In the grasp of your nose: The wulong teas of Liu Dexi

Newsletter Archive Mar. 4 2022

Two men seated next to a tea table in a large tent, one holding open a gaiwan of wet wulong tea leaves for them to examine.
Expert wulong makers Liu Dexi (left) and his teacher Liu Guoying (right) judging teas at the Zhuxi Cup wulong competition in 2018.

You might already know Liu Dexi. If you’ve tasted our Shuixian (Narcissus), Ba Xian (Eight Immortals), or the new 2021 Tie Luo Han (Iron Monk), you at least know Mr. Liu’s work. The man invests so much of himself into his tea making, the art and artist are hard to separate.

This weekend we’re featuring all three of Mr. Liu’s rock wulong teas. During this time, those of you placing orders over $100 will also receive a free 25 gram bag of Mr. Liu’s Beidou rock wulong, a special off-menu selection.

A painted porcelain gaiwan and a blue ceramic cup filled with dark tea, on gravel outdoors surrounded by leafy green branches.
Brewing Mr. Liu’s Bei Dou rock wulong in a gaiwan.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes Liu Dexi’s teas, it’s his willingness to go for old-school heavy roasts. Teas with this level of high-temperature roasting are downright pyroclastic when they are fresh, but they go on to reveal surprising floral dimensions when they age. Right now, a few months out from roast, is a great time to try them as they open up.

This traditional approach owes to Mr. Liu’s long tea-making career. He was born into a tea farming family and entered tea processing in his early 20s. He first studied roasting for four years before becoming one of the first students of the far-famed Liu Guoying in 1997. Under Liu Guoying’s instruction, Dexi studied all aspects of rock wulong production, learning both traditional and modern techniques. The two men are frequent collaborators today, but Dexi still humbly calls Guoying “my teacher.”

A man bending over a large bamboo basket to turn over and mix the mass of dark tea leaves inside it by hand.
Liu Dexi getting hands-on mixing the slow-roasting wulong leaves.

Liu Dexi is now a teacher himself, the boss of his own factory, and frequently works as an expert evaluator in Wuyishan’s tea competitions. That doesn’t mean he’s any less hands-on when it comes to making tea. Every spring he’s in his factory with his team, their attention fully on the leaves. “When you’re making tea, you’ve got to grasp it with your hands, your eyes, and your nose,” he says.

That relentless hands-on approach earned him a distinguished recognition from the Wuyishan city government as an Representative Inheritor of a Traditional Craft for Wuyi Yancha in 2017, one of only 16 tea makers in Wuyishan to have such a designation. With such massive achievements, you’d think he’d be content to rest on his laurels, but Mr. Liu is ever striving to make better tea. He’s even known to send his personal tea to competitions, something otherwise unheard of for masters of his stature who would seemingly have nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing.

Working with Mr. Liu for over a decade, we’re not surprised. That mix of quiet daring and humility tracks with Mr. Liu’s general attitude. A few springs back, we caught up with Mr. Liu in the middle of rolling wulong. When one of us remarked on his impressive command of the traditional technique, Mr. Liu just smiled and said, “it’s my teachers that are good,” and then continued to make his tea.

A man bending over a large round bamboo tray with green withered tea leaves on it.
Mr. Liu Dexi hard at work processing the tea leaves.