When life is upended as we know it, I find comfort in small rituals that have meaning to me…like brewing a pot of tea and using my collection of vintage tea cups. The pattern here is Edwin M. Knowles Sylvan, a design of pussy willow and yellow pods, c. 1934. The tea for today is Steven Smith Teamaker Ya Shi Xiang Reserve, a Phoenix Oolong from Southeast China. It originates in the Tianzhukeng, Chao’an District, Guangdong Province, grown at elevation of 900 meters, or 2952.76 feet for those of us in the states. It comes from the Feng Huang Lao Cha Nong tea garden, harvested 2019, and has tasting notes of narcissus, white grape and shortbread. Brewed in a gaiwan, it will hold up to multiple steepings, with each new steep taking on a slightly different flavor. You can also do a single brew in a traditional teapot.
The description when I ordered this limited edition reserve was
Don’t be fooled by its English translation. This tea was named to ward off competing farmers from growing what is now a world-renowned variety.
So yes, like any self-respecting tea drinker who has access to the Internet, I looked it up. Like everything on the Internet, there are varied stories of the origin of the name, which loosely translates to “duck shit” and all share mostly the same characteristics. All are quick to point out that it neither tastes nor smells like duck excrement, and in fact, has a fragrant smell and honey-sweet taste. The story went that the farmer (or farmers) gave it the name to discourage competitors from stealing it, and attributed the color of the soil to large amounts of duck excrement. The attempted dissuasion did not work in the long run, and the tea is becoming more popular and sought after (note: this tea is not your Lipton’s or Twinings!).
According to Path of Cha,
A young monk once asked the wise tea master Lao Cha:
–Sensei, how come such honey-sweet wonderfully aromatic tea that smells like gardenia flowers, is called “Duck Shit Oolong”???
–Sometimes no good things bear nice names, sometimes things are vice versa. Look deeper and beyond the surface if you want to find real treasure. (Path of Cha, March 20, 2018)