Xiao Chi Gan is a Wuyi Shan black tea made in Tong Mu, one of the prime tea garden areas of the Wu Yi Shan, a beautiful mountain/cliffs/river natural wonderland in northern Fujian Province, China. This tea area is arguably best known as the birthplace of the Zheng Shan family of teas, which includes this tea, Xiao Chi Gan; the two Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong teas (one smokey and one not) which trace their roots back hundreds of years to the days of bohea; our Wai Shan Lao Shu; and the highly-smoked, export grades of Lapsang Souchong.
Throughout this protected range of mountains there are many tea gardens and specialty processing facilities. It is a pristine locale and special permission is required to visit the area, so that the environment can be kept the way it has been for centuries.
Tea Trekker has several types of tea from the Wuyi. Many oolongs, for which the mountains are justifiably revered, and also several of their black teas, which are well-known within the domestic tea market in China, but not so well-known outside of East Asia. This particular manufacture is one that I sourced in 2018 from a colleague in Guangdong when it was in its youth, just over one year old. I was advised at the time by a tea master in Guangdong that it would be best if I could resist selling it then and instead hold it carefully for a few years and release it in 3-5 years … about now, for drinking presumably ‘then’ and for the few years following (but who knew?). So that is what I have been doing – tasting it at least twice a year and holding it in near perfect storage conditions. And it has really responded well. So I am releasing it now in a limited quantity, for those who are intrigued by this artisan tea and exquisite example of the combination of terroir and what can happen when a tea is properly ‘Aged & Rested’.
Xiao Chi Gan is one of the several very special, traditional, non-smoked teas made from different tea bush cultivars within this revered tea-harvesting region. The Wu Yi Shan area of northern Fujian is home to several lovely and historic black teas such as this tea and also the famous yan cha strip-style oolongs. The soil conditions in the Wu Yi Shan are not rich and nurturing by standard definition, but tea bushes have clung on to their existence here for several hundred years. These tea bushes are clearly happy with the thin, rock-shard composition of the soil and have incorporated the taste of the soil into the teas they produce, giving the teas ‘backbone’ and a steely nature. Some compare this terroir to that in which steely white wine grapes such as Riesling thrive.
Xiao Chi Gan is quite lovely and distinctive and medium-to-full bodied in the cup, primarily depending on the measure of leaf to water. It has overtones of red fig, red plums, and other dark, ripe, fruit taste. It is not floral or sweet but is incredibly smooth and soft. It shows a slightly dry and ‘stoney’ aroma. Like many well-made premium Chinese black teas, this tea is whole leaf, long on flavor, smooth on the palate, and fairly ‘big’ in the cup. One can add milk or not, but to enjoy it as the Chinese would, it is best drunk plain.