Shui Xian Tea: An Oolong “Water Sprite”

Picture of Shui Xian Tea Leaves
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Originating in the Chinese province of Fujian, oolong tea dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). With different levels of oxidized tea leaves, oolong tea can taste like green tea if the oxidation percentage is low or black tea if the oxidation percentage is high. This level of dryness can range from 8% to 85%.

Like other tea varieties, oolong tea is produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis. The flavors of this beverage can be anywhere from sweet and floral to woody and mineral tasting. One type of oolong tea that is popular and consumed by both tea enthusiasts and served in Chinese restaurants is Shui Xian tea, also commonly referred to as Shui Hsien. Translated, its name means ‘water sprite.’

Creation Myth

Shui Xian tea was initially produced in the Wuyi mountains. Since increasing in popularity, production expanded to Taiwan. Although there are many legends as to how this tea got its name, it is believed that there is a connection to religions, the concept of immortals, and isolated meditation.

Legend

For 60 years, a farmer tended to his land, relying only on a shovel to dig rows and his hands to spread seeds. Although his rows were not straight and his seeds were strewn about, he was content with his life and farm. He had no desire to leave his small village at the base of the Wuyi mountains.

One day, the gentleman was approached by the local government. They quickly seized his land and offered a small compensation for it. Shockingly, the farmer refused the money. Instead, he started on a journey to find where clouds come from. He had never left to see the world, so he took this opportunity to do so.

Armed with just his shovel to dig up roots for food and walking along a stream for water, the farmer set off on his personal quest. After four days, he ran into a man he had never seen before. Despite the stranger’s unkempt appearance, the farmer was intrigued by his kindness and desired companionship. The stranger, likewise, found the farmer and his quest intriguing and unique from other men he had met.

Together, they set off hiking up the Wuyi mountains. When they came to one of the highest peaks, the farmer was able to see where the clouds were made. Confused and troubled by his discovery of how there was no true beginning for clouds, the stranger distracted the farmer by pointing out a plant that was growing out of the rocks.

The stranger told the farmer that the plant was more valuable than his farmland. He also told the farmer to take the leaves, share them with his friends in the village, and return to the mountain peak when he wanted. Without another word, the stranger disappeared, leaving the farmer alone. 

The farmer picked the leaves, ventured home, and brewed tea with the leaves. After one sip, he was instantly reminded of his journey, the strange man, and the mountain peak. After sharing this tea and his experiences with his fellow villagers, the story surrounding the tea quickly spread. It was these events that led to its name, Shui Xian (‘water sprite’).

Harvest & Production

This oolong variety, which is plucked by hand during the spring harvest (late April to early May), is oxidized somewhere between 40% to 60%. Depending on the variation of Shui Xian tea, it can be produced from tea plants that are less than 10 years old, less than 50 years old, or 100 years old and up.

Before the large leaves are ready for consumption, they are roasted twice over a charcoal fire. This ensures they will provide a perfect flavor when brewed. Each time the leaves are roasted, it is for 8 hours at a time and at a temperature of 285°F. After the first roasting, the leaves are allowed to rest for up to 20 days before the second roasting.

Brewing Shui Xian Tea

When brewing tea in a traditional Chinese manner, a Yixing teapot (clay teapot), a serving vessel, cups, and a strainer are required. Each variety should come with a recommended serving of leaves and how much water is required to brew the perfect cup of tea. In these instructions, it is recommended that 5 g of tea leaves are used for every 12 oz of water.

  1. Bring spring water to a boil.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, preheat the clay teapot, serving vessel, and tea cups with hot water. Then, empty each back out.
  3. Place your measured portion of tea leaves into the clay pot. When the water reaches 212°F., pour it into the Yixing teapot. (Keep in mind the correct ratio of leaves and water.)
  4. Steep the leaves for 3 minutes and then pour the tea into the serving vessel.
  5. Strain the tea leaves while pouring the tea into the cups. Keep the leaves, as they can be used for at least three more brews.

Appearance, Aroma, & Taste

The large, dark brown, and curvy leaves produce a tea that has a rich amber color. While a brewed cup smells of rich caramel, almonds, and raisins, the taste has been described as fruity (peach), honey, and offering subtle mineral notes.

Details of a Serving

One serving is considered to be moderately caffeinated, falling somewhere between 37 to 55 mg of caffeine. As with other types of oolong teas, Shui Xian is low in nutritional value. One serving, 8 fl oz, contains zero calories, carbs, fats, and proteins.

Shui Xian Tea

This oolong tea variety, which is produced in the Fujian province of China, is a popular option for tea enthusiasts who love traditional brewing methods. Shui Xian is also often served at Chinese restaurants. 

Best known for its honey-peach flavor and mineral notes, it is an excellent choice for those who enjoy a caffeinated beverage. If you are looking for a new type of tea to try, or you love oolong teas in general, Shui Xian tea is a must!