Huang Shan is one of the most magnificent mountains in the world and its tea has long been ranked amongst China’s best. Though the history of Huang Shan tea can be traced as far back as ~1050 AD, it was not until the 1500s that the tea has gained popularity and reknown. Perhaps due to Huang Shang’s stunning misty peaks and stony formation that an abundance of historical records place unusually strong emphasis on the healing and nourishing properties of Huang Shan teas.
In the 1800s, during the late Qing Dynasty, a merchant made a bake-dry style green tea full of white hair with pointy “peaks” of buds and named it Mao Feng, translating to “hairy peak”. In the past, Huang Shan tea was called Huang Shan Yun Wu. There is a gap in the timeline between Huang Shan Yun Wu and Huang Shan Mao Feng, but due to the defined location of Huang Shan, Mao Feng is generally viewed as the continuation of the celebrated Yun Wu (which is not to be confused with Lu Shan Yun Wu).
In 1955, Huang Shan Mao Feng was ranked amongst China’s Ten Famous Teas and in 1986, it became a Nation-Gift Tea, a tea used to treat top government officials and diplomats.
Like many famous teas produced in scenic mountain locations, the best of Mao Feng comes from within the scenic circle, where the terrain is extra rocky. However, because the main scenic area is uninhabited and because Huang Shan has long been China’s top tourist destination, most of the tea trees inside are gone or abandoned. The desirability of Mao Feng is strongly associated with the tea’s proximity to the scenic areas of Feng Huang Yuan (Phoenix Spring), Jiu Long Pu (Nine Dragon Waterfall), which are amongst some of the most expensive tea but producing very little harvest. Gang Cun, one of the largest villages near the main area of Huang Shan has the most abundant production within the inner circle of the Huang Shan Mao Feng appellation. Because Huang Shan is a vast mountain and Mao Feng has enjoyed its fame for a longer time than its peers in the modern time, Huang Shan Mao Feng has one of the largest “origins”; connoisseurs would rank its terroir from 7 to 10 levels.
Harvesting and Crafting
Within the inner circle of Mao Feng’s terroir, because the temperature is significantly lower than the surrounding area, the teas usually do not bud until early April. This year, the teas budded particularly late -- April 4th, which is close to the cutoff date of other green teas’ prime season. Thus, April 4th marked the first day of the Mao Feng harvest in Feng Huang Yuan this year. Like many traditional teas, Mao Feng’s harvest season is very short, usually around 15 days, with a direct correlation between the tenderness of the picked leaves and the price and market desirability.
The standard picking grade for Mao Feng is one bud and two leaves. After the fresh leaves are harvested, they are spread out on bamboo trays to stay cool and to allow the surface moisture to evaporate. After a few hours, starting in the early evening, the leaves are stir-fried in small batches over high temperature to kill the enzymes in the leaves (also known as Sha Qing, “Kill Green”). Nowadays, this step is commonly done in a tumbling machine. Traditionally, Sha Qing happens in a wood-fire wok with the leaves stir fried by hand.
Unlike most of China’s traditional teas that have a shape-making step during the making process, Mao Feng is “free style”. The leaves naturally curl up to a “bird tongue” shape due to the high temperature, making Mao Feng, one of the hardiest and fluffiest green teas. The name Mao Feng is synonymous with its style, where there is no shape-making step involved in the process. For example, a whole-leaf red tea without further shaping after the necessary rolling for fermentation would be called a Red Mao Feng.
After Sha Qing, the cooked but still moist leaves are transferred to a bamboo tray to be baked dry over a dim charcoal bowl, usually overnight. This unique step qualifies Mao Feng as a bake-dry green tea, which gives it a milder and more savory taste than a stir fry-dry green tea, like Bi Luo Chun.
Mao Feng is savory. It is one of the mildest green teas, with an almost unusual tenderness for its category. The earlier the picking is, the lighter the color of both the dry leaves and the resulting tea. The buds are significantly smaller in earlier picks (more desirable) and curls more naturally due to a higher moisture content. As the leaves grow older, their color become greener and the tea’s flavor becomes more intense with an increasingly rougher mouthfeel. It is hard to brew a bitter Mao Feng but a later picked Mao Feng can have a little bitterness in the throat.
Wild teas are harvested on unmaintained lands with unpredictable harvesting time. They tend to have a more uneven look because the varietals are mixed. The taste of wild teas are usually more intense with the followup taste being sweeter.
Use a thin-walled OPEN vessel, a glass is great. The key is to never cover green and yellow teas. Temperature 185 for about 2-3 minutes. After each brew, leave just enough water to have the leaves submerged before filling more water. Enjoy 4 brews. The leaves should descend from the top to the bottom of the vessel throughout the course of brewing.
Join Shunan on her Huang Shan tea trip to learn more with our Huang Shan Mao Feng video!