Blog 58: The Secret of Lao Cong (old plant) Shui Xian
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
Lao Cong Shui Xian, or Old Plant Shui Xian by its original meaning, is a Shui Xian tea in the Wuyi oolong family. The definition of Lao Cong (Chinese: 老枞, meaning: old plant) is very straightforward: Shui Xian plants that are older than 60 years. For the purpose of helping you understand this blog, we’ll use “old plant” instead of “Lao Cong”. Among oolong tea lovers, old plant Shui Xian is a very sought-after tea. However, many tea lovers, including most seasoned tea drinkers, only know that old plant Shui Xian is a unique tea, but they don’t fully understand why and how it is different from a regular Shui Xian. This often leads to an awkward situation that many tea lovers pay a premium for a fake one. Today’s let’s talk about the secret of old plant Shui Xian.
Before we begin, I’d like to address a translation issue of Lao Cong Shui Xian on the internet. Apparently, there’s a popular translation of it called “old fir narcissus”. I’d like to state that this translation is totally wrong. It’s a translation by machines or people who clearly haven’t mastered both Chinese and English languages. As a tea, Lao Cong (old plant) Shui Xian has nothing to do with fir trees or narcissus flowers.
Old plant Shui Xian offers a perfect blend of aroma and flavor. As we’ve discussed before, in Wuyi oolong, Shui Xian is usually famous for its mellow taste, and Rou Gui (a different Wuyi oolong) has a sharp aroma. Old plant Shui Xian, however, has a distinct and exclusive thick mouthfeel and an “old plant” aroma, which we’ll explain in this blog. Old plant Shui Xian is a tea that can charm almost all tea drinkers.
Unlike most tea plants, which are bushes, Shui Xian plants are small trees. The difference between a normal Shui Xian plant Unlike most tea plants, which are bushes, Shui Xian plants are small trees. The difference between a normal Shui Xian plant and an old Shui Xian plant is time. Being older than 60 years, old plant Shui Xian trees grow bigger and taller. All fresh leaves from old Shui Xian plants have broader leaves with clearer leaf veins. Looking them from a distance, these plants are covered with green moss as if plants are wearing green trench coats. After the tea-making, old plant Shui Xian leaves are visibly larger than that of regular Shui Xian products.
Shui Xian plants are cultivated everywhere in the core Wuyi mountains area, but old Shui Xian plants are rare. This is not because Shui Xian plant itself but the market demand. In the 1980s, old plant Shui Xian were considered as an unpopular tea. This perception resulted in that many hundreds-year-old Shui Xian plants were chopped down to make space for new tea plants. Tea mountains that still have plenty old Shui Xian plants are rare.
However, even if there’re many old Shui Xian plants, it doesn’t mean that there would be more old plant Shui Xian available on the market. As we discussed, tea plants don’t make tea. They only produce fresh leaves for tea-making (see previous blog post here). Only the best fresh leaves and the best tea maker can make a good old plant Shui Xian.
So what flavors should an authentic old plant Shui Xian have? In all known old plant Shui Xian flavors, there are three most recognizable: the taste of moss, bamboo leaf and wood. In the past, we talked about the moss flavor in tea (see previous blog here). Experienced tea makers would also emphasize the moss taste in their tea-making. This is the most common good flavor in an old plant Shui Xian. Bamboo leaf flavor is not shared among all old plant Shui Xian. Only teas from very prestigious tea-producing locations can produce the bamboo leaf taste. In our last blog, we talked about how microorganisms work during the tea-making (see previous blog post here). It’s the same reason and the process that create the “bamboo leaf” taste in old plant Shui Xian. Finally, we have the wood taste. Because Shui Xian is the only tea “tree” in Wuyi oolong category, and the “tree” flavor is natural to Shui Xian. Most regular Shui Xian would present a wood flavor at the end of the infusion (after about 8-9 infusions). Good old plant Shui Xian would be able to show this wood taste after just a few infusions.
In conclusion, an authentic old plant Shui Xian doesn’t surprise you in a way like a Golden Peony (see previous blog about Golden Peony here) and it doesn’t invade your senses with strong and sharp characters like a Rou Gui. An old plant Shui Xian is like a refined gentleman. It has a mellow and thick taste, as well as a long-lasting woody aroma. Unfortunately, the real old plant Shui Xian from prestigious locations has an incredible limited production. Even as a tea producer ourself, we don’t have any old plant Shui Xian available for the open market. Our old plant Shui Xian are simply all sold out long before the spring harvest even begins. Most old plant Shui Xian on the U.S. market are either from younger plants or tall plants (Chinese: 高枞, pronounced: Gao Cong). Of course, it’s not impossible to buy an old plant Shui Xian in the U.S.. We hope this blog can help you determine whether an old plant Shui Xian lives up to its name.
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