Welcome to June 2018 edition of Curious Tea’s subscriptions! Let’s look at the four exciting new teas we’re sharing with our subscribers this month.
This month we have a focus on Fujian in China, as well as continuing the exploration of some of the more unusual Japanese teas that we have been doing over the past few months. The first light tea this month is Ben Shan Source Mountain oolong from the famous Anxi Country of Fujian Province, a very light oolong that features a lovely floral fragrance and flavour. The second light tea is a green tea from Japan, Tsukigase Zairai Sencha, a refreshing and unusually non-grassy sencha mastered using leaves of a native cultivar. For the dark side of the selection we have a balanced and flavoursome Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, sometimes called an unsmoked Lapsang Souchong. And we are also featuring a Lapsang Souchong, or Li Shan Xiao Zhong, a classic black tea that has been smoked over pine, resulting in a flavour that is reminiscent of a bonfire.
- Light: Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong and Tsukigase Zairai Sencha;
- Dark: Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong and Lapsang Souchong;
- Mixed: Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong and Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.
Let’s get into further detail on the products featured in our June tea subscription boxes.
Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong
Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong (本山烏龍茶) is one of the 4 famous lightly oxidised oolongs from Anxi County of Fujian Province in China. It is one of the more floral oolongs from Anxi County, having a buttery and floral character. This particular batch is from the autumn 2017 harvest.
Ben Shan (本山), which translates as “source mountain”, is a classic floral oolong that is light but satisfying. It is one of the more aromatic of the Anxi style oolongs. We have previously featured 2 other Anxi oolongs in our boxes, the classic Tie Guan Yin Iron Goddess of Mercy and Mao Xie Hairy Crab oolongs. Next month will be focusing on the fourth and final: Huang Jin Gui Golden Osmanthus.
Anxi style oolongs are generally lightly oxidised, retaining many of the delicate floral aspects that are closer to a light green tea without the grassiness or astringency. This type of oolong has become known as a ‘jade’ or ‘green’ oolong due to the light appearance and colour that is reflected in both the leaves of the tea as well as the light coloured liquor.
Traditionally, many Anxi oolongs, while being lightly oxidised, would undergo heavy roasting to produce a much stronger roasted profile. These traditional roasted oolongs have fallen out of favour as there has been a rise in popularity of the unroasted light green oolongs both in China and in the West. In large part this is driven by trends among the younger generations in China. Also these lighter oolongs tend to be much easier to brew while having a much more easily approachable and appreciable taste. They are comparable to the lightly oxidised oolongs of Taiwan, such as Jade and Four Seasons, which are also gaining in popularity.
Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong is made from the leaves of the Ben Shan cultivar. It has a low degree of oxidation of only about 20-30% and is unroasted. It has medium, variably coloured yellow, green and blue rolled leaves. The liquor produced is gold-green in colour with a lively fresh floral aroma. It has a light and crisp quality with no astringency or dryness. The flavours are buttery and floral with an orange zest tang to the finish. There is also the presence of an osmanthus flower scent that runs through the aroma and flavour. It is a great tea for relaxing and contemplating.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for around 3 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed around 3+ times depending on your taste preferences.
You can also buy Ben Shan Source Mountain Oolong tea in our online shop.
Tsukigase Zairai Sencha
Tsukigase Zairai Sencha (月ヶ瀬村在来煎茶) is an organic sencha from a native Japanese cultivar grown in Tsukigase Village in Nara Prefecture. It is characterised by a gentle and refreshing flavour that is surprisingly low in the grassy and umami flavours that are often associated with Japanese green teas. This particular crop was picked in early spring 2017.
This sencha tea is grown at a fully organic farm without any artificial pesticides or fertilisers so it has full organic JAS certification. The lack of artificial fertilisers results in a slower growing rate for these plants. Combined with the unique mineral rich soil of this terroir, the resulting teas from this farm have a unique aspect to them.
Furthermore this Tsukigase Zairai Sencha green tea is crafted from a zairai (在来), or ‘native’ cultivar. In Japan ‘zairai’ refers to any collection of ‘native’ tea plants – as opposed to plants of a specific cultivar. Generally these are old tea gardens with plants that pre-exist modern cultivars and have therefore evolved on their own. Most times these plants would also be grown from seeds rather than cuttings, thus increasing the diversity of the plants in the garden. Generally zairai gardens produce lower yields and are less uniform in output. This is a negative aspect for the farmers as it makes harvesting and processing more costly and complicated while yielding lower returns. However, zairai gardens are very much part of the Japanese tea heritage and give a fascinating insight into what tea used to be like before modern selection processes and cultivars were introduced.
The zairai plants at this tea garden were planted over 50 years ago using seeds from other ‘native’ tea plants. Using such a traditional tea type, combined with a fully organic production as well as utilising traditional methods of tea production, the tea master achieves a tea that is much more traditional than modern Japanese tea varieties. In fact, this tea is somewhat like a time machine into the past, an opportunity to try out something that has been drunk in Japan for centuries and well before the arrival of modern farming and modern tastes in tea.
Tsukigase Zairai Sencha has long large dark green leaves with a fresh grassy aroma. The liquor itself is a typical bright yellow green that you would expect from a sencha. However, unlike most senchas there is a distinct lack of grassy flavour, with no real bitterness or astringency. There is also none of the typical umami or seaweed layer to the taste. Instead we have a more herbaceous, almost scenty taste, reminiscent of mint and herby, leafy greens. It is generally verdant, clean with a mineral and mildly chalky finish, that leaves a slightly sweet and savoury aftertaste. A notable and unusual sencha.
We suggest brewing at 80°C for 1-2 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed around 3+ times depending on your taste preferences. This tea will perform at its best if brewed using a good traditional side-handled kyūsu (急須) tea pot specifically designed for brewing sencha tea. In such case, adjust the amount of leaves to 2.5g per 100ml of 80°C water, brewing 40-60 seconds per infusion, repeatedly increasing brewing time until there is no flavour left.
You can buy Tsukigase Zairai Sencha green tea in our online shop.
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong (正山小種), also sometimes referred to as unsmoked Lapsang Souchong, is an outstanding black tea from Wu Yi Mountains in Fujian Province. Compared to its classic smoky counterpart, this version has a malty and fruity profile with complex dark cocoa notes. This particular batch is from the spring 2017 harvest.
This tea is often sold as an unsmoked version of Lapsang Souchong (LS). We prefer to name this tea as Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong rather than ‘unsmoked’ LS to avoid any confusion. Many people refer to Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong as a type of LS, something that is especially common in China. In fact, there are clear cases where a lot of Wu Yi black teas of this style are referred to as LS, whether they are smoked or not, this being a kind of umbrella term in China for these teas. The specific teas in questions are: Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, Li Shan Xiao Zhong and Jin Jun Mei. This of course causes a large amount of confusion for customers as to what tea they are actually buying. Therefore we are using Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong to refer to this specific unsmoked tea and to differentiate it from the Jin Jun Mei that we offer. Consequently, we use both the well known ‘Lapsang Souchong’ as well as the proper Chinese ‘Li Shan Xiao Zhong’ names to refer only to the classic smoked tea.
The name Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong literally means ‘Original Mountain Small Leaf’, referring the the ‘original’ Wu Yi Mountains and the small leaf cultivar that is used to produce this tea. Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is made from the same leaves that are used to make LS, only in this case the leaves are left unsmoked. This showcases the complexity that these teas can have before they are smoked. While the classic smoked LS that we offer has a smoky and spicy profile, this tea displays a more delicate and balanced malty and chocolaty character.
The leaves of this Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong have a neat wiry appearance with some golden tips present. It produces a dark amber liquor with a light malty and somewhat floral aroma. It reminds us of a very good Keemun style of tea, while featuring a more mineral character that is so typical of Wu Yi Shan teas. The liquor produced has no astringency or bitterness and is superbly smooth, mouth-watering with a juicy and clean taste. The character is very well balanced, having tangy and sweet characterful notes of fruits, cocoa and malt. There are complex notes of sweet longan, dark tart chocolate and caramelised sugar. A greatly satisfying cup!
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes, with multiple infusions.
You can also buy Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong black tea in our online shop.
Finally, Lapsang Souchong, or Li Shan Xiao Zhong (立山小種) is a classic tea that many would be familiar with. Being perhaps the most distinctive tasting black tea, it undergoes smoking over pine wood to produce a complex flavour with a smoky pine resin aroma. This is an organic production from spring 2017.
The name of this tea that is most commonly known in the West is Lapsang Souchong and is a classic smoked tea that has gained huge popularity. The Mandarin name ‘Li Shan Xiao Zhong’ is pronounced as laap6 saan1 siu2 zung2 in Cantonese, which is the most probable origin of the now widely accepted Lapsang Souchong name in the West. The Chinese name for the tea literally means ‘Li Mountain Small Leaf’ and refers to the origin of the tea as well as the tea plant used in production. Here the overlap with the unsmoked version of this tea occurs, the type of plant that is used to produce both Lapsang Souchong (Li Shan Xiao Zhong) and Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. While the latter unsmoked version is quite a recent development, the classic smoked Lapsang Souchong has been in existence for a much longer period of time.
Most sources consider that Lapsang Souchong was the first original black tea, superseding Keemun black tea. According to one of the legends, during the Qing Dynasty in the late 16th century, a small group of soldiers was passing through Wu Yi Shan. They were housed by a tea producer in a barn where he stored freshly picked leaves destined for his green tea. The soldiers decided to use the fresh tea leaves to make their beds with. In the morning all the leaves were crushed and started to oxidise, which meant that the farmer was no longer able to use the leaves for green tea and the harvest was completely ruined. In order to try to rescue the harvest, he decided to smoke the leaves to dry them out, producing a completely different tea during the process. While locally it was not accepted, the farmer was able to sell this new unusual tea at another tea market with great success. It seems that the success was largely due to the fact that they were able to sell it to Westerners, who to the great surprise of the Chinese farmers, greatly enjoyed the ‘ruined’ tea… As with many famous Chinese teas, it is hard to know where history ends and legends begin!
Our Lapsang Souchong, or Li Shan Xiao Zhong, comes from a fully organic production in the famous Tong Mu Village of the Wu Yi Mountain tea growing region. This tea has a characteristic smoky profile that Lapsang Souchong teas are famous for. It is achieved by smoking the tea leaves over pine wood fires. The dry leaves are medium sized and have a dominating smoky pine resin aroma. When brewed, the liquor has a dark amber colour and a pronounced smoky aroma that can be slightly overbearing on the first sip. However the smoky scent does not translate into an overwhelming smoky taste. Instead the taste has a degree of smokiness, however it does not completely overpower the taste of the tea as it happens in many lower grade smoked teas. The smoky aromas are very well offset by complex flavours that are sweet and clean with a mouth watering finish. The profile of this tea is peppery, spicy and mineral without any bitterness or astringency. The aftertaste is long lasting, smoky, tangy and spicy. This tea is very much like a walk on a crisp winter morning through a pine forest, catching the smell of a log fire in the distance.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste, reinfusing the leaves multiple times.
You can also buy Lapsang Souchong black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy the tea selection for June and are looking forward to the next instalment in July!
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Happy tea discoveries!