NaNoTeaMo, Day 23: “My Love/Hate Relationship with Wuyi Oolongs”
I remember the first time I heard the word “yancha”. In an unlikely move, I was attending a local gathering of fellow tea folks. I was nowhere near as knowledgeable as I am now (which – admittedly – still isn’t much). In order to be social, I approached one random guy who was standing by himself, surveying the crowd, teacup hand.
“So,” I started. “What do you usually drink?” Typical tea-ish ice-breaker.
“Mostly yancha,” he said curtly.
My mind instantly went, Isn’t that a Dragon Ball Z character?
Nah . . .
“What’s that?” I asked, trying hard not to sound ig’nant.
He rolled his eyes, and let out a sigh. “It’s Wuyi. Rock. Oolong.”
“Ah,” I simply said. Why didn’t you just say THAT?!
Since then, I’ve disavowed that term, and some of the teas. It sounded stupid, and a few of the oolongs I had in that sub-category tasted like rocks. Oddly enough, that was what they were supposed to taste like. I have often mentioned that a fellow tea blogger – Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin – refers to it as a “cliffy” taste. And she meant that in a positive way.
Wuyi Shan (Mountain), Fujian province, China is known for its very rich mineral content.
Some of that terroir shows up in the teas from that region, as one would expect. Teas like Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) are a part of this sub-category. And I don’t like them.
That isn’t to say I haven’t had ones I’ve liked. Heck, I sipped one a week or so ago that was quite pleasant, and it kept me calm amidst issues with a flying couch. Rou Gui, while hit-‘n- miss, also managed to be an occasional gem.
Which brings me to today’s tea – OBSX.
White2Tea sent me this several months ago, but I kept putting it off. I had no idea what the OBSX stood for. It wasn’t until I looked it up on the site that I knew. And it was quite the coincidence. Even amidst my yancha-hating rage, I was called upon recently to write about this very type of tea.
OBSX stood for “Old Bush Shui Xian”. The full-on Chinese name was “Lao Cong Shui Xian, and I just did a whole lot of research on it. For something completely unrelated. Shui Xian translated to “water sprite”.
No, no, NO!
Never do that again, or you’ll be cut off from picture duty. Oh wait, I do the picture duty. Well, that’ll be an awkward pink slip conversation.
Old Bush Shui Xians was known for having a deeper, earthier taste than regular Shui Xian – mainly due to the leaves coming from old-growth tea trees. Some getting upwards to 200 years old. Having had neither – from what I could remember – I had no basis for comparison. So, it was time to give this old tree hugger a test drive.
The leaves were unexpectedly huge. I was prepared for something long, thin and wiry (giggity), but these were particularly so. Especially for Wuyi oolongs. Or maybe I just haven’t met a lot of cliffy cuppas, yet. The aroma they gave off was pure burnt peanut butter-lathered rocks. As you can tell by the colorful descriptor, I’m not much of a fan of that smell. It’s one of the main reasons I stayed away from Da Hong Pao.
But there was something still quite tantalizing on the back-end. No other way to describe it other than . . . essence of “old”. It’s the kind of weird aroma that aged oolongs give off; an alternating musk and must thing. Maybe it was the old tea leaves, or just my imagination, but there was an ancient something going on with that smell. Like a dragon’s flamed armpit.
For brewing, I did the usual oolong prep. I started with a tablespoon of the large leaves and plopped ‘em in a 6oz. gaiwan. Then I brought water to a boil and prepped three infusions.
After brewing, my room started to smell like burnt kindling.
Okay, I’ll admit, my inner Cub Scout was really drawn to that smell. Makes me almost wish there was a tea merit badge. Each infusion brewed up bold amber to faded amber. The funny thing, the infusions actually got lighter with each successive steep, as if it was losing vitality with every go. It was a peculiarity, considering how known for their resiliency medium-roast oolongs are; especially old tree ones.
With the first infusion, I tasted toasted raisins. I don’t bear raisins any ill will, but I don’ t usually go for them. However, a toasty note added with the raisin lean? I was hooked. The second steep was more buttered pecans than raisins, but the slightly fermented feeling was still there. The third one was all roasted marshmallows . . . after they’d fallen from the stick and onto the campfire floor.
Okay, I can see why everyone makes a big deal about these damn Wuyi rock oolongs
But I’m still not calling them “yancha”.
P.S. Yes, I’m fully aware the character’s name is Yamcha, not Yancha.