered genetically the same as its much more famous northern Minbei Wuyi Mountain counterpart (and possibly the Phoenix Mountains’ to the south), Zhangping’s Shui Xian is said by some to be derived from what could possibly be the oldest ancestor to the modern Shui Xian germplasm: a millennium-old specimen numbered 350881202004 found 200 years ago near Beiliao village in Zhangping county. While this claim doesn’t garner the respect of the mainstream (many repeat that the ancestral origins of Shui Xian cultivar are just outside of the Wuyi Mountains), claims that peer this far back into history beyond the haze of vested interests may admittedly be beyond verification.

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one of Inheritor Master Li's century old Shui Xian bushes

Wherever Shui Xian cultivar genetics ultimately call home, the Shui Xian bushes planted all over Zhangping are considered to have by and large come from Wuyi specimens brought down to Zhangping sometimes in the early 1900s by Liu Yongfa, the same tea farmer who eventually produced the first pressed square tea biscuits, inspired to work with the relatively large and precarious nature of Shui Xian’s loose tea leaves.

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Pressed by hand and the end of a wooden mallet press and wrapped in a cotton paper, Zhangping Shui Xian remains the only oolong that is pressed into a cake shape.  These miniscule biscuits — weighing between 8-10 grams — are then baked to dry the moisture out of them and lock in the flavor.

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advanced agitation and resting of over 40 cycles are applied during the withering phase of the production, intended for compounds in the oxidative process to transform differently, allowing for special flavor development and brew-ability.

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The brew action of these teas are eminently agreeable and unfussy — experiment with more liberal brew parameters of as hot and as long as you dare.  It's hard to find a reason to not love a good Zhangping Shui Xian!

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