If there was a competition for weird tea names, “Ya Shi Xiang” or “Ya Shi” (literally means “duck shit fragrance” or “duck shit”) would probably rank at least in the top three. You must be curious when you hear this name: Does it look like or smell like duck shit? Is it similar to cat poop coffee? Let’s find out!
There are several versions of the origin of the name Ya Shi Xiang.
One popular version says that the mother tree of Ya Shi Xiang was found growing in the “ya shi” soil, which was yellow soil mixed with chalk that looked like duck shit. The tea farmer who discovered the tea tree, Mr. Wei, made tea using the leaves and invited neighbours to come and taste. After tasting this tea, everyone was impressed by its high aroma and strong “mountain charm”, and was curious about this cultivar that was so new and delightful. Mr. Wei was so afraid that the tea tree would get stolen that he tried to make it sound unattractive, hence “Ya Shi Xiang”.
Another version says that one tea farmer found a tea tree with unusual dark green leaves. He picked some leaves home to make tea. The tea was remarkably good, the farmer decided to go back for some more leaves. By the time he got there, he saw a few piles of duck shit under the tea tree. Just like this, the name “Ya Shi Xiang” was born.
It’s good to know that the actual tea doesn’t smell or taste like duck poo!
Ya Shi Xiang is one cultivar of Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Single Bush) Oolong Tea. All the cultivars of Fenghuang Dancong are famous for their natural flavours and fragrances that resemble different flowers and fruits, such as orchid, orange blossom, osmanthus flower, almond, ginger flower, etc. These cultivars are usually named after the floral or fruity aroma they possess, except for Ya Shi Xiang, fortunately. In fact, Chaozhou locals think that Ya Shi Xiang has the highest aroma among all Fenghuang Dancong cultivars
The “mother” tree of Ya Shi Xiang is over 80 years old, growing at 900 meters above sea level on Wudong Mountain in Chaozhou City, Guangdong Province, China. Its seeds and branches were taken off to grow, though not in large scale. Ya Shi Xiang bushes are now spreading across Fenghuang Mountain area.
Fresh leaves of Ya Shi Xiang are dark green. They are larger, thicker and softer than other Dancong cultivars. There are 6 steps of process after the leaves are picked: sunlight drying, airing, room temperature oxidation, high temperature oxidation & stabilisation, rolling, and drying. The processed tea leaves are greenish black / brown, long and wiry, with a bit of gold along the edge of the leaves.
A gaiwan is probably the best for the brewing of these tightly twisted leaves. Typically, Ya Shi Xiang has the aroma and flavour of almond and various fruits and flowers. The liquor is clear yellow-gold with strong fragrance. With its amazing long-lasting quality, you can brew it up to 20 steeps; the complexity of the tea makes the flavour change wonderfully each time you re-steep it. You can also enjoy the mellow fruity aftertaste.
That’s the famous Ya shi Xiang. What an interesting contrast between its name and its character!