This complex black tea comes from the same area as several other of our premium Wu Yi black teas – the remote tea-growing region around Tong Mu in the China National Nature Reserve of the Wu Yi Shan tea harvesting region.
When we visited this famous tea-growing region many years ago we were primarily interested in learning more about the manufacture of the smoky teas Zheng Shan and Lapsang Souchong, and the revered Wu Yi yan cha (rock oolongs). Outside of China these are the best-known teas from the Wu Yi region, but in the process of discovery about the production of those teas we learned quite a lot about other teas from the area that are well-known to black tea enthusiasts in East Asia, but are not so familiar to the rest of the world.
Over the years since our first visit to the Wu Yi Shan we have been able to increase Tea Trekker’s selection of black teas from this region, while also securing many excellent oolongs. Two years ago we added a new black tea from the region called: Wai Shan Lao Shu. One of the unique aspects of this tea is that its leaf is sourced from local tea bushes that are approximately 70 years old ( Lao Shu = old tea bushes/trees) and in many cases have grown into small trees the size of a dwarf crab apple tree. We have seen tea bushes / tea trees this size in the Wu Yi Shan, in the wild-tea-growing areas of Yunnan Province, and in the Phoenix Mountain area of Guangdong (where we look for dan cong oolongs).
The leaf and subsequent finished tea that is plucked and made from larger tea plants tends to be larger in size than leaf plucked from small tea bushes. This larger leaf is also slightly irregular, with much complexity and depth of flavor. The traditional characteristics of Wu Yi black teas are their deep flavor notes that are reminiscent of dried fruit, with overtones of cacao, plum, and other red, ripe fruit.
They tend to be slightly dry and ‘stoney’. This character is what is meant in the term ‘yan’ which references the river stone, ‘flinty’ quality (think Reisling) of all tea from this region, whether tasted in the yan cha (rock oolongs) or these soft black teas.
The aromatics of our Wai Shan Lao Shu are bright and intoxicating, mostly in the wet leaf – with cinnamon bark as the predominant aroma, accentuated with the aromas of dried fruit (especially apricot) and ripe melon rind (orange-fleshed, not green-fleshed). The dry leaf has little aroma, because the cellular structure of the mature leaf holds the aromatic properties deep inside the leaf, waiting to be released when the tea is steeped numerous times.
The liquor of Wai Shan Lao Shu is dark red-amber in color. Clear in hue, the liquor has little sediment because the leaf has an open twist that does not hold the small particles that ‘muddy’ a steeped tea. As with the aromatics, the coloration of the liquor may require several steepings to fully develop, so if the first one or two steepings are more pale than you expect, this is why.
As with many well-made premium Chinese black teas, Wai Shan Lao Shu is a quite large whole leaf, long on flavor, smooth on the palate, and big in the cup. One can add milk or not, but to enjoy it as the Chinese do, it is best drunk plain.
This tea tends to be more appropriate for the tea enthusiast than for the novice tea drinker. It would love to be ‘rested’ for one year (if you can wait or purchase ‘extra’) and would at that point be entering its prime drinking time, which should be ‘now’ until about three or four years from now (and who knows perhaps longer!) We think that it is absolutely super and are quite delighted to have it. So drink it now in its youthfulness or hold it, stored carefully… either way it’s a win/win…
RJH Sept 2019