I told you I’d get around to reviewing something that wasn’t a raw puer some day! Today we have Scott’s old bush Shui Xian, “Ceng Gao Cong.” For the uninitiated, this is a Yan Cha, literally “rock tea,” a kind of oolong that grows in or around the Wuyi mountains in Fujian province. These teas tend to be heavily roasted, and are known for the mineral-rich soil in which they grow. Together, the roasting process with the unique terroir, these teas tend towards dark, savory flavors with textured mouth feelings. Without further adieu, here are this morning’s notes:
When warmed up, the dry leaves have a heavy roasted fragrance like sweet coffee grounds. The rinsed leaves give off more vegetable tones, but still amid the backdrop of charcoal and coffee. In fact, the rinsed tea soup is so densely red-brown I decide to go ahead and drink it. It opens into a textured and mouth coating floral bouquet with strong notes of roses, creek silt, charcoal and caramel. The first proper infusion is all about texture; silty and spicy, there are pleasingly sweet qualities floating amidst the more nature-y flavors which ground this tea.
The viscosity that I associate with the Shui Xian varietal breaks through in the second infusion. This cup is notably smoother than the previous ones, and there is a soft, welcoming bitterness to accompany the toffee and caramel flavors clamoring to the front. The third infusion returns again to charcoal and roses, though I likely need to reheat my water at this time. There is still a balancing act going on here between bitterness and sweetness, between domestic and natural flavors, and I love it.
In the context of Yan Chas, rock oolongs, I still can scarcely believe how dense this tea is. Visually, the tea soup resembles an aged puer, such is its dark color. The fourth infusion then (I need to review my notes to determine where we are, in my tea drunken state)? More of the same, which is very very far from being a complaint. As seems to be the case with oolongs (which generally can’t be pushed as far as puers when brewing gong-fu style), this later steep is more delicate than the previous ones, and this allows its spicy and mineral-y nuances to really shine. I may even detect notes of red wine and wild honey; this tea really has some tremendous depth to it.
In my experience four steeps is usually where rock oolongs peak, so I let the fifth steeping ride for a little longer than I otherwise might. This yields a gorgeous rust colored tea soup, with mossy smooth notes and hints of Asian spice. I go ahead and begin the sixth, and probably last, infusion while I enjoy this cup. I’m quite sloshed now from this tea already, and there’s not a lot of point in pushing to eight cups like I do with puer tea anyhow. I also take a moment to enjoy the sweet and musky smell of the empty cup, which is important to do when brewing tea of all types. As expected the final infusion, is all about texture, it’s more forward qualities having died down. I’m still struck by how thick and viscous the soup is though; this is still probably the densest yan cha in my own recollection.
I don’t always drink rock oolongs, but when I do, i look for an experience like the one above; sweet, textured, complex, and with gentle, unyielding cha qi (tea energy).
Thus the cuckoo has sung its song, drunk on the nectar of awesome tea. May all who drink from this source remain for a long while in the state of tea-bliss.