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THE WHITE TEA MYTH

Yufei Weng

Maybe it is due to the Snapple commercial where a stereotypical old Asian man introduces white tea as “baby tea leaf with natural light flavor”, that white tea went from unheard of by most in the West to a popular “lighter, full of anti-oxidants and caffeine free” “new” tea.  However, the only marginally true detail of white tea is that it can be quite crisp and light, and has anti-oxidants.

WHITE TEA HISTORY AND LEGEND

No other tea in China has a more confusing and controversial history than white tea because the name Bai Cha (white tea) is used for two purposes - one refers to the actual processing method, which is the modern tea classification basis; the other referring to varieties of tea with lighter color (white hue) which are often processed into green tea, such as An Ji Bai Cha. 

The white tea mentioned in the tea bible “Classics of Tea” by Lu Yu is agreed by modern researchers to be varietals of tea with fewer scholars arguing that white tea history precedes green tea.  White tea, as we know it today, is defined by a unique processing technique that has only about 220 years of undisputed history. 

Even the mythical origin of white tea doesn’t correspond with its actual origin, adding more confusion to tourists who pay pilgrimage to the wrong location based on folklore.  The origin story of white tea starts in Tai Mu Shan (commonly mispronounced as Tai Lao Shan).  The story tells of a kind-hearted girl making tea from a magical tea tree given by the divine to cure villagers from deadly measles.  Many of attractions of Tai Mu Mountain, including a rumored original diving tree, surround this legend (it is a pretty old tea tree for the varietal, estimated around 170 years old, WHICH does not line up with the timeline in the story, oh well…).

In 1857, records point to a merchant who migrated some tea trees from Tai Mu Mountain to Dian Tou, Fu Ding and started the nowadays white teas.  However, Fu Ding record shows that in 1796, locals were already making white tea with indigenous varietals.  Regardless of this disaccord, Dian Tou of Fu Ding now remains the most renowned white tea origin while very little tea activities can be found two hours away in Tai Mu Shan aside from tourist attractions and advertisements of tea brands.

HOW IS WHITE TEA MADE?

White tea processing involves one of the simplest, but most difficult to master, steps.  Traditionally freshly picked leaves and buds are wilted under shade to lose moisture, then are exposed to the sun for fermentation and drying.  The teas are then finished by baking to dry with charcoal ash on bamboo trays though if the sun is strong enough, the tea is simply dried by the sun.  

Making white tea is a lot like sailing; one has to work with the wind and the sun to ensure the fermentation of the leaves with these natural tools at a regulated rate.  The tea makers are mindful about adjusting the leaves to catch the sun at the right angle while allowing wind to blow under the leaves to cool them down.  When the sun is too strong and the moisture content is still high, the leaves will turn red, giving the tea a sweetness resembling over-ripened fruit (not a good taste in tea).  If either the sun is not strong enough or it is too cloudy, the tea will take much longer to metabolize with low enzyme activities and stale water trapped inside resulting the “stinky green”, a rotten or overcooked vegetable quality.

Because white teas are never exposed to enzyme-destroying high heat, or fermented thoroughly where the enzymes are exhausted, it can be aged and theoretically has better aging potential than raw pu er, though aging tea is a new practice and NOT a tradition.

Making white tea the traditional way takes much time, skill and a lot space, making it unsuitable for mass production.  Before the white tea hype, even just in 2013, sun-made white teas were still the main method in Fu Ding with facility-wilted teas commonly avoided.  However, since 2013, due to drastic increase popularity because of the “one-year tea, three-year medicine, seven-year treasure” slogan bolstering the aging benefit, increased export demand as well as competing with new white teas such as Moonlight White from Yun Nan, white tea adopted a manufacturing method so quickly where the teas never see sunlight that the once-small township of Dian Tou turned into a bustling “city” in just one year of time, becoming a legend.

As traditionally made white teas became more rare, over-cultivation, domination of clone varietals and infestation of manufactured teas quickly make white tea notorious among tea connoisseurs in the past two years, with fear that the pitfall of Tie Guan Yin will reoccur in the white tea regions.

WHERE DOES WHITE TEA GROW?

One of China’s Ten Famous Teas is Bai Hao Yin Zhen, translated to “White Hair Silver Needle”.  Like all historically famous teas, this designation refers to the highest picking grade of white tea coupled with being produced from specified locations.  Bai Hao Yin Zhen has two true origins – Fu Ding and Zheng He, about a 4-hour drive away from each other.  It is specifically Bai Hao Yin Zhen, not other styles of white tea also made from the region, which made the highly honorable list.

FU DING

Once known as the “Northern Needles”, the most hailed Fu Ding locations are within the townships of Dian Tou and Pan Xi.  Though teas from Pan Xi are often more expensive due to higher elevation, Dian Tou is more renowned due to concentration of tea trading.  Some top micro-lots are Huang Gang of Pan Xi and Bai Liu of Dian Tou.

The Fu Ding method of processing white tea, where the tea spends much more time under the sun is now the standard for making white tea.

 

ZHENG HE

Once known as the “Southern Needles”, Zheng He white teas are made slightly differently from Fu Ding with the tea spending more time under shade to lose moisture, thus fermenting at lower temperature. When the moisture is between 20-30% the teas are then taken to sundry.  

The Zheng He tea region experienced many years of slow tea activity, with the new generation of tea drinkers not even able to recognize the name.  Though tea activities are picking up in the region, the main focus is on red tea.


In the East Fu Jian area, there is a large white tea production in the region of Fu An, which is considered a more inferior terroir and is often sold as knock-off of Fu Ding teas.

HOW ARE WHITE TEA PICKED?

White teas are a rare case where the teas are named after the picking grade instead of the more common way of by varietal, location, or when the tea is famous, by both. It is VERY important to point out that though picking grades are important, there are many more contributing factors to the quality of the tea, thus the names should not be used a parameter for buying decisions. After all, the number one factor influencing the price is the location, so much so that a Yin Zhen from Fu An actually sells less than a Shou Mei in Fu Ding. However, given that everything else is the same, the higher picking grade is almost always preferred than the lower.

 

Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle)

Bai Hao Yin Zhen is the highest white tea picking grade. There are two ways to meet the Yin Zhen grade, by picking just the buds from the tea trees or by picking the teas with one or two leaves first and then going through a sorting process to pick out just the buds. The latter method is considered more authentic and sophisticated because the first method is subject to human error, resulting in hurting the tea trees. Picking style is so important in ensuring the health and on-going quality of tea trees that sometimes it is used as an extrapolation method to determine how valuable the tea is based on how much the producer cared about the trees.

 

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

The official second grade of white tea, Bai Mu Dan, consists of one fat bud and two leaves. It is not always inferior in terms of picking time to Yin Zhen. The best Bai Mu Dan is picked at the same time as Yin Zhen and it is simply the maker’s choice whether or not to go through more steps to make it into Yin Zhen or to sell as Bai Mu Dan. In this case, a Bai Mu Dan can be considered as an un-de-leaved Yin Zhen and it is commonly accepted as a preference in taste among professionals to choose Bai Mu Dan over Yin Zhen instead of a fail of expertise.

However, even though Bai Mu Dan has overlapping seasons with Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Bai Mu Dan making continues even when Yin Zhen making has ended. Thus, the later harvested Bai Mu Dan is indeed more inferior to Yin Zhen. As the season goes into summer, the buds become skinnier and the leaves become larger than the buds.

 

Gong Mei

Gong Mei, the third grade of white tea is often skipped in the past three years in an effort to upsell the tea to Bai Mu Dan grade. Gong Mei is made more often in the Fall than in the Spring to take advantage of cooler temperature and relatively sizable bud. However, it is characterized with buds skinnier in comparison to Bai Mu Dan’s buds and the leaves are always longer than the buds.

 

Shou Mei

The lowest grade of white tea with mostly leaves and very skinny or no buds, Shou Mei is often made in the very end of Spring and early Summer where the weather is becoming rapidly warmer and more humid. One signature characteristic of Shou Mei is its darker color due to the higher moisture content carried by the wind coming from north to south.

 As white tea grade goes down, the flavor changes from bright to mellow. A side-by-side comparison of Yin Zhen and Shou Mei is one of the classic exercise for tea students to distinguish preference from quality. Yin Zhen is lighter but fuller while Shou Mei is heavier but emptier. 

WHITE TEA VARIETALS

Like many old tea regions, continuous tea making activities grants us valuable old varieties that are indigenous to the region. While the academic term for these varieties is called Qun Ti Zhong (group variety), the locals often call them by a different name. In the case of Fu Ding, in parts of North and East Fu Jian, it is called Xiao Cai Cha, or Little Veggie Tea.

 

Xiao Cai Cha

Like the name suggests, the varieties are small-leaf and often has more intense flavors in comparison to the medium to big-leaf varietals more common in the region now. Due to its relatively “ugly” look, the small size and the difficulty to separate the leaves from buds, Little Veggie Teas are rarely made into Yin Zhen. And because it still follows a more natural growth cycle of an evergreen tree, the varieties do not continuously bud and offer very little yield after the primary Spring picking, thus it cannot produce Gong Mei or Shou Mei.

 

Fu Ding Da Bai

Academically named Hua Cha #1, aka. China Tea #1 – well, actually GS13001—1985 - the name speaks of this varietal’s significance in modern tea research. In fact, 25 national and province level stabilized varietals has their lineage traced back to this varietal, it is bona fide #1 in seniority! By the way, 1985 is the year the varietal is officially archived and serial numbered, it is believed to have over 100 years of history.

The varietal was widely planted in the 1960s in Fu Ding in an effort to increase productivity, thus signalling the first round of eradication of Xiao Cai Cha. However, droughts in the 1970s made this varietal unpopular and were very quickly replaced, making Da Bai the rarest varietal of the region. Nowadays, China Tea #1 continue to be one of the most adapted clone varietals across all the tea regions in China even though it failed in its origin in Fu Ding.

 

Fu Ding Da Hao

Academically named Hua Cha #2 aka. China Tea #2, this varietal is more often than not mistaken by people to be Da Bai in Fu Ding. Due to its superior drought resistant quality as well as the naturally bigger, fatter, hairier buds, Da Hao replaced Da Bai as the staple varietal in Fu Ding region since the 1970s until recently.

 

Fu Yun #6

In a continuous effort to increase yield and manage budding evenness and seasonality, Fu Yun #6 quickly became so popular in many tea regions including Fu Ding, it is now the most common varietal harvested and sold in the region. However, its lack of complexity and fullness make this tea a frowned upon varietal by conservative connoisseurs.

 

BREWING WHITE TEA

Contrary to common perception, white tea is actually one of the hardiest teas that can take a lot of “ruining” with varied brewing skills.

White tea is traditionally brewed in the same method as green tea using a simple open vessel and often drank from the glass it is brewed in. However, due to the influence of Gong Fu Tea and the fact that it is such a forgiving types of tea, other than some senior folks in the local villages, white teas are more commonly brewed in gai wan than with just a glass.

The standard weight in a typical Wu Long gai wan was always 7 grams following the big-leaf-varietal rule. However, in just the last two years, there is a big wave of change to lessen the amount of tea to water ratio in white tea to bring out its more refreshing qualities, thus reducing the standard amount of tea to 5 grams.

When brewing white teas in a gai wan, the first flash steep is a rinse to open up the tealeaves. As the rinse is very light and relatively bland, it is often poured over a tea pet. Because white teas do not get bitter, the first steep of white teas can be unhurried and relaxed, with 200F-210F water brewing in the leaves for about 5-7 seconds. With each subsequent steep, increase brewing time for one to three seconds, adjusting to taste. White teas can stand up to 10-12 brews. Remember to smell the gai wan lid between each steep, to take notice of the changing aromas of the tea.

 

WHAT TEA DRUNK CLUB MEMBERS GET

 

Premium Club

Name/Grade: Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle)

Varietal: Fu Ding Da Hao (China Tea #2)

Location: Pan Xi, Fu Ding

Season: Early Spring, 2015

Sun soaked cotton. This tea is refreshing yet warm and fuzzy with grassy notes and a lemony quality.

 

Name/Grade: Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

Varietal: Xiao Cai Cha (Little Veggies Tea)

Location: Dian Tou, Fu Ding

Season: Early Spring, 2013

Small and fuzzy, the old varieties taste more concentrated than other varieties with a mead quality that becomes very prominent during its best times whilst aging.

 

Name/Grade: Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

Varietal: Fu Ding Da Hao (China Tea #2)

Location: Dian Tou, Fu Ding

Season: Early Spring, 2014

Soft and sweet, refreshing but fuller than the Yin Zhen, this Bai Mu Dan offers a more complex mouth feel paired with a peppery quality.

 
 

 

Tea Drunk Tea Club

Name/Grade: Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle)

Varietal: Fu Ding Da Hao (China Tea #2)

Location: Dian Tou, Fu Ding

Season: Early Spring, 2014

Light and substantial, with a hairy toasty quality, slight fruity notes and a long yeasty finish.

 

Name/Grade: Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)

Varietal: Fu Ding Da Hao (China Tea #2)

Location: Dian Tou, Fu Ding

Season: Mid Spring, 2014

Lemony and peppery with floral notes and a floury, mildly rough mouth feel

 

Name/Grade: Gong Mei

Varietal: Fu Ding Da Hao (China Tea #2)

Location: Dian Tou, Fu Ding

Season: Mid Spring, 2014

Toasty and rough with a slightly fuzzy mouth-feel and subtle notes of wheat.

 
 

JUNE EDUCATIONAL TEA CLUB: GREEN TEA

Yufei Weng

WHAT IS GREEN TEA?

Green tea is the oldest form of tea as a standalone beverage. Its processing method, history, and culture are unparalleled by any other tea in Chinese history. From the Han Dynasty, (202BC to 220AD) to the abolition of pressed tribute teas by the Hong Wu Emperor (Zhu Yuan Zhang) in 1391, green tea was THE TEA. Even after the emergence of five additional categories of tea, green tea remains the most studied and refined tea of China, offering us a glimpse of tea as an extravagant form of art during the dynasty times.

By definition, green tea is not fermented, however, in reality, enzymes metabolize naturally as soon as the leaves are picked and a micro amount of fermentation is unavoidable. After the leaves are picked from the trees, they are left sitting under shade for a few hours to let the surface moisture evaporate. Then, the freshly picked leaves are treated with high heat to kill the enzymes present, preserving the tea in its freshest state. Thus, green tea retains most of the tea leaf's original properties and taste, and is the most astringent category. 

Based on processing style, there are four sub-categories of green tea.

WHAT IS YELLOW TEA?

Yufei Weng

Yellow tea is indeed China’s rarest kind of tea, with the lowest production volume among the six category of teas and the fewest regions producing it. However, as rare as yellow tea is, it is quite significant in traditional Chinese tea making and three of them have frequently been listed on the China’s Ten Famous Teas list, which says a lot about the appreciation of yellow tea among the most influential patrons. Because it is so highly admired, yellow tea is actually one of the best documented and studied teas.

Yellow tea making technique varies by region, however, it always involves an initial “kill green” or wok-frying process very much like green tea but at a reduced temperature and for a shorter duration. While the tea is not dried completely, a “trapping” method happens, to encourage the moisture inside of the leaf to oxidize and ferment the tea to various degrees, hence “yellowing” the leaves. Thus, the tea is allowed to ferment a little before being completely dried and the enzymes “killed.” This is why sometimes Yellow tea is referred to as micro-fermented tea. 

There are three subcategories of yellow tea named after picking styles: Huang Ya Cha (yellow bud teas), Huang Xiao Cha (yellow small teas), and Huang Da Cha (yellow large teas). 

The three most well-known yellow teas are: Jun Shan Yin Zhen (bud tea), Meng Ding Huang Ya (bud tea) and Huo Shan Huang Ya (both small and large leaf tea).

JUN SHAN YIN ZHEN

Situated 15km off shore from the historical city of Yue Yang, Jun Shan Island is home to many household folklores of China, speaking to its rich history said to reach back to mythical times. This tiny island has a long association with tea, beginning with the Tang Dynasty over 1300 years ago. Jun Shan Yin Zhen, the most important tea produced on this island, achieved tribute tea status during the Qing Dynasty (1616 - 1912) with 9kg of tea demanded by the royal court every year. Due to a combination of the tea’s prestigious past, the very limited size of the island (only a single square kilometer!), and the fact that only one person in the whole world holds the secret to a crucial step in making this tea (he receives special government stipend for his expertise, with over 30 people helping him), Jun Shan Yin Zhen is hands down is THE most rare Chinese tea today. A bona fide modern tribute tea, the yearly harvest goes straight to governmental departments and is usually reserved to treat visiting diplomats. With limited market circulation, Jun Shan Yin Zhen’s price is stable, and very expensive.

There are many different varietals harvested on the Jun Shan Island, the original varieties, Yin Zhen #1, Bi Xiang Zao, Tao Yuan Da Ye, Fu Yun, and a green tea varietal.

Jun Shan Yin Zhen is a bud yellow tea and picks only the unopened buds in early spring, usually starting the first half of March. The making of Jun Shan Yin Zhen starts with applying high temperature to the leaves to kill some of the enzymes. Then the leaves are baked to a semi-dry state before being wrapped air-tight to ferment for 48 hours. Afterward, the once-again-wet leaves are baked a second time, then fermented again for about 24 hours before baked dry over charcoal.

A well-made Jun Shan Yin Zhen has no trace of grassy taste, and is pristinely sweet with notes of sweet corn.

MENG DING HUANG YA

In an era where traditional teas are consistently being compared on their tales and historical significance, there should be no rival to Meng Ding teas. Meng Ding Shan is the location of the first unambiguous written record of tea cultivation, dating from 53BC. Meng Ding teas have the longest history as tribute teas, beginning from the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907AD) all the way until the last Qing Dynasty (1616 - 1912). It is one of the most praised teas in poetry. Its perfect pairing with water from the Yang Zi River is a tea dream that even today’s connoisseurs romanticize about. However, the current state of tea activities in Meng Ding Shan are less than optimal, with some traditional tea making techniques at risk of being lost. 

There are three teas well known in Meng Ding Shan – Gan Lu, Shi Hua, Huang Ya, with Gan Lu, a green tea being the most famous. Though the name Meng Ding Huang Ya first appeared in Tang Dynasty, there’s much debate as to whether it referred to the actual yellow tea we now associate with the making technique. The general consensus is that it was referring to just the yellowish hue of the fresh leaves, thus naming the tea trees instead of made tea.

Meng Ding Huang Ya’s making also starts with wok frying the leaves, but while the leaves still have at least 50% moisture, , they are wrapped tightly with heat (in hand-made paper back in the days) to “yellow”, which only takes an hour or so. Then the teas are released back to the wok to be stir fried again, then wrapped again. This process is usually repeated three times before the leaves are wrapped tightly to ferment for 24-36 hours. The yellowed teas are then baked to almost dry, then wrapped into a package to be placed on the “kitchen counter” where residual heat from daily cooking by the wood fire slowly finish drying the tea.

HUO SHAN HUANG YA

Lu An is one of the oldest and best documented tea regions in Chinese history — not in poetry — but in trading records, changes in taxation, documentation of crafting techniques, divisions of specific tea lots, and other such quotidian records. From these writings, we know in detail how Huang Shan tea evolved: originating as green tea in as early as Han Dynasty (202BC – 220AD) with Huang Ya bringing it to a height as a tribute tea in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD). However, towards the end of Qing Dynasty in the late 1800s, records of Huo Shan Huang Ya suddenly stopped. Writings about Lu An and Huo Shan tea in early 1900s have no mention of Huang Ya at all. We can only assume that during this period Huang Ya stopped being made. However, thanks to the detailed documentation of this tea and help of tea scientists, Huang Ya yellow tea was recreated in the Huo Shan region in 1973. However, because the Huo Shan region is still largely dominated by green tea production, with some of the green teas also bearing the name "Huang Ya" (which simply means "yellow bud"), there is some controversy about the degree to which this historical tea has been restored.

Highly sought after Huang Ya producing mountain tops are Jin Ji Shan, Jin Zhu Ping, Jin Jia Wan and Wu Mi Jian, with Golden Rooster Mountain (Jin Ji Shan) the most prized. Deep in the Da Bie Mountain Range, Huang Ya is usually harvested after April 5th with higher elevated regions starting even later. The standard picking grade for Huang Ya is one bud and one leaf. The fresh leaves are first wok fried and baked, then piled evenly in bamboo trays covered for 24-48 hours. The yellowed leaves are then baked again on bamboo trays over charcoal ash to 90% dryness. The leaves are then left in bamboo baskets again for 3-7 days to soften. The last step of making Huang Ya is unique to Lu An teas, which involves quickly exposing the tea to charcoal fire to increase the aroma of the tea, a process called Zhuang Huo. Unlike making Gua Pian (another important Lu An tea), where two men literally walk the tea over a big fire, Huang Ya’s Zhuang Huo step is achieved by a person repeatedly setting a bamboo tray of almost dried leaves on high fire, then repeatedly removing and flipping them for hours. This is a highly skilled job in Huang Ya making — any slip of attention will result in burnt tea. Huo Shan Huang Ya is a slightly less fermented yellow tea in comparison to Jun Shan Yin Zhen and Meng Ding Huang Ya, with a taste similar to green tea, but rounder, less tannic and with a more direct sweetness.

Huo Shan also produces a large leaf yellow tea call Huang Da Cha with late harvests of the larger tea leaves, often picked with long stems as well. Because the leaves are older, they are wilted to soften first. After the tea is initially wok fried, it is rolled, traditionally by foot, to break membranes and release juices from inside of the leaves, forming the tea into a semi-spiral shape. The tea is then piled up in baskets to ferment for a few hours before exposing to the sun. It is finally baked heavily to dry and to create its unique sizzling rice notes. It has traditionally been a workman’s tea, often sold in large quantities to Shang Dong Province.

 
 
 
 

Recap of 2016 Pu Er Season and Spotting a Dishonest Pu Er

Yufei Weng

2016 has been a very peculiar year for the tea regions of Yunnan. Earlier this year it snowed at some of the high peaks of Nan Nuo Shan. What is usually a quiet area was jammed with traffic from people coming from nearby areas to see snow for what was for most, the first time. As a result of the frost, the Pu Ers budded but didn't grow. After the tea buds the farmers need to wait for it to reach a certain size before they can pick it; this year, it took a very long time to get to that point. 

When Shunan arrived in Yunnan at what is usually the beginning of the tea season, she found most of the trees blooming late and not ready to harvest. Usually the old trees at Nan Nuo Shan are ready to be picked on March 7th, but this year by the 24th the tea still wasn't ready

 
 

There are general patterns to the order of which trees are plucked and when. When talking about the regions, Menghai picks first, then Wu Liang Shan, then Meng La (the 6 ancient mountains). Within each location there are general seasons depending on the type of tree. Plantation tea is the first to be picked, then converted trees, then small trees, with old trees picked last. When picking tea the later the better. While you usually want the first bud, the later that bud sprouts in the season the more desirable it is.

 
Besides being cute, the dog can act as a reference for the size of the truck

Besides being cute, the dog can act as a reference for the size of the truck

 

Did you know you can tell if a tea is honest by when it is available in the market?
By taking into account the type of tea it is and where it is from, we can determine that the tea is available much too early to be authentic. For example, old tree Pu Er from Menghai was picked in the last week. After a Pu Er is picked it still needs to be sorted and in some cases pressed, although true pressing is done in December. Taking all the factors into account, we realize that true old tree Pu Er will not be available for sometime.

 
 

March Tea Club: Pu Er

Yufei Weng

For the Month of March, Tea Drunk brings you an introduction to Pu Er. Pu Er has recently gained a lot of popularity and attention and the Tea Market is flooded with different Pu Ers and a abundance of sometimes questionable information. Our January Tea Club will give you the knowledge you need to navigate through the complex Pu Er market and separate the good information from the bad. We have curated a mixture of writings, podcasts and videos that together paint the best picture of real Pu Er. 

This months's subscription includes

1.Five different Pu Ers, totaling 60 grams, including teas from the major Pu Er regions and both styles of Pu Er. 

2. An introduction to Pu Er: Two pages including a Pu Er 101 and a brief historical outline of Pu Er. 

3.Tasting Notes. We will provide you with our description of the teas to help you analyze the complex flavor of Pu Er.

4. Brewing instructions: Including directions for both Chinese style and Western style.

As an addition to our written information we will round out this month's subscription by providing a podcast episode in which Shunan discusses Pu Er with Talking Tea host Ken Cohen. We also compiled our best Pu Er sourcing videos into one spot so you can visually see where Pu Er is from and how it is made. By the time you have finished this month's subscription you will have gained a basic understanding of Pu Er and are hopefully able to view the saturated market with an informed critical eye.

 
 

Pu Er 101

Yufei Weng

WHAT IS PU ER?

Pu Er is the ancient name of a large administrative area of five major cities includes Si Mao and Xi Shuang Ban Na. Pu Er was such a central hub for tea trading in Yun Nan Province that people began calling tea from Yun Nan, Pu Er. The city of Si Mao was restored to its old name, Pu Er, in 2007.

WHAT IS SHENG PU?

Officially a green tea, Sheng Pu is made in a classic green tea method, but pan-fried at lower temperature to allow some enzyme continue to live in the tea leaves and continue the fermentation process later.

WHAT IS SHOU PU?

Shou Pu (Cooked Pu) – This is made by fermenting the already made Sheng Pu with added heat and moisture to facilitate “compost” of the leaves with assistance of beneficial microbes, making it a black tea.

Shou Pu is NOT an “artificially aged” Sheng Pu. They are different teas and Sheng Pu aging does not result in Shou Pu.

AGING PU ER

Both types of Pu Er can be aged. Sheng aging is to complete the enzymatic metabolism of the leaves, eventually becoming similar to red tea. Shou Pu will continue to decompose whilst the the bacteria in the tea continue to break down the leaves.

The desirability of Sheng Pu is directly tied to the age of the tea trees. Highly sought after Pu Er come from trees that are 200-700 years old, planted during Ming and Qing Dynasty, often referred to as da shu cha or gu shu cha. Sheng Pu from newer tea trees planted following traditional practice with prospect for the trees to be independent of human and become big trees are called xiao shu cha. A majority of the Pu Er made from newly planted bush tea trees in high density are called tai di cha. Organic Pu Er is referred to as converted tai di cha.

Though pressed Pu Er is common, both kinds are sold as loose leaves as well. Traditional pressed Pu Er are in shapes of cakes and bowls. Standard cake weight is 357grams.

PU ER LOCATION

Like all Chinese tea, location where the tea trees grow matters a lot. Prices for Pu Er tea produced in different mountains vary greatly.

Wu Liang Shan – Ai Lao Shan (Jing Dong): least pricy
Lin Cang – Meng Ku: trending   
Meng Hai – Meng La (Ban Na):15 famous tea mountains, pricy

Old Six Ancient Mountains New Nine Ancient Mountains
East of Lan Cang River West of Lan Cang River
You Le Nan Nuo Shan
Mang Zhi Pa Sha
Ge Deng He Kai
Man Zhuan Bu Lang Shan
Yi Bang Xiao Meng Song
Man Sa (Yi Wu) Da Meng Song
Ba Da
Man Nuo
Jing Mai
 
 

Wu Yi Yan Cha – Cliff Tea or Rock Tea

Yufei Weng

WHAT IS YAN CHA?

One of the three sub-categories of Wu Long, Wu Yi Yan Cha represents the pinnacle of Min Bei (northen Fujian) Wu Long, in which the leaves are heavily roasted to achieve a signature dark and bold aroma and taste. The mantra for Yan Cha is “rock bone and floral fragrance.” While all Wu Longs are floral, the "rock bone" of Yan Cha refers to a highly desired "molten stone" mouth feel. One of the hottest teas in China right now, Yan Cha has one of the widest price swings as well as some of the wildest stories associated with a tea.

WHAT IS DA HONG PAO?

One of the most famous stories associated with Yan Cha is the legend of Da Hong Pao or "Great Red Robe." The story tells the tale of a student who, on his way to the national exam, got sick while in Wu Yi Shan and took shelter at the nowadays Tian Xin Yong Le Temple. The monks in the temple nourished him back to health so he could continue to the capital for the national exam. The student eventually won first place in the national exam, which immediately placed him among the nation’s top elites. When he went back to the temple to thank the monks, he wore a red robe, a garment to show his new status. The monks told him that it was the teas they gave him from the back of the temple that revived him. To show his gratitude, the student went to the tea trees, took off his red robe and put it on the tea trees. This tribute gave those tea trees not only fame, but also the name Da Hong Pao, Great Red Robe. This story is so famous, the name "Da Hong Pao" is very commonly (but mistakenly) used synonymously with Yan Cha.

As widespread as this story is and the many variations of it, there’s actually very little record indicating its truth other than the main character of the story, the student, Ding Xian, did exist and the temple is still a major temple in the area.

Nevertheless, Wu Yi tea does have a very long history of being a tribute tea, and since the Tang Dynasty (618AD – 907AD) people have been raving about tea produced in the region. But similar to the other historically famous teas, we cannot definitively conclude that in those times Wu Yi tea was made in the same style as Yan Cha today. Actually, it is more likely the tea that was made in the region before late Ming Dynasty (1368AD – 1644AD) was green tea, and it was not until the abolition of certain restrictions on tribute teas that Yan Cha as we now know it was first created.

Where is Yan Cha from?

One of the most defining factors contributing to Yan Cha’s unique mouth feel is the very rocky terrain, called Danxia Landform, where the teas are grown. Like all historically famous teas in China, the specifics of the locations are meticulously detailed. The word Zheng Yan, which translates to True Cliff, is referring to the core part of the Wu Yi Shan. This core is centered around the ancient Hui Yuan Temple and extends north to Lotus Peak and south to Jiu Qu Xi (Nine-turn Brook), roughly 18 square miles. Due to the popularity of Yan Cha, the True Cliff region has slowly been “expanding” in the past decade, but the most desired lots are still marked by the very small area surrounding Three Pits and Two Creeks.

The Three Pits are:

Niu Lan Keng (Cow Fence Pit)

Hui Yuan Keng (Wisdom Garden Pit)

Dao Shui Keng (Opposite Water Pit)

The Two Creeks are:

Liu Xiang Jian (Flowy Fragrance Creek)

Wu Yuan Jian (Spring of Enlightenment Creek)

Other prominent and very expensive Zheng Yan locations are:

Jiu Long Ke (Nine Dragon Dwelling), where Da Hong Pao is

San Yang Feng (Three Up Peak), hightest peak

Tian Xin Yan (Heavenly Heart Rock)

Xiang Bi Yan (Elephant Trunk Rock)

Zhu Ke (Bamboo Dwelling)

Gui Dong (Ghost Cave)

Ma Tou Yan (Horse Head Rock)

Ban Yan, or Half Cliff, refers to the immediate area surrounding the Zheng Yan area: imagine a larger, concentric circle of land around the core that is Zheng Yan. Unlike the Zheng Yan region, where the varietals of tea trees are stable and limited, in Ban Yan one finds more types of tea varietals and more affordable Yan Cha. Ban Yan teas are also significantly more fragrant than Zheng Yan’s, but have less body and are short on the “rock bone” characteristic. The well-known Ban Yan locations are Huang Bai, Xing Cun, Xiao Wu Yi.

About two hours outside of the core Wu Yi Shan area is the world famous high mountain area called Tong Mu. Even though it is a region most famously known for producing the world’s oldest red tea (what the West knows as black tea), Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong (Lapsang Souchong), it is also a Yan Cha producing region. Often just simply referred to as Gao Shan (High Mountain), the Yan Cha from this region sells for similar prices as Ban Yan teas. It is significantly sweeter and softer than the cliff region teas, but lacking the highly sought after yan yun, rock chime, which Yan Cha connoisseurs pay for. Well known Gao Shan Yan Cha villages are Xi Yuan, Wu San Di.

The majority of Yan Cha we see on the market, however, are Zhou Cha, a word locals use to describe the plantation teas in the region. Wu Yi Shan is a popular tourist destination for its stunning natural beauty and many Zhou Cha are sold to tourists seeking the famous Da Hong Pao.

How is Yan Cha made?

Like all Wu Long, Yan Cha picks only leaves, making it one of the latest teas to be in season every year, with Ban Yan picking time around early to mid April and Zheng Yan early May (the most elementary way to tell if a tea is Zheng Yan or not is by the time the finished tea comes out: the roasted Zheng Yan tea does not come out until August or September). Yan Cha picking consist of roughly 3-4 leaves with stems. The picked teas then are spread out under the sun to wilt until soft (according to hand feel). After the teas are sufficiently wilted, they remain on bamboo trays for a few hours before being shaken or tumbled to regulate how the water inside the leaves travels out, thus managing enzyme activity in the leaves. This process is repeated every hour, 5-8 times throughout the evening and night until morning. Once the teas are satisfactorily fermented in the early morning, they are then wok fried to kill the enzymes in the leaves to stop the fermentation. Freshly out of the wok where the leaves are still hot and soft, they are then rolled vigorously to break the surface membranes to bring out more consistent flavors in the tea. After the leaves are rolled, they are evenly spread and baked a couple rounds to dry. This gives us mao cha, or rough tea. The most tedious step in all Chinese tea making is the stem-picking step, which in Yan Cha’s case takes place for several months following the rough tea making. It is a step where undesired yellow leaves (old leaves) and stems are picked out. The “cleaned” tea is then roasted on very dim charcoal ash for 8–12 hours, 1-3 times depending on the varietal, to make it a finished Yan Cha. Locals call this step stewing.

The traditional method of making Yan Cha is very dependent on the weather at the time of the making. In general, it is very hard to make good tea on rainy days. Feeding charcoal heat to teas resting in tumbling machine is a common modern day remedy to counter undesirable weather.

Zheng Yan village holds the annual Dou Cha Sai, or tea competition. The categories are Rou Gui, Shui Xian, Da Hong Pao (blending contest), and Ming Cong/Pin Zhong.

January Tea Delivery: Gua Pian

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WHAT IS GUA PIAN?

Gua Pian comes from the Da Bie Mountain Range and is one of China's famous teas. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Gua Pian was a Tribute Tea to the royal court, which meant that both the processing technique — the method for crafting the tea — and its specific terroir — the region where the tea is grown — was highly documented and defined. You guessed it: the historical terroir of this tea is the city of Lu An, in the province of An Hui. Ever since the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea from Lu An has been noted by tea connoisseurs and has appeared in numerous poems and novels. The mythical story of the origin of Gua Pian tea involves a divine spirit giving a villager a tea tree that stood in front of a bat cave in Qi Shan, so sometimes Gua Pian connoisseurs will use the phrase "bat cave" refer to the tea to emphasize its legitimacy.

Though the name comes from the city, "Lu An tea" refers to the teas that are produced in its entire jurisdiction. Throughout history, Lu An tea has taken many shapes and forms, but it reached its height when, during the Qing Dynasty, this tea evolved into the sunflower-seed shape we now know as Gua Pian and obtained the Tribute Tea status. Gua Pian is one of China’s Ten Famous Teas, which is an official status in China. (Another well-known Lu An tea is Huo Shan Huang Ya, which we will cover in the future.) Lu An also has a historical but “peasant” style tea called Lan Cha or An Cha, and like Pu Er, is being rediscovered by tea lovers in China

Where is Gua Pian From?

Like any historical terroir, the division of the Gua Pian producing region is strict and clear, it is divided into the Inner Mountain and Outer Mountain areas. The outer mountain consist of northeastern district within 5km diameter of Yu An and Shi Po Dian, closer to the city of Lu An. The Inner Mountain (better) is deeper into the Da Bie Mountain Range including areas of Xiang Hong Dian and Xian Hua Ling, with Qi Shan crowned the best of them all.

The mythical story of the origin of Gua Pian tea involve a divine spirit giving the villager the tea tree around a bat cave in Qi Shan, therefore sometimes Gua Pian connoisseurs like to throw around the word bat cave to emphasize the legitimacy of the tea.

To reach the Qi Shan area from Xian Hua Ling where the main Gua Pian primary trading market is, one has to take a very old ferry across the Xiang Hong Dian reservoir, making it one of the most tedious to reach but stunningly beautiful tea regions because the ferry only runs once a day and with no set departure time.

Gua Pian tea is unique not only because of its history, but also because its unusual picking style and processing technique. Gua Pian is the only Chinese green tea that uses only leaves without any buds or stems.

How is Gua Pian made?

Now a lot of the knock-off Gua Pian uses the left over leaves after all the buds were picked. However, in the region where Gua Pian is the primary tea, people would purposefully wait for the bud to open up and become leaves before picking the tea. Because of this, Gua Pian is one of the latest picking green teas with the primary season usually happen around mid to end of April. After the leaves are picked in the morning, they are usually spread out in a shaded area indoors to let the surface moisture of the leaves dry out for a few hours and the official making starts after sunset. The Gua Pian woks are wood fired and are usually in a standup position with two or three line up in a row.

Without a dial to control the temperature, one person has to be assigned to man the log fire, controlling the temperature completely by skillfully positioning the logs and know when to add or take out a few. The two or three woks are usually operating at different temperatures with the first one the hottest. Once the leaves are thoroughly cooked (enzymes killed), they are transferred to the next wok(s) to make shape. The tea makers use a small broom or swatter looking tool to move the leaves then gently beat it continuously to make sure the leaves are heated evenly and takes on the signature tightening shape, making about half an ounce of tea at a time.

The leaves then are transferred to a slightly warped bamboo tray and moved nimbly over a dim charcoal ash to slowly bake dry. After the teas are baked dry come the most tedious step of all top shelf Chinese teas, where one by one the older leaves and stems are picked out from the batch. Afterward come the most unique steps of Gua Pian, La Da Huo, or pulling the big fire.

20lbs at a time, the semi-dried leaves are put on a giant bamboo tray with one man on each side of it and literarily walk the tea over a sizzling big pit of charcoal fire to flash roast the teas. For each batch of tea, this step is repeated for about an hour. It is usually done on a three-man rotation as the locals say no stronger man can handle more than 5 rounds of the roasting a day. The tealeaves loose about 30% more moisture after this step, leaving us with only around 14lbs of the final tea.

Like all tea regions throughout the world, many scientific efforts go into developing more economically viable cultivars and stabilize them through cloning with saplings. Historical mountain teas usually are late adaptor to this modernization but are not totally absolved of the practice. Though majority of the Gua Pian in the market are machine processed using the new cultivar, there are still a lot of the old tea trees in the region of a varietal what the locals call Ben Cha, or stupid tea. Because these tea trees were planted by ancestors and with seeds, so it is not of a single stabilized varietal but a collection of varieties and that is what gives the made tea unrivaled complexity.

You can purchase it youself to buy at our online store.If you want to learn more about Gua Pian check out our video page for Shunan's travel footage or Koen Cohens interview with Shunan on his podcast, Talking Tea.

Tasting Notes

Style: Baked-Dry Green Tea
Varietal: Ben Cha (stupid tea)
Gua Pian’s general profile is grassy, toasted, and slightly savory, with a sugary body and mouthfeel (but not actual taste). Due to its unique picking style — Gua Pian uses only full leaves, no buds or stems — generally the second round of picking, rather than the first, includes the leaf from the head bud (since the head bud usually needs more time to develop). Though the first pluck is always the most expensive due to its rarity and market desirability, there is consensus among Gua Pian connoisseurs that the second round of picking, which includes the leaf of the first bud, tastes better. The earlier the picking time, the more tender the taste.  With picking times later in the season, the taste becomes more substantial and the mouth feel rougher. By the time it reaches mid spring, the tea usually becomes a little more astringent, with quite a kick. However, no decent tea should be unpleasantly bitter.

Because (in theory) all the enzymes are killed in green tea during the heat treatment, this is a tea best consumed fresh, usually within the year it is harvested. From the 2ndyear on, value of a tea without active enzymes starts to diminish and the tea has a noticeably peppery taste to it.

Phoenix Spring Green Tea

Yufei Weng

Shunan has returned to the beautiful Huang Shan for Mao Feng.

Shunan loves Huang Shan for it’s natural beauty. Unforetunetly in recent years the tourism business has been supported by the local government more than the tea production. The tea production here is still strong and is producing lots of high quality tea.

Mao Feng has not been researched as much as other tea varieties, thus the cultivar has been left untouched. Unlike other teas like Long Jing or Bai Mu Dan that have new varieties, which while easier to grow does not taste as good, Mao Feng is still mostly its original variety

 

If you remember from pervious videos Mao Feng is baked dry. This preserves the natural shape of the tea and gives it a softer taste than most green teas. The original way to bake the tea is in a basket over coal. There is a more recent method in which the leaves are placed in a tall oven, allowing for more tea to be baked at one time. For More information on the tea production and for the beautiful Huang Shan scenery watch Shunan’s newest video.

Shunan has a great relationship with the family and loves to visit them. A city girl by birth, Shunan loves the country life. From baby chickens to wooden room warmers. Check out our second video to see daily life in the Huang Shan area.

You can watch more from Shunan's tea sourcing trips at our video page

The Huang Shan Mao Feng featured in this video is available for purchase at our online store

 

The Tea Formally Known as Scary Fragrance: Bi Luo Chun

Yufei Weng

A Qing Dynasty emperor once tasted a green tea known at the time as Scary Fragrance. When the emperor tasted the tea though, he did not think the name matched the beautiful taste. He renamed it Bi Luo Chun, which means green snail spring.

Today Bi Luo Chun is one of China’s most popular teas. It considered best when sourced from Dong Ting Mountain. This is a mountain located on an island in a lake. The process of making Bi Luo Chun is very tedious because the picking is very specific. For Bi Luo Chun they use only super tiny buds. If you have a tea with a lot of large leaves is it not desired.

Bi Luo Chun is a stir fried green tea, like Long Jing, which gives it a strong taste. The leaves are rolled in the wok to not only give them their shape, but to also break the cell membrane to release flavor. The rolling process takes about 45 minutes when done my hand. The careful work that goes into making a good Bi Luo Chun is part of what makes it so expensive.

A trick to telling if a Bi Luo Chun is made well is if it sinks to the bottom of your cup as soon as you put it in water. (Remember for Bi Luo Chun you put the water in first). A quick sink is the sign of good a making technique. While this doesn’t tell you everything about the tea, usually an excellently crafted tea starts from high quality leaves.

For more information check out our video page where Shunan breaks down Bi Luo Chun right from Dong Ting!

You can also purchase Bi Luo Chun here

Yunnan Red Tea

Yufei Weng

Yunnan is most known for Pu Er, but did you know they also make red tea? (Known as black by the rest of the world for reasons we don’t understand.)
Yunnan red tea, known as Dian Hong, has a relatively short history, but it does offer an unique opportunity to taste red tea from the Assamic family. Some of them are even made with old trees similar to Pu Er.

One large leaf

One large leaf

You can learn more about Dian Hong and watch how it’s made by visiting our video page.

Buy Yun Nan red tea, Dian Hong here

Yellow Leaves: What Should Not Be in Your Tea

Yufei Weng

On a single tea stem there is a tender leaf, the bud, and then there are the older parts. When we are stir frying tea, the tender parts curl up. This we then further roll to make a very tight string. When the leaves are too old though, they don’t curl up. These leaves are not desired. This is what is referred to as yellow leaves

Yellow leaves

Yellow leaves

The yellow leaf is a leaf that is too old and no longer good. This is why you can’t go strictly by one bud one leaf, or one bud two leaves, because every tea stem is different. One may only have one bud and one leaf, but this leaf is too old and no good. These leaves, or yellow leaves, should always be removed as part of the tea refining process.

If you are ever shown a batch of tea that is full of yellow leaves, this means that the people who made the tea did not care enough go through with the refining process and pick them out. This usually happens when the labor cost would exceed the cost of the actual tea. So a batch of tea full of yellow leaves is usually not made from good tea to begin with. While this is not a direct sign of a tea’s quality, it usually shows a tea’s quality. For all true origin teas, this is a necessary step.

Selling yellow leaves is not always a bad thing though. While the yellow leaves have less flavor and complexity, they are usually sweeter; though they tend to only last a few brews. It is not uncommon for people to make cakes of the yellow leaves , especially if they are from more pristine locations, and sell it for a lower cost. As long as the seller provides the correct information about what he is selling, and sells it for a reasonable price, this is a fair practice.

For more tea education and to see more videos from the tea producing regions visit our video page

All leaf and no bud? That’s an opposite leaf.

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A sign of a bad Pu Er is opposite leaves. Opposite leaves is when the leaves are bigger than the bud. 

Healthy leaf on the right, opposite leaves on the right. 

Healthy leaf on the right, opposite leaves on the right. 

Normally leaves have a fat bud coming out. The bud gives the tea the additional flavor and body. This usually makes the tea smoother too.

Any trees that have a little bit of this is ok, but some trees have a lot of the opposite leaves. Some years are particularly bad years. Basically these are malnourished tea trees. It is very telling in the brewed tea leaves as well. So if you see a tea with a lot of the opposite leaves, it is not desired.

Watch Shunan's travel videos for more tea knowledge and to see how your favorite tea is made. 

A Tea Only a Master Can Make

Yufei Weng

Not all teas are treated equal. When a farmer picks a tea from a standard bush, he will treat it normally. If he picks a tea he knows is low quality he may be rough with the making, putting very little care into it. But when a farmer picks a tea from a bush that is a grade above the rest, he treats it with the full attention is deserves. It is with this care and devotion true dan congs are made.

Dan cong has become a generic term for any Phoenix Mountain oolong, but it use to be that this term referred to only a specific type of wu long; ones made from a single tree. As with pu ers, Phoenix oolong trees can grow to be quite sizable, big enough that it takes a ladder to pick them. When trees are this big and this old, whole batches of tea can be made from one tree. The age of the tree along with the single source of the leaves creates some of the highest quality tea.

When dealing with leaves of such high quality, special attention must be given to make sure the complex natural flavors are brought out. Much of the process is done by hand to put the tea maker in as much control as possible. When machines need to be used they are fresh, and have been saved only for that tea. This prevents any transfer of flavor from previous batches. The whole process can only be trusted to a tea master with years of experience. One small mistake at any point could ruin everything

See the careful and precise work that is put into true dan congs in Shunan’s tea trip videos

You can also buy Feng Huang Phoenix Wu Long here

The Only Red Tea to Make the List

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Qi Men’s history is short and sweet.
Created in the 1800’s, Qi Men is relatively new so all of its history has been fully recorded. A very unique tea, Qi Men is the only red tea on the list of China’s top ten most famous teas.

Chu Ye, the cultivar used for Qi Men, is an example of of a cultivar fit for one type of tea. Since The different categories of tea are based on making technique, there is no rule that dictates which cultivar must be made into which tea. You can take a Shui Xian leaf, which is usually used for oolong, and make white or green tea out of it. The problem is it does not always taste good. Chu Ye makes fantastic red tea, but as a green tea it taste weird.

Tea that is processed with the traditional methods always have the best taste. This is why Shunan always tries to make her tea traditional as possible. Making tea in the traditional way is a very delicate process. Shunan wanted to wither some Qi Men in the sun, as opposed to automated channels. When doing this you have to take into account not only the heat of the sun, but also the heat off the ground that will effect the withering process. A careful eye and a skillful hand must be kept on this tea to prevent them from being ruined

After the tea is withered, it is rolled. For the test batch Shunan used an old school rolling machine made completely out of wood. As the cell wall of the leaf breaks, Shunan begins to smell the wonderful aroma of the tea. The leaves are then placed into a temperature controlled room to ferment. This is what sets red teas apart from the rest. Unlike most teas which are fermented and then heated to stop the fermentation, red teas are allowed to ferment all the way. All the enzymes in the leaf are left to live out their life which, if done right, leaves you with a smooth sweet tea.

See more from Shunan's travel from our video page

You can also purchase Chinese red tea at our online store

 

The Most Tedious Tea

Yufei Weng

In a truck full of tea pickers, Shunan can feel every bump in the rough road. The truck pulls up to the foot of the mountain and the workers file, passing each other their baskets as they begin the long climb. While not the steepest trek, the climb to Hou Kui looks almost vertacle from the bottom. Shunan begins the rough ascension, only stopping to dig out a juicy bamboo shoot along the way. The tea field sits on the side of the mountain, accompanied by stone ridges workers in previous years put in to keep them from slipping.

Hou Kui tea has abnormally big leaves for a green tea. The pick for Hou Kui is a little later than some teas. You don’t want a bud that’s too tender or else you wont have enough flavor. Shunan is there relatively early in the season so a lot of the buds are still too young.

By 9:30 am the truck pulls back into the processing facility and baskets are once again unloaded from the back, but this time they are full of fresh tea leaves. After a careful sifting process, the teas are taken to be stir fried.

Stir frying is the mimportant step in green tea making.
When the tea leaf is plucked, enzymes inside of the leaf start to ferment. Greens teas are exposed to high heat right away to kill these enzymes, which in turn keep the leaf in its freshest state. In this village Shunan gets another lesson in stir frying tea. She has tried this in every region she goes to, but it is still a technique she has yet to master. Each Time you can hear the cool sizzling of the tea leaf burning. The trick, she is told, is to keep the tea moving and to always have your hand on tea so you don’t burn yourself.

The next step is what really makes Hou Kui processing unique, the hand pressing. Every single leaf is individually hand pressed to give it its long shape. To further press the tea they lay a cloth across the hand pressed tea and pull a roller over it. This is what gives Hou Kui those squared markings on the leaf. Though while sometimes faked, a checkered pattern on the leaf is a sign of hand made tea.

You can purchase Tai Ping Hou Kui here 

Things Get Wild at Dian Tuo

Yufei Weng

Thick in the middle of tea bushes, Shunan takes a step toward another plant hoping to spot a tender bud. Suddenly the ground below her gives way and she begins to slide down the slope. She reaches out for the closest thing to grab on to and is saved by a near by tea branch. For such a frail looking plant, tea bushes are deeply rooted and very sturdy. Shunan pulls herself up laughing and returns to the search for wild tea.

Tea picking is a physically demanding. The plants that produce the best tea can be lower to the ground or need a little bushwhacking to get to. For a lot of tea plants newer varieties have been created that while easier to pick and produce a better yield, don’t always taste as good.

The tea farmer don’t always have the facilities to produce white tea so often they sell the fresh leaves to buyers who can process them well. This goes on in a large, almost chaotic, outdoor market. A crowd of tea growers trying to sell their leaves at the best price while tea buyers try to get the most for their money.

Into the Fog. An Adventure at Lu Shan

Yufei Weng

Shunan sits on top of Lu Shan with a cup of tea looking over the fog which passes below her. The thick fog covers the earth below giving Shunan the feeling she could step off the mountain and walk to the peaks she sees in the distance.

The trek up Lu Shan was new for Shunan. An area she hasn’t been before, Lu Shan is one of the coldest tea regions she has visited due to the high elevation. Through the thick fog that rests on the path, you can hear the gentle crunch of ice slipping off the trees. This fog is what gives Lu Shan tea the title “fog tea”. In the past, scholars and rulers would make this trek to show their devotion to their job. A climb like this is not for the weak of heart.

Below the peak are the tea fields. The locals rate the tea by how foggy the growing area is; the foggier the better. Since the location is more north than most tea regions and at a higher elevation, the cold prolongs the tea from budding. The old variety is not picked till April 5th, which is the cut off date for picking other teas.

Lu Shan has both old variety and new variety teas. In this case though, the old variety gives a better yield then the new variety. While the government gives incentives to grow the new variety the locals secretly keep to the old variety.

You can buy the true origin Yu Wu at our online store

Tea Off Tuesday: Mao Feng

Yufei Weng

Earlier this week we held our very first Tea Off Tuesday. Everyone who attended had fun and learned a lot. The theme was Mao Feng. Attendees brought three different teas and we pit them against one of our own. We’ll bring a camera to get better pictures next time since Nicole’s phone was not cooperating very well. 

Brewed Tea

Brewed Tea

Which of these teas do you think was the champ? Let us know in the comments!

Spring Tea Trip 2014: Hou Kui and White Tea

Yufei Weng

Shunan hasn’t been able to get internet to send us much but last night she sent a ton of pictures and videos from her phone. She had just left Taiping for Hou Kui and is now in Qimen (Keemun). Next will be Phoenix Mountain followed by a visit to Fa Yu Fa Shi at the South Shaolin Temple. Many of you have been asking if there will be any new monk’s tea and Shunan confirmed that there definitely will be!

Hand making Hou Kui in Taiping

Hand making Hou Kui in Taiping

Fu Ding White Tea Fresh Leaf Market

Fu Ding White Tea Fresh Leaf Market

Sun Drying White Tea

Sun Drying White Tea