Some of the best Yanchas I’ve had have been from Hou De and this Shui Xian is excellent. It is grown in an area of Wuyi where the soil composition consists solely of weathered rock, which I’m guessing is what gives it its characteristic strong, malty, minerally flavor. That and some heavy roasting.
I played with it a bit, searching for its tea soul.
My Yancha pot is biggish — 160 or 170 ml — and I filled it three quarters full of leaves. First infusion at 190-ish degrees, pour quickly after 15 seconds. First taste was leather and chocolate, almost dank but in a pleasant way; from the taste I would have guessed I was drinking an aged oolong. But the mouthfeel was a bit thin and the taste lacked complexity. I was slightly disappointed with the first cup.
Second infusion I decided to use almost boiling water. Wow. The heat brought the smokey charcoal taste right up front. Strong but pleasant. Lots of pepper and spice and a great roundness in the feel — a kind of mineral feel. Heavily oxidized as well as heavy roasted, I think, and I would bet this tea is from old bushes. Beautiful dark red color. Both color and taste were puerh like. I think it’s correct to call this tea as Yan Gu, “rock bones,” which describes such depth of flavor.
Third and fourth infusions, back to 190 degrees but I let it steep a bit longer — maybe a minute but not much more. Exquisite. Much more balance between the spice and charcoal. Cloves and nuts appear. Some fruit peeking through, dark berries; definitely charcoal and nuts and berries, maybe vanilla, too; more complexity. Very full feel, round and thick and a nice lingering dryness.
The soul doth rise.
I don’t know about you guys, but up until recently I’ve sought for the “correct” way of brewing yancha. Lately, however, I’ve gained the confidence to challenge convention. It’s kind of thrilling to taste what almost boiling water can do, for example. Or using more leaves than normal. Or shorter and longer steeps.
Also, I think staging teas is important. For example, I was drinking Taiwan dong ding the entire day before I tried this Wuyi Shui Xian tonight. The lighter tea with vegetal tastes set parameters which made the dark, spicy Shui Xian all the more vivid and challenging. In the morning maybe I’ll look for a more fruity tea.
I’m thinking that a tea’s soul is more differential than we’ve been told.