Oolong "Min Bei Shui Xian" or "Wu Yi Shui Xian / Wuyi Shuixian / Narcissus" (from China Tea Book)

Minbei Shuixian Tea is produced in areas such as Jian'ou City, Jianyang City, Nanping City, and Shunchang County in northern Fujian. Historically, it was mainly located in the southern part of Nan'ya in Jian'ou City, where both production and trade flourished. Therefore, it is also known as Nanlu Shuixian or Nanya Shuixian. The Minbei region (now known as Nanping City) is located between 26°15' and 28°19' north latitude and 117°00' to 119°17' east longitude, situated on the southeast slope of the Wuyi Mountains, upstream of the Min River. It borders Sanming City to the south, adjacent to Ningde Region to the east, and borders Jiangxi Province to the west, with Zhejiang Province to the northeast.

Located in the subtropical maritime monsoon climate of Fujian, in the mid-subtropical warm zone, the region is warm and humid, with an average annual temperature of 17°C to 19.5°C. In high-altitude and semi-high-altitude areas, temperatures range from 14°C to 17°C. Annual rainfall ranges from 1596 to 1848 millimeters, with an average annual sunshine duration of 1700 to 2000 hours, a frost-free period of 310 to 250 days, with variations between the north and south. Generally, there are no severe summers or harsh winters, and the four seasons are distinct, with short winters and long summers. Autumn temperatures are higher than spring temperatures. The region is characterized by undulating peaks, dense forests, and numerous streams such as Jianxi and Futun streams running through it, with over 80% of the land covered by mountains and hills.

The soil in the tea-growing areas is mostly red soil, with yellow soil and mountain brown soil also found at higher elevations. Due to extensive forest cover, the topsoil is rich in organic matter, typically ranging from 1% to 2%. The pH value ranges from 4.5 to 6.5, with abundant mineral nutrients and deep soil layers, providing excellent growing conditions for tea trees. During the Song Dynasty, the famous Beiyuan Tribute Tea was produced in the area now known as Dongfeng in Jian'ou City, which is part of the Minbei tea area.

Shuixian Tea's history dates back to the Daoguang period of the Qing Dynasty (1821). The Shuixian variety used originated from the Zhu Xian Cave in Yan Yishan, Xiaohu Township, Jianyang, Fujian. According to Zhang Tianfu's "Shuixian Mother Tree Record" in 1939: "Over eighty years ago, during the Daoguang period of the Qing Dynasty, there was a man named Su from Quanzhou, who farmed and lived near Taihu... One day, he went to Yan Yishan on the opposite bank... Passing by the Zhu Xian Cave on Taizi Hill, he saw a tree with large white flowers resembling tea... He tried making oolong tea using its leaves, and it turned out fragrant and sweet... He named it 'Zhu Xian'... As the local 'Zhu' sounds like 'water,' it gradually became known as 'Shuixian.'" Due to its original habitat being the "Zhu Taohua Xian Cave," it was named "Zhu Xian" to commemorate its origin. As the local "Zhu" sounds like "water," it gradually became known as "Shuixian." Additionally, the "Minchan Record of Exotics" (compiled by Guo Baicang in 1886) mentions: "There is a variety of Shuixian with long and thick leaves, named after its taste resembling the narcissus flower." This indicates that the cultivation history of Shuixian dates back over 140 years. The Fujian Shuixian variety has been recognized as one of the best varieties nationwide.

Shuixian and oolong tea have been exported for over a hundred years. According to the Jian'ou County Gazette (1929): "Shuixian Tea has excellent quality, thick taste, slightly larger leaves, and the freshest color, capturing the essence of the local mountains and rivers." Shuixian Tea is produced in places such as He Yili, Daping Mountain in Dahuyi, and Yan Yishan in Jian'ou, Jianyang. Dahuyi is home to Yan Yishan, where the Zhu Taohua Xian Cave is located. A certain individual from Xiqian Factory planted tea; while gathering firewood in the mountains, he happened upon the cave and discovered a tree with a fragrance resembling tea. He then transplanted it into his garden. When it grew, he picked its leaves and processed them using tea-making techniques, resulting in a fragrance that surpassed all other teas. However, as the tree didn't flower, he initially propagated it by cuttings, which was extremely difficult. Later, due to a collapsed wall pressing the tea down and causing it to root, he realized the technique of pressing the tea, leading to significant development. This method spread to various counties, and the mother tea from Xiqian Factory still exists today. There are various methods of processing, and recent publications on tea improvement provide valuable references. Dahuyi is the primary production area, with dozens of Dahuyi brands. In the early years of the Guangxu period, gongfu tea declined, but oolong and shuixian tea flourished. In recent years, there have been dozens of purchasing agents from Guanghuang Gang, with markets in the city and in Dongfeng, the concentrated production area of Minbei oolong tea. At Nanya Kou in the southern district, tens of thousands of boxes are purchased annually by Guangchao Gang and sold to ports such as Annan (Vietnam) and San Francisco (USA).

By the end of the Qing Dynasty, exports of Minbei Shuixian Tea exceeded 10,000 dan, mainly to Hong Kong, Macau, Southeast Asia, Australia, and San Francisco in the United States. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, especially since 1997, production has surged. In recent years, production has exceeded 7.5 million kilograms, primarily sold to Japan and traditional markets, with domestic sales to areas such as southern Fujian and Guangdong. Nowadays, exported products include Y300, Y301, Y302, Y303, Y304, etc., sold to Japan, Southeast Asia, and other regions.

Shuixian is an asexual variety, a semi-arboreal large-leaf type. The fresh leaf characteristics include a rich green color with a glossy surface, smooth and leathery texture, thick flesh, mostly elongated oval shape, prominent veins, wide leaf stalks, stout stems, and long internodes. Under a microscope, the leaf structure of Fujian Shuixian is observed to have a total leaf thickness of 240 micrometers, a cuticle thickness of 2 micrometers, stomata measuring 48×48 (length × width) micrometers, and 136~148 stomata (12.5×10). In Jian'ou and Jianyang in northern Fujian, normal years yield four seasons of picking: spring tea (two to three days around Grain Rain), summer tea (three to four days before summer solstice), autumn tea (three to four days before the start of autumn), and winter tea (after the cold dew). The intervals between each season are about 50 days.

The basic process of initial processing includes withering, shaking, killing green, rolling, and drying. The processing technique is unique: when the top buds begin to unfold, three or four leaves are picked. It is essential to harvest in a timely and standardized manner; if the raw materials are too tender, the fragrance may be low and bitterness high, while if they are too old, the taste may be bland, with many stems and low processing rates. A mixture of old and young leaves makes rolling difficult, so uniformity and freshness of the leaves are basic requirements for processing.

Withering can be done indoors or outdoors. Fresh leaves are spread thinly on special bamboo mats for sun withering, and the withering time depends on the intensity of sunlight and the moisture content of the leaves. Withering is considered appropriate when the leaves lose their gloss, the edges slightly contract, the front end of the leaves droop when lifted by the stem, and the leaves do not break easily. The optimal moisture loss is 8% to 12%. Shaking typically takes 8 to 12 hours, using a comprehensive shaking machine to control temperature, humidity, and other technical factors. During shaking, the fragrance intensifies as the leaves turn from green to ripe, the color fades, the texture becomes firm, and red edges or dots appear on the leaves.

Traditionally, Minbei Shuixian undergoes a "basket fermentation" process after shaking. This involves gathering the shaken green leaves in large bamboo baskets, slightly compressing them to increase leaf temperature, and accelerate fermentation. This technique is used when equipment is insufficient or temperatures are low, with a fermentation time of 1 to 2 hours. The next step is killing green, which is done until the green taste is removed, the leaves become soft and clump together, the fragrance is strong, and the aroma is evident. Rolling typically takes 8 to 10 minutes, with hot rolling preferred due to the mature raw materials, resulting in quick and firm rolling. Drying is done in two stages, with the first stage known as "initial drying" or "water removal baking," which involves high-temperature baking to achieve about 70% dryness. If the leaves need to be rolled again, they should be dried to about 60% to 70%. After a brief cooling period, they are fully dried at a slightly lower temperature.

The sensory characteristics of Minbei Shuixian Tea include robust and heavy appearance with twisted leaf ends, glossy color known as "eel skin yellow," strong and aromatic internal quality reminiscent of orchids, clear and orange-yellow or orange-red soup color, mellow and refreshing taste, uniform and shiny leaf bottom, and red edges or dots on the leaf margins.

Since the Guangxu period, Shuixian Tea has been of high quality, and its trade has expanded due to its unique quality derived from the "clear and refined air of the mountains and rivers." It has been praised as having "excellent quality and thick taste" ("Jian'ou County Gazette," 1929) and being "the best among all teas" ("Narcissus Tea has excellent quality and thick taste" (Jian'ou County Gazette, 1929), "surpassing all other teas" ("Narcissus Tea has excellent quality and thick taste" (Jian'ou County Gazette, 1929)). In 1910, during the first National Entrepreneurship Exhibition in Nanyang, Shuixian Teas from Jian'ou Jinpu, Quanpu, and Tongfangxing Tea Plantations all won awards. In 1914, at the Panama Exposition, Shuixian Tea from Jian'ou Zhan Jinpu Tea Plantation won the first prize, while teas from Yang Ruipu and Li Quanfeng Tea Plantations won second prizes. In 1982, Jian'ou Beiyuan brand Minbei Shuixian Tea won the National Silver Quality Award. In 1988, Beiyuan Grade A Minbei Shuixian Tea won the Gold Award at the first National Food Expo.

With "one leaf winning a thousand households in spring," Minbei Shuixian Tea now accounts for 60% to 70% of Minbei oolong tea production, playing a pivotal role in the tea industry and gaining increasing favor among consumers. Zhu Dai Dou Tea's lingering charm remains, while North Yuan tea products continue to improve, with Dahuyi Shuixian, Beiyuan Shuixian, Nanya Shuixian, Baizhangyan Shuixian, and Qingtianyan Shuixian from different towns gradually becoming popular choices among consumers in today's Minbei oolong tea competitions.


(Source: China Tea Book. Author: Guo Yaling, Lin Xinjiong )

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