Taylor Cowan • March 25, 2020
The Curious Heart of Xin Gong Yi: New Craft Ruby White from Mr. Lin
Tea is a living culture—not a closed history. Tea is a way and grows forward, with ever-deepening roots. Even though Xin Gong Yi, the focus of today’s post, is now roughly fifty years old—that’s still extremely young for a tea style, considering the drink’s millennia-long story alongside humanity. Part of what makes tea compelling, even to those who have known it longest, is its seemingly inexhaustible ability to delight and surprise—sometimes through the beauty of experience, sometimes in unexpected discovery, and, often, the thrill of the new.
New Craft white tea was created in 1968 by the Fuding Bailin Tea Factory in Fujian. The unique profile emerged from increased demand for white tea styles from the acclaimed region, particularly from Hong Kong and Macao. Within the last decade or so, it’s enjoyed popularity in the west. The TTES-18 ‘Ruby’ cultivar is naturally rich in an organic compound called methyl salicylate, that can manifest as a medicinal spearmint taste in a black tea process and a cloying menthol in traditional craft white tea, but mellows to sugar-sweetness in new craft with sarsaparilla and dried apricot notes. As you may guess, New Craft White Tea does not fit neatly into either the white or black tea category—we’ll unpack more in a later post.
“New Craft” most specifically denotes an artificially extended oxidation process on white tea, a long, controlled wilting and dehydration. The dehydration itself can take over 72 hours in a humidity controlled environment. In this case, the desired result is a 30% oxidation rate. If the withering room is too humid or there in an improper, drafty airflow—the process can be ruined, or a moisture defect can develop. Most new craft producers have some proprietary touch they employ to ensure the right amalgamation of factors and many producers are reticent to share. After withering, stacking, a light kneading, baking, fluffing and final high-temperature baking in a convection oven—the tea is sorted, packed and brought to market. For these reasons, as well as a lack of knowledge and demand, true Xin Gong Yi remains exceedingly rare.
Mr. Lin is one of our favorite humans we work with. There’s a picture of my co-founder and I on a garden slope of his in Nantou in 2015, helping water baby tea plants. That moment of pure joy, of being asked to “help” on a sun drenched, organic tea garden, was one of the first revelatory moments in tea for he and I. I was so ecstatic I forgot to put sunscreen on and was burned red for the rest of the trip. The sunburn, of course, faded—but all that remains of that day is the picture. The garden was completely washed away years later during an unusually hot and stormy monsoon season—mudslides flattened the hill and tea fields never returned.
A few years later, as a more established importer, we bought the entire harvest of Lin and sidekick Mr. Feng’s new project: an Iron Goddess of Mercy black tea process from Weishan, Yunnan. Mr. Lin's jocular personality lends itself well to the tireless spirit of experimentation and thirst for knowledge and new experiences, everywhere he goes in tea. He has a uniquely humble approach to teaism—and has often looked to tea traditions beyond his own for inspiration. He's served as a tireless educator and avidly shares techniques, knowledge and his beliefs on quality with a non-possessive mind. At the moment, Mr. Lin is the only Taiwanese tea maker producing New Craft White Tea—and the nuances of its craft are closely guarded, even in the Mainland. Alfredo produced this tea completely organically, without fertilizers or herbicides. This is our third selection from Mr. Lin’s team.
The lot we’re proud to debut today was harvested 7 February of 2020 during an unusual weather week in Mingjian—the cooler, misty mornings of the early year and lower UV index make for less tannic astringency and a more pronounced aroma complex—this is essential to make a big leaf variety like Ruby taste “soft.” Lin used a one-bud, three-leaves plucking standard. The freshly harvested leaves undergo withering, then anaerobic heaping (analogous to yellow, purple or pu’er tea) to encourage both endo and exo-oxidations. This is followed by a gentler twisting and kneading (toward a half-roll shape)—leaving a russet and deep grey semi-lustrous finish in the dry leaf. Unfurling as it steeps, the big leaf variety shows its nature—huge, intact, blue-green leaves stretching languorously across bone white porcelain—a tea that rewards steeping slowly.
Our next post will be about the difficulty of classification in tea—through the lens of New Craft White.