Thank you for coming onboard Parchmen & Co and travel with us to savour our world in a cup!
We aim to bring tea drinkers into the world of very fine and exclusive teas. These teas used to be inaccessible to commoners in time gone by, but today we are able to bring it to you via our network of sourcing direct from the farms and our friendship with the producers.
The three teas on feature are a green tea, white tea and wulong tea, namely:
- 2023 Honey Orchid white tea 蜜兰香白茶饼, 6g
- 2015 Taiwan Shanlinxi wulong tea 杉林溪高山乌龙茶, 6g
- 2007 Jing Gu raw pu'er 普洱景谷生普洱散茶, 6g
Honey Orchid (蜜兰香) is the most famous of all Phoenix Mountain dancong (单丛) cultivars. Dancong teas are descendants of field selected single stock wild varieties with distinct characteristics. Honey Orchid dancong wulong tea is known for its honey and orchid notes, accompanied by lychee aroma. Since the last years of the Southern Song dynasty, with 900 years of history, the Chaozhou region east of Guangdong province neighbouring Fujian province is famous for dancong made into wulong tea. You can read more about this tea here. Other classes of teas made from this cultivar is indeed unconventional and uncommon.
This tea is from Wudong Mountain (乌岽山) at around 1,200m where old tea trees are abundant. In fact, there are more than 3,000m trees aging more than 200 years old, and this tea is harvested from such trees during springtime this year. Guangdong province does not produce white tea, at least not historically and officially. With the advantage of proximity next to tea capital Fujian province, Chaozhou benefits from the diverse and rich tea making techniques there. Our tea master has experimented and successfully developed a white tea using the the Honey Orchid cultivar. He has followed the traditional method of making white tea in Fujian province - sun-drying in the open followed by air-drying under shade. To manage the vegetal character resulting from the white tea process, the tea biscuit undergoes additional roasting followed by resting to reduce roastiness, before pressing into squares of 5-6g each.
We are brewing the entire tea biscuit in the Parchmen glass gaiwan, filling 90°C distilled water to to 150 ml, and letting it brew for 1 min. The tea is compact and needs fives brews before it can fully open up, with the flavours coming together from the third brew onwards. The brew colour is light cinnamon, maybe beige. The typical fruity - maybe berry - flavour of white tea is clear, but accompanied by an orchid aroma characteristic of the honey orchid cultivar. Although there is a hint of honey and brown sugar in the brewed leaves, we feel that the honey aroma has been subsumed under the enzymatic notes in the white tea processing, and not as identifiable as when it is made into an wulong tea. At the first sniff of the brewed leaves, there is a roasted sour note somewhat similar to the notes in a red tea, informing about the extra time it has spent during the processing and the extra heat it has picked up in the drying. The body is medium and it is sweet and umami, with notes of pepper slowly turning into orchid notes which becomes clearer as the tea cools and after more rebrews. It gives a hint of its wulong 'roots' with a lingering aroma at the nose, much more intense and longer as compared to other white teas, although not really comparable to a wulong tea. In a way, it is like a Zhangping Shuixian without the strong throat resonance.
The brewed leaves are of varied colours and sizes, indicating its harvest at a later stage of spring and the varying degrees of oxidation. The assorted colours remind us of the Darjeeling first flush teas. That would have clear aroma notes against a brighter but lighter cup, whereas the Honey Orchid white tea biscuit is more syrupy and sweeter, with a flavour profile that is deeper, and a longer afterflavour as compared to Darjeeling first flush. Its deeper notes are reflective of the age of the tea shrubs of around 200 years, the nitrogen-rich soils imparting more roundedness to the brew and the style of picking larger and older leaves. By reducing the temperature to 88°C and shortening the time to 1 min as you continue to brew, one can manage the astringency of the cultivar processed as a white tea, and would uncover the base Pheonix dancong characteristics.
Taiwan is a relatively small island, stretching 400 km, northeast to southwest, with a central spine of high mountains running parallel to its length and more towards its eastern side, gently sloping towards coastal plains and the major cities to the likes of Xinzhu (新竹), Taizhong (臺中), Tainan (臺南) and Gaoxiong (高雄) on its west. This central mountain range can reach near to 4,000m, but elevation above 1,000m are more common in the mountainous population centres. Nantou is a familiar name for Taiwan tea lovers, as it produces the most varied teas from its huge land space dedicated to tea production, leading Taiwan in terms of production volume. Nantou rises in elevation from Lu Gu (鹿谷) which is the homeland of Dongding wulong (冻顶乌龙) towards Alishan (阿里山) at above 2,000m. Shanlinxi is a piece of mountain forest located midway between these two points. At an elevation of close to 2,000m, the land offers fresh mountain air, numerous nature sites and mountain trails, and of course, tea lands of exceptional quality.
As a general classification, teas grown above 1,000 to 1,600m are considered high mountain teas (高山茶), and above that, teas are known as high and cold mountain teas (高冷茶). At the high mountain Shanlinxi farms around 1,600 to 1,800m, this tea can actually be considered a high and cold mountain tea. The sun shines softly on the tea farms for short hours daily, followed by decreasing temperatures into the nights, creating a large diurnal range that is ideal for tea cultivation. The lack of direct sunlight creates a round and sweet tea without pronounced bitterness and astringency. Over the last 10 years, the style of Taiwan high mountain wulong teas has taken on a very recognisable character. Firstly, it has stems wrapped in the rolled tea, departing from the traditional Chinese style of removing the stems as a mark of advance processing. This is very similar to the style of Japanese gyokuro that carries the veins, departing from the usual style. The result is a stronger flavour and a longer afterflavour. Next, it is very lightly oxidised at around 10-15% as can be seen from the mostly green tea leaves without much red rims of oxidation. This preserves the vegetal and enzymatic characters of the leaves much like a Anxi Tieguanyin, but with fuller mouthfeel from the thicker leaves grown from a longer development time under cold conditions. Thirdly, it is not roasted at all, and this not only preserves the features as highlighted thus far, and keeps the flavour notes clean and clear without introduction of another roasty flavour.
We are brewing this tea in the Parchmen glass gaiwan, at 3g of tea to 120ml of 95°C distilled water, for 45 sec, extending to 60 sec for subsequent brews. The tea liquor should be golden-yellow, with a slight greenish hue. Sweetness and smoothness should be immediately noticeable. Surely, the light oxidation and non-roasting preserve the vegetal note in the tea, but yet, this is not overly harsh or obvious, appearing more as stewed vegetable, yellow flower and yuzu aromas. The brew is heartily complex - imagine lemon acidity, curious notes of butter cookies and cinnamon, on a light but sweet body. The tea is very quenching, and the senses welcome it by salivating profusely, followed by a noticeable throat resonance. There is no bitterness or astringency, and it makes easy drinking from hot to cold, retaining throat resonance even at room temperature. In our opinion, this tea is the epitome of a good Taiwan high and cold mountain tea - complex but light, sweet with throat resonance, and everything in harmony, quietly shining but non-imposing, allowing one to savour it throughout the day without losing focus on your task at hand. Do not forget to smell the brewed leaves - with notes of flowers, lime and sweet cinnamon, it is very inviting and salivating just by smelling it. Upon inspecting the brewed leaves, the fresh dark green leaves reveal its high elevation and the absence of an obvious red rim informs its low oxidation of perhaps 20-30%. The slender long leaves show it is a Qing Xin Wulong cultivar (青心乌龙), which also goes by the other common names of Qing Xin (青心), Wulong (乌龙), Ruan Zhi (soft-stem, 软枝).
Jing Gu township (景谷) of Pu’er City, south of Yunnan is known as ‘Home of Tea’ and forms part of the Ancient Tea Horse Route. Jing Gu is to the immediate north of Si Mao, which is home to the oldest tea tree known to the world at Bang Wei Village, the discovery of which settled the century old debate between China and India regarding the origin of tea. Even in Jing Gu, a tea tree fossil aged 3540 years old was discovered in 1978. Both Si Mao and Jing Gu are part of Heng Duan Mountain Range (横断山脉) which stretches from eastern Tibet to the Sichuan Basin, and carries with them rich but unknown cultures and history of tea making. Historically, this was where tea leaves was first marketed. Based on ancient Tang dynasty records, tea originated from the various mountains in Yinsheng city ('茶出银生城界诸山') which included current day Jing Gu.
Jing Gu enjoys sub-tropical mountainous climate with seasonal rain, bringing ample rainfall of 1,200 to 1,400ml to its pristine forest which covers about 70% of the township. Average temperature is 20°C. The rich unpolluted soils from the ancient earth movement feed the tea industry there, with the township being one of the leaders in terms of ancient tea trees of the arbor form in Yunnan. The tea today is aged from 2007, and the once silver tips have turned golden, the once-green leaves have turned dark. Evident from the slender tips and shorter leaves, this tea is made from wild tea trees. Being wild, one would expect the flavour profile to be more aggressive with some bitterness, with hints of sweet floral notes. However, 16 years of aging would have subdued its initial character and bring more roundness.
We are brewing this tea in the Parchmen glass gaiwan, at all 6g of tea to 150ml of distilled water at 90°C water, and dispensing the tea in 20 sec. This style allows the appreciation of the tea as it develops, as well as controls any aggressive characters which may remain. The smell of the leaves after rinsing is strong on woodiness, and perhaps with a hint of sandalwood, standing starkly against a base of creamy sweetness. The brew colour is light amber, with notes of magnolia against a body that thickens to a palpable juiciness in the short time the tea takes to cool down in a small teacup. Indeed, time has mellowed it down, with the initial impression of woodiness integrating into a flavour of magnolia and honeysuckle, and a new note of dried red dates. The terroir and cultivar exert their presences in the form of slight astringency but which is enjoyable and not disturbing.
We did a cold brew of the hot brew tea leaves. After three days of steeping in water in the fridge, the colour darkens to a beautiful dark amber, with a flavour that reminds of jasmine green tea. Amazingly, there is little astringency and the body is still thick and syrupy.
Thank you for coming onboard with us to travel and savour our world in a cup!