The Xiangmiao Tea Cooperative in the Xiangxi Autonomous Region and the Loushuiyuan Tea Cooperative in the Enshi Autonomous Region are the two featured producers in this sampler. These two producers are alike in many ways. Both are fully minority owned and operated, both were early adopters of “ecological” methods, and neither of them have had an easy time establishing themselves in the domestic Chinese market. The Xiangmiao member-owners belong to the Miao minority group; the Loushuiyuan member-owners are Tujia.
Despite their geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic similarities, these cooperatives produce radically different tea.
The Xiangmiao Cooperative exclusively grows Baojing Golden. The raw leaves from this variety of bushes are made into green, black, and white tea. The green tea style is easily what sells best and is what we have included in this sampler. Golden #1 and Golden #2 are sub-varieties of Baojing Golden that offer a somewhat different appearance and tasting notes. Golden #1 has a brighter color, a larger amount of down, and slightly more astringency; Golden #2’s leaves are a darker shade of green and have a rich creamy flavor. Both are worth trying.
The Loushuiyuan Cooperative grows a larger range of varieties. Of these, Dragon Well #43 and the local Hefeng variety are the most prominent. Dragon Well #43 has become a standard for Yulu production throughout the Enshi Autonomous Region; the poorly defined local Hefeng variety survives only on older plots in Hefeng County. From this traditional varietal, a local hand-processed variant of Maojian is produced. Its light, sweet, and mellow flavor earn it a place on the shelf of every Maojian fan. Following local trends, Loushuiyuan’s Dragon Well #43 harvest from this season has been processed into Yulu. Despite coming from the conventional varietal, Loushuiyuan’s spin on Yulu is not steamed using the typical machinery. The result is a curlier leaf shape and more vegetative flavor: Hefeng Yulu. Finally, there is Old School Yihong, a black tea made from every and all of the varieties present on the co-op land. It remains a no nonsense classic that is served best without milk or sweeteners.