Gao Shan Lao Cong Shui Xian

This article was originally written for Cha Xi Collective. Just keeping a copy here.
Oolong Tea found at Si Hai Cha Zhuang in Ningbo

Roasted and crispy, as expected from a Wuyi Shui Xian. A woody aroma and a golden orange color. The first few infusions have very little real flavors on my tongue – more of a sense or feeling of charcoal. I then tried very hot water with a much longer infusion time (about 2 minutes) and was rewarded a very distinct aroma of steamed milk and a somewhat tannic coriander taste on the sides of the tongue.

I don’t have much experience with or knowledge of Gao Shan Lao Cong tea, but I can taste the signs of the title.

Gao Shan oolongs are usually highly praised for their well-defined aromas; this tea has more aroma than taste, although it is not flowery at all. They also tend towards a lighter body which this tea, despite its roast, does as well.

Lao (old) trees tend to be used for producing tea that packs a punch. This tea has just that effect; you can’t miss the charcoal dryness when it hits your tongue.

Not my favorite Wuyi oolong, but an interesting comparison to other Shui Xians I’ve had in the past.

We purchased this tea from tea friends we had met in Ningbo (宁波) at their shop. After discovering the amazing tearoom at the Tea Museum, we got to know a very kind gentleman there named Shihongwei. At first, this young tea master began brewing us a delicious pot of Da Hong Pao with what is likely the attitude of most tea experts in China toward foreigners, but when we told him we were employees of a teahouse in America, he was very impressed and became much more animated. It’s funny how the world of tea is so small.

Shihongwei asked us if we had been to the tea expo or if we were planning to attend. A tea expo? We didn’t even know that there was a tea house in Ningbo, let alone a whole exposition dedicated to this plant. It turned out that the expo was nearly at an end and that the next day was its close. We told our new friend that we would love to go but could he tell us how to get there? His excited response was to arrive at the teahouse the next morning at 10am and he would bring us there himself.

The expo was a wonderful experience. It was actually a little overwhelming and I could easily have spent a whole day there just wandering around, tasting tea, and examining teaware. Perhaps unfortunately, as we were guests of our friend, we felt obligated to stay with him and see what he thought most interesting. While there, we met Tang (汤) and Wang Jing (王璟 – we called her “hat girl”), young friends of Shihongwei, who invited us to the tea shop where they worked as soon as we were leaving.

Tang and Wang Jing worked at a small shop on the east side of the city and seemed to specialize in roasted oolongs. We thought this quite fortunate since our trip plans did not include Fujian or Guandong province where these fine teas are usually produced.

We drank many cups of tea with these folks as the afternoon wore on and learned about each others’ cultures. These conversations (aided heavily by various translation software) are probably my favorite part of these trips. Sharing life tales and cultural tidbits over cups of tea is an amazing experience. It’s also a hungry experience and we were doubly-fortunate to be treated to lunch by our hosts as well.

They had a room upstairs with the most polished and glowing carved wooden table I’ve ever seen. It was massive, and soon covered with takeout boxes full of rice and vegetables along with a few cans of Coca-cola. It felt like eating Chinese take-out with friends in high school on someone’s parent’s expensive dining-room table. You’re always a little worried about spilling something.

Needless to say we wanted to take home some tea from this shop, so we picked out one of the boxes of Wuyi oolongs from their shelves and divided it among ourselves. At the time I thought we were buying Da Hong Pao, but upon closer inspection of the packages, the tea turned out to be Lao Cong Shui Xian. I was pretty content with this mistake since this is a style of tea I have never tried.

If ever I am in Ningbo again I will definitely seek out Wang Jing and Tang and Shihongwei and hopefully give them a gift worthy of all the kindness they showed to me.

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