Jade Qilin 玉麒麟
Jade Qilin is a very special True Cliff Oolong from within the Wuyi Mountain Nature’s Reserve in Northern Fujian.
Oolong from this region is called yancha 岩茶, which translates as “cliff or rock oolong.” True cliff yanchas are extremely rare, as they must come from the limited number of tea trees located within the Wuyi Nature Reserve, and must be harvested according to the ancestral rites that are attached to these revered, sloping cliffs. This rarity results in their being two categories within “Cliff Oolongs”: they are either “true cliff 正岩“ or “half cliff 半岩”. “True Cliff” refers to cliff oolongs where the tea trees are located inside the 70 km Reserve area, (and stand amongst the 36 peaks and 99 cliffs). “Half Cliff” refers to cliff oolongs where the tea trees are located just outside this area, but are still situated inside Wuyi City. Tea from nearby villages that are around 20 minutes away from the Reserve, like Xingcun and Caodun, are considered “Half Cliff” as well.
As this suggests, terroir is particularly significant to Cliff Oolongs. To taste rock oolongs is to taste for the cliffs from which they came. With such forward mineral notes, we are invited to consider the dense, volcanic rock that the tea trees grow on. Through hundreds of thousands of years of erosion, the earth on these cliffs, composed of small bits of red granite, is extremely high in minerals and organic compounds, which are taken up by the roots of the tea trees and fed into their leaves. Each cave, cliff, and peak in this region is appreciated for its unique characteristics, and it is no wonder we see such variation within the oolongs they yield. The Wuyi Mountains are a place of great biodiversity, where both flora and fauna have been able to evolve with increasing specificity, whilst maintaining cooperation across great differences. Many attribute the complexity of these teas to the incredible diversity of the natural world they grow in.
The varietal of this tea, Yu Qilin, is extremely rare among Wuyi cliff oolongs, and one from within the Wuyi Mountain Nature’s Reserve is near impossible to come by. With gratitude for the connections that allowed us to source this tea, it is truly a treat and a privilege to be able to share it.
Yu Qilin literally translates into “Jade Qilin,” the name of a unicorn-like chimerical creature from ancient Chinese mythology. It is one of five auspicious animals whose appearance, ancient people believed, brought good fortune. The Qilin is a symbol of kindness and harmony, and is often used to describe people with integrity and high moral standards.
We can taste this tea with great curiosity as to why it would be named after the auspicious Qilin. Perhaps it is on account of the rarity of this varietal’s appearance in the Wuyi Mountains. It could also have something to do with the fortifying and generous characteristics of the tea itself, as the liquor has a medicinal quality that seems to speak directly to the body and its energy. It could also be an acknowledgement of the profound integrity of its taste: the tea produces a smooth and descending liquor, with a flavour so fused it is impossible to pull apart into individual notes.
A mystical name does suit this tea, whose slightly opaque liquor tastes neither floral nor architectural as we would expect of a True cliff oolong, but rather seems to suspend something impossible and unearthly within it.
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