This is a tea I haven’t had before. Shuǐ Mì Xiāng (水蜜香) means “Water Honey Aroma”, or perhaps more lyrically, “Honey-water scent” and it’s easy to see why. The dark twisted leaves give forth a dusty sweet aroma that gave away the family of this tea even before I knew what it was: Guandong oolong.
This is the first tea I’ve had with this name, but I assume it falls into the category of Phoenix oolongs (凤凰茶 or Fèng Huáng Chá). This class of oolong is grown in the Phoenix mountains of Guǎngdōng Province (广东) in south-eastern China and has very specific characteristics. Dark, long, and twisted leaves which carry an unmistakable roast and the subtle aroma of sweet stone fruit are the hallmark of this style. Typically they produce a golden infusion with a honey and apricot flavor. I’ve tasted many different Phoenix oolongs, and there is a variation in flavor intensity, aroma, and body, but otherwise they all share the qualities mentioned above. It’s one of my favorite styles of oolong to share with new tea drinkers as I think it showcases the amazing flavors that can be brought out of the tea leaf with nothing added. I’ve even had someone call me before to ask if the tea they bought was scented!
As with any tea, consistent leaf sizes are desirable and this tea has them. They will allow the tea to infuse at a consistent rate without small or broken leaves confusing things. Many Phoenix oolongs I’ve had are of the Dān Cóng (单丛) harvest. Dān Cóng means something like “single bush”, and (from what I understand) refers to wild or arbor tea trees, that is, tea plants that have been allowed to grow without pruning so they reach three to five meters in height. Arbor tea leaves tend to have more complex flavors than those found in cultivated gardens. Perhaps this is a Dān Cóng and perhaps not, but it is definitely an exceptional tea. I smelled the aroma during a recent trip to Camellia Sinensis and immediately picked some up.
Xiāng (香) can also mean “spice”, which is really interesting because I definitely detect cinnamon notes in the taste and texture. My first few infusions reminded me of cinnamon sticks and the sweetness of cherries. The translucency of the liquor implies a lighter body, but it’s actually quite full in the mouth.
I easily made four good infusions of 4g of the same leaf, with no loss of flavor that I could detect. Another good sign. I don’t think this tea will last very long in my collection with the speed at which I’m drinking it, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s that tea is meant to be consumed. If you hoard tea without drinking it yourself, you’re missing the point, and even better is to share!