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 oolong; 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 new trip video.
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 what happens to Shunan’s traditionally made tea on our
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.
To learn more about green tea, and Hou Kui, check out our youtube channel where you can also see other videos from Shunan’s trip.
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.
Learn more about white tea and to see the fresh tea market first hand check out our youtube channel.
You can try old variety and wild white tea at our tea house located at 123 E7th NYC.
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.
To learn more about Lu Shan teas and to see the awesome view, watch our YouTube Channel and stay tuned for more trip updates.