The Personal Touch: Two tea makers and the rock wulong they make.

Newsletter Archive Jan. 6, 2023

A bank of healthy tea bushes with rising slopes and dark stone exposed cliffs of Wuyishan in the background.

This weekend we’re featuring four rock wulongs, including two benchmark classics, Rougui (Cassia Bark) and Shuixian (Narcissus), and two from the road-less-traveled, Ba Xian (Eight Immortals) and Xiao Hong Pao (Little Red Robe).

Wulong tea, with its complex and labor-intensive processing, can show the personal touch of its maker in ways other styles don’t. The tea makers of Wuyishan know this very well. Personal brands, private contracts, expert competitions, and prestigious names abound in this little mountain town. It’s the domain of the auteur tea maker. Some might dismiss all this as mere marketing, but when you spend a little time in Wuyishan, especially during production season, you’ll readily sense the genuine and personal pride tea makers bring to their very, very hard work and a common aspiration to keep doing it a little better with each season.

For this week and next, we’ve planned to feature some teas to show off those tea makers and their personal style. You’ll find the four teas in this week’s special come from two different producers, each with their own approach to the process, from pluck to roast.

A man leaning over an angled wok to hand fry the fresh tea leaves in it.
Tea maker Liu Dexi at work hand-frying rock wulong.

Eight Immortals and Shuixian come to us from Liu Dexi, a tea maker with a big name in Wuyishan, but also one of the most humble personalities. His teas are frequently the darkest, most heavily roasted in our catalog, venturing into huge resinous and spicy flavor profiles. When his approach meets Shuixian, what’s usually considered one of the more mellow bodied varieties, the result is a tea that sips easily with a thick incense wood complexity that hangs on your palate. The less-common Eight Immortals again hits on those big fragrant wood qualities but also brings in the sweetness of dark and syrupy fruit.

A smiling man standing in a hillside tea garden holding a fresh sprig of tea.
Tea maker Zhou Yousheng.
A woman seated in a stony mountain ravine brewing tea on a rock.
Tea maker Huang Shiying.

For a different approach, look to the teas of the husband-and-wife team, Zhou Yousheng and Huang Shiying. Mr. Zhou and Ms. Huang grow much of their tea themselves and are frequently a source of excellent quality green leaf for other tea makers. It’s obvious to us that their first-hand understanding of quality green leaf informs the way they process it. When making their own tea, they favor the light and bright end of the rock wulong flavor spectrum. Their charcoal roasts aim for a gentle caramelization so as to emphasize the essential character of the source leaf, whether it be the stone fruit and cinnamon sharpness of Rou Gui, or the heady jasmine and tropical fruit of Little Red Robe’s cultivar, #204.

As winter pushes on, we hope these toasty rock wulongs will help keep your toes warm, your thoughts clear, and your taste buds stimulated. Stay tuned for another prestigious name of Wuyishan next week.