Hua Xiang Lao Cong Xiao Zhong (花香老枞小種) ‘Flower Fragrance Old Tree Small Leaf’ is an intriguing and unusual black tea from the mountainous terrain of Wuyi Shan (武夷山). Grown around Tongmu Village, famous for producing the best Jin Jun Mei and Lapsang Souchong, it is picked from semi-wild 30+ year old trees that grow on rocky mountain slopes. This tea produces a complex liquor with flavours that are savoury, spicy and mineral, yet showing a lasting sweet aftertaste. 15 April 2023 harvest.
While Lapsang Souchong is the famous smoked tea hailing from Tongmu Village, the area also produces some fantastic unsmoked black teas. Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is a prime example of this local speciality, however we would class that as an entry level tea. By comparison, this Hua Xiang Lao Cong Xiao Zhong stands out on two counts. First, it is known as Huaxiang (花香), meaning flower aroma in Chinese. This is attributed to a particularly flowery edge. It is quite different to bright floral highlights you might find in lightly oxidised oolong teas, displaying a more complex, deeper and subtle flower aroma. And second, it is also classed as a Laocong (老枞) tea as it comes from old bushes that are at least 30 years old. While it cannot compete with 100+ year old bushes found in other areas, the old tree nature certainly leads to a distinctive mouthfeel and aftertaste.
The Xiaozhong (小種) part of the name literally means ‘Small Leaf’, referring to the small leaf tea plant that is used to produce this tea. This type of plant is found around Wuyi Shan and is used to make various black teas from this area. The Xiaozhong tea plant is also known as Caicha (菜茶), a generic term that is used to describe tea plants that are native or indigenous to certain parts of China. While these types of plants have differentiating features in different regions, they are still not uniform due to normal natural variation in the plants. So Caicha or Xiaozhong is not a specific cultivar but rather a type of a tea plant that can be found around Wuyi Shan that has small leaves and appeared naturally and over long time as a result of natural hybridisation. In this way, it is similar to zairai plants in Japan or tea plants found in most of South Korea.
This Hua Xiang Lao Cong Xiao Zhong has dark, twisted, aromatic dry leaves. The dark amber liquor has good clarity and a savoury, spicy aroma. The savouriness comes through on the taste profile, with more notes of spices, roasted red peppers, tomato soup. There is a pleasant mineral aspect running through the taste reminiscent of the rock taste found in the best Wuyi Shan oolong teas. The aftertaste is sweet, smooth and lasting. Overall this tea leaves a very smooth impression of complex savoury flavours that can attributed the leaves originating from semi-wild old trees.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes, with multiple infusions. For best results, brew gong fu style.