; Cwyn's Death By Tea: A Bit More Shui Xian ;

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Bit More Shui Xian

Chawangshop 2015 Spring Charcoal Roast
Shui Xian

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 2015 Shui Xian
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.

Beautiful leaf
This tea is loose, unlike the traditional pressed square shape, hand rolled and roasted. Because the leaf is so pretty, I went a bit light in the gaiwan with my first session using only 4 grams or so. My parsimony resulted in a fairly disappointing watery cup, on that first session, but heading out for my son’s birthday dinner I grabbed this Shui Xian to bring for dessert. After all, my son was born on his father’s birthday, a feat for which I get entirely too little credit and not often enough, as it required 43 hours of labor on my part and a 12 inch scar for life. In my estimation, their birthday is my day far more than it is theirs, except I include my mother-in-law Hildegarde in the esteem of the day, since she did the work of producing the father. Now I haven’t seen her since last summer, when she spent the month of June at my house, something neither of us will likely repeat any time soon. But I miss her now, and looked forward to seeing her at the annual January 12 fete for our sons.

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.

Steeped out.
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.

Last steeping, about 8
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.

No storage worries with this one.
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.

Each square is individually packaged.

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. 

The square is traditional.
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.
I find it hard to judge this one, because while the tea is exceptionally smooth and not overly roasted, I didn’t get the sharp tang as I had with the Joseph Wesley tea. The cup is rather gentle, but the tea leaf is not as prominent as roast, though as I said the roast isn’t so much overpoweringly strong, but rather the leaf is not lending flavor. I wonder if the spring tea just doesn’t have the punch that late summer/early autumn tea leaf has. Maybe the reason this tea is made during the late season is to have that bitter strength from summer heat and sun.

First Steeping
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.

Fully opened leaves now.
In the meantime, try and score yourself either one of these teas. I especially recommend the Joseph Wesley leaf. He won’t have much of this, and probably not again next fall as his limited edition teas vary each year.

Requiescat in Pace, it's not all about the Pu.

Old Cwyn


  1. I did the exact thing when I got Joseph Wesley's Shui Xian - I only used 4g in a 100ml gaiwan, and the brew was just ok and yes, a bit watery. Now I'm looking forward to trying it again, and I will be sure to pack the gaiwan full.

  2. Just some personal observations

    The norm for shuixian tends to be medium to high fire, light roast seems to be much less common. Mass produced shuxian will usually be very high fired while zhengyan SX will usually be med-med/high. Bai Ji Guan appears to be the only yancha where a true light roast is standard practice.

    And spring harvest shuixian is just as common as autumn. and not always, but usually, spring shuixian has higher $ value, similar to puerh.

    Not trying to out right call ya out, I know puerh is your true love and is what's running through your veins =)

    1. Not at all, my understanding is the traditional product is produced in early autumn and it isn't the genuine traditional unless it is. But it seems that so many teas are produced year round nowadays. The Joseph Wesley tea seemed the more heavily roasted of the two here despite the other tea carrying the heavy roast description.

    2. I just had a different understanding. The Huang family in wuyishan for example has been producing yan cha in the zhengyan area for generations, and sticking with traditional methods is very important to them. The older trees, 60-100 years old, are only harvested once a year in spring. This includes the shuxian trees. The younger trees will get harvested twice a year, and they sell the autumn for considerably less

  3. It's not all about the pu. Blasphemy. I expected more from you Cwyn ;).

    Joseph Wesley certainly has the presentation down... Even though its oolong I enjoyed the post and look forward to more.

  4. The SX from Chawang may need a few years to settle down. $9.99 for 25g is an extremely high price for Shui Xian to me (I'm from Hong Kong), so I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  5. Looking forward to try this, I am happy to hear how you enjoyed it.