Last year I fell just a little bit in love with roasted Shui Xian, when I purchased an Autumn 2014 package of five squares from Chawangshop. Since then, I’m looking out for more Shui Xian to try, little pocket-sized squares of tea love. Unlike puerh, the money is in the first four steepings, but when I have four gaiwans sitting around full of mega steeper puerh teas, sometimes I want a bit of a change and the quick session Shui Xian offers brightens up the extreme cold winter days of January for me. In December, I took notice when clicking around on Joseph Wesley Teas, and hit the Buy button fairly quickly when I saw the limited edition Autumn tea is a Shui Xian. About the same time, I noticed Chawangshop had quietly added a Spring 2015 heavily roasted Shui Xian, which is not the usual time of year for this type of tea. I decided to compare these teas with the Autumn 2014 from Chawangshop that I already own.
Joseph Wesley Teas is a small, but impressive online tea company, keeping things simple by focusing on just a few teas and sourcing the best possible quality for each one. The teas are packaged in rather generic cans and bags, earning a plus for no-fuss, no BS modesty in marketing, allowing the customer to decide. In a sea of online tea companies, I find the quality over quantity approach refreshing, especially when leaf quality is the issue after all. The Autumn 2015 Shui Xian comes in packages of 25g for $9.99, shipped in careful boxing with shredded paper, again a refreshing change from bags of tea stuffed in padded envelopes only to arrive crushed. Instead, my fairly mid-priced Shui Xian is treated with the same concern as a $200 tea cake.
Our day in Madison, WI included lunch at The Alchemy, a tavern which I frequented often in the decades past when it was Wonder’s Pub, a watering hole for local theatre people. I haven’t been there in probably 6 years or so, and since then the place changed ownership focusing on food as well as the drink. The place was packed on a Saturday afternoon, and I had a phenomenal Swiss and Cheddar cheese sandwich on grilled sourdough stuffed with vegetables inside the cheese, and dripping cilantro pesto. Afterward, we returned to the house. Hilde and I talked, and then napped, while the boys went out to see the new Star Wars movie in a few hours of male bonding time, and returned to the house later on for dessert. We had a chocolate raspberry cake and I brewed up Joseph Wesley’s Shui Xian, this time stuffing the large shibo with as much as I could fit in, about 7-8 grams which in loose leaf terms, is rather a lot.
Going generous on the leaf paid off this time with a brilliant session, the Shui Xian complimented the raspberry flavor in the cake especially. I got a lovely contrast of sharp tangy charcoal roasting, for which no doubt the sweet chocolate prepared my mouth to receive. The sharp tangy roast lingered with the raspberry as aftertaste. Of course no one else particularly said anything about the tea, but my son’s father did ask for a second cup. Son was yawning away after the Star Wars movie, and the tea and sugar perked him up sufficiently to endure the ride home.
Desserts are wonderful of course, but what stayed with me is that tea. The sharp tangy roast setting off that raspberry was brilliant. I served five steeps from the overstuffed gaiwan, rather a surprise as usually Shui Xian starts to taper off after the first four steeps. I wedged the shibo carefully into my purse to take those leaves home to steep out and got two more steepings, and then a good long 10 minute steep to finish them off. My last cup went cold before I finished it, and I noticed how nice this tea is when cool, none of the usual bitter change that puerh or other tea has when allowed to cool. The leaves are plushy and long. I absolutely would order another package of this from Joseph Wesley, and I won’t forget the pairing with the chocolate raspberry cake any time soon. In fact, I recommend this with dessert.
Several days later my package from Chawangshop arrived. Frequently I hear tea drinkers complaining about the shipping costs from Chawangshop, but the key is to place a large order and get past the shopping cart stage. You don’t pay right away, the shopping cart is an estimate, and Honza emails you a corrected invoice, and the shipping is less expensive than the estimate. I have noticed that regardless of what I’ve ordered, so far my shipping has consistently rung in at $19. So, the idea is make a large order and get a big box for your money, or share an order with a friend.
This time I placed a full order when I saw the Spring 2015 Heavy Roast Shui Xian, since I really loved the Autumn 2014 I bought last spring and it sold out. I wondered about the idea of a spring Shui Xian, since the usual time for this leaf is September to October. I also wondered about the heavy roast, which is indicated as appropriate for aging, because usually Shui Xian is a lighter roast. Chawangshop’s tea is the traditionally pressed, individually-wrapped and then vacuum packed square, which I brew with about 120-140 ml water.
Square take a bit of time to open. If you brew red (black) or oolong tea, you can simply judge the brew times based on the color of the brew as the square opens up.
|Looks like a floating....well...you can guess.|
Vintage 80s gaiwan also from Chawangshop.
Martini size cup by teaware.house
However, these thoughts may be pre-mature, the tea is heavily roasted, after all, and meant to be aged. Perhaps the tea needs a few years to settle. Normally Shui Xian doesn’t need aging time because of the lighter roast. In this case, I think the tea will benefit from some time to settle and perhaps then the flavor of the tea will emerge beneath the charcoal roasting. My purchase this time was based on the purely hoarding idea of tucking this tea away, because decent Shui Xian is not so easy to find, and it sells out fast. I know I won’t finish off this box any time soon, and will put it away as planned.