July 07, 2020
by Marco Namowicz
Shaped with intention and beautifully crafted into its iconic cube-shaped bouquet, this Chinese Oolong boasts an array of fresh colors and complex florals. Not to be mistaken by the Wuyi rock oolong, Shui Xian
, this particular tea finds its home in Zhangping, Longyan, Fujian, China. I dove into this tea from Masters Teas by Adagio to learn more about just what makes it special.
The recognizable packing of this tea began nearly 100 years ago, according to contacts from Adagio Teas. in Anxi, it was common practice to wrap teas using square-shaped paper, and eventually, the idea was formed to pack the tea in a similar shape. In order to make this tea distinguishable from Wuyi Shui Xian, the Anxi people opted for a light roast. This allows the tea to hold its freshness and unique body sensation, yielding aspects of both Northern and Southern Fujian. It has also been locally known as the Tri-colored tea in an attempt to showcase the display of greens, yellow, and burnt orange variations that are revealed. Like all Oolongs, time, and dedication in the leaf's transformation is key to producing such a beautiful tea. I'd like to briefly outline the steps used in the creation of Zhang Ping Shui Xian.
STEPS IN CRAFTSMANSHIP
1. Plucking: Expertly plucked with the bud and 3-4 leaves in mind
2. Withering: Solar withering begins softening the leaves while indoor withering cools and revitalizes the nature of the leaf; loosening bitterness and astringency. It's during this step in crafting that moisture is greatly reduced and chemical changes inside the leaf really take shape
3. Tumbling: A gentle way to provoke oxidation in the leaf, tea material is placed in large rotating drums that toss and tumble the leaves to promote the continued cellular breakdown
4. Shaqing: Establishing the nature of the leaf, shaqing or "kill-green", preserves the leaf and the internal chemistry by slowing or preventing further effects of oxidation
5. Rolling: Completed in rotating machines, moisture is further expelled as the leaves become more pliable and are coated with compounds, furthering aromatics.
6. Firing: A 15-minute low firing enhances the aromatic properties and flavors the tea will present upon steeping. The tea is now ready to be pressed
7. Pressing: Using a hollowed block and shaping tool similar to a stamp, tea is formed into the brick-like shape, compact and ready to be wrapped.
8. Wrapping: The brick is wrapped using square-shaped paper
9. Drying: The end result is left to dry on bamboo racks before final packaging is applied and the tea is shipped.
As one can see, it is an arduous process to produce a cake of this caliber! I had the opportunity to ask Cynthia Fazekas from Adagio Teas what it was she found so special when choosing this particular tea.
Q. Thank you for taking the time to discuss what I've experienced as a wonderfully aromatic and delicious oolong! What do you find this lightly roasted take on this cultivar provides that doesn't make its way into longer roasted versions and a typical Wuyi Shui xian?
A. From my perspective, formed and shaped teas don’t impress me, but a good liquor in the cup does. So when I saw this tea, I loved the freshness of the leaf but assumed it was a white tea version of the Shui Xian plant or something and didn’t have high expectations. Usually, the formed teas don’t deliver in the cup. But my gosh, it sang like a lovely, elegant, light oolong. I loved the complexity and the nuance, delicate nature. What a pleasant surprise! Then when you add in the very cute shape, which makes it very portable and a fun conversation starter, what a nice addition. It is one of those teas that a tea enthusiast can use to entice non-tea people to try a cup. “Look at this awesome thing!” Haha. And then chat about what makes it special.
TASTING ZHANG PING SHUI XIAN
Season: May 2020
Cultivar: Shui Xian
Origin: Zhangping, Longyan, Fujian, China
Picking/Processing: Bud +3-4 leaves, 15 min low firing + 4-hour roast before shaping into cakes
My Brewing Parameters
Leaf to Water Ratio - 11 g for 150 mL Starting Temp - 100°C
Infusion time(s) - 20 sec. +3-5
Eyes Dry: Pillowed compression of moss greens, espresso brown, rust orange, and aged stone texture. Full leaf material folded into a moderately compact cube
Nose Dry: Lagoon and pond grasses, flower arrangements boast lilies and baby's breath flowers
Nose Wet: Floral sweet and salted butter creaminess, cucumber Eyes Liquor: Warm pear-white growing in shade. Slight rose hue
Mouth Texture: Medium-bodied, washes over the tongue and coats the throat in Hui Gan
Mouth Taste: Birch water, warm peaches, and candied pear. Sweet cream thickness takes hold
Nose Cup: Rose petals, amaretto liqueur, hydrangeas
Mouth Finish: Clean finish on the inhalation that returns in subtle waves of meadow fragrances and clean air
Eyes Wet: Large leaf with plum, mustard green, and mahogany tones Body Sensation: Comfortable, warm and open in the chest
RECOMMENDATIONS / CONCLUSION
While I tossed the entire cake into my gaiwan and have been drinking it over the course of two days, breaking the leaves up carefully will give room to continue the experience whenever the feeling calls. Each cake is about 11 grams and lasted me at least 15 solid infusions. At $0.65 per gram for 15 infusions, I experienced at least 76 oz of tea! This is a tea to enjoy blissfully alone for literally hours as well as take out and impress guests the next time there's a gathering. Furthermore, with the hot weather upon us, this Zhang Ping Shui Xian makes a refreshing cold brew! 1 cake (~11g) for 40 oz. of water set for 6 hours and you'll have a smooth and refreshing tea that provides sweet florals and melon juiciness to sip on!
With numerous ways to enjoy this delicious brick and the knowledge to share just how unique it is through its processing and history, I hope you can enjoy this rare oolong as much as I have! You'll find more information regarding purchasing options and insight into the farmer that cultivates this tea, Yuan Xiao Zhen, here on the site.