Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Core Original Place of Taiping Hou Kui

Taiping Hou Kui (simplified Chinese: 太平猴魁; pinyin: tàipínghóukuí.) tea also named Monkey King Tea is grown in Taiping County, Anhui Province, at the foot of Huangshan Mountain. The tea was first made at the beginning of the 20th century in a small village named Hou Keng (猴坑).

Authentic Taiping Hou Kui is now commonly thought to be only produced in three small remote villages in Xinming township, Taiping county. The celebrity status combined with the small annual output drove the tea to the high-sky price, especially after the Chinese President Hu Jingtao chose it as a national gift presented to foreign leaders or dignitaries during recent years. Now Taiping Hou Kui along with Dragon Well (Long Jing)Green Snail Spring (Biluochun) and Melon Seek (Liu An Gua Pian) are among the Chinese most expensive green tea rank, dwarfing its also well-known cousin Huangshan Mao Feng.

Great taste, nice aroma as well as unique appearance make Taiping Hou Kui distinct among Chinese famous teas. Around mid-April, 2012, we made another trip to Fenghuang Jian, Houkeng, the core original place of Taiping Hou Kui, in an attempt to know more about the amazing and mysterious Chinese green tea. Fenghuang Jian is a small place of Houkeng. Some people thought Wang Kuicheng, the originator of Taiping Hou Kui tea, first created the tea here. Fenghuang in Chinese means Phoenix and Jian here means the beak. Fenghuang Jian in Chinese means “the beak of Phoenix".

Kou Keng is much remote, not to mention Fenghuang Jian. It takes more than two hours by car from the urban area to Houkeng and then there is no road for the car to go through. We have to walk.

It is a tough journey but the scenery gave us much joy.

The sky flames with azaleas.

We nearly arrived after walking for more than one hour. There is a stone tablet at the roadside, indicating Fenghuang Jian is the original place of Taiping Hou Kui and Wang Kuicheng is the originator. It also mentioned that Taiping Hou Kui tea won the gold prize in the Expo held in Panama in 1915.

There are tea bushes everywhere. The local tea cultivar is unique. It is called"Shi Da" cultivar, belonging to the medium-leaf variety, famous for strong "Chi Nen Xing" -shoot tenderness-keeping ability. That is why Taiping Hou Kui can be so delicate even made of big twigs of one bud embraced by two leaves.

We finally arrived. So great, here has a superb view of Taiping Lake.

The three big characters inscribed on the stone tablet are just Feng Huang Jian. The tablet indicates here (Fenghuang Jian) is the original place of Taiping Hou Kui.

The tomb of Wang Kuicheng

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When Keemun Tea Comes To the Market Each Year.

Keemun tea was also begun being harvested during early Spring (commonly the end of March) each year and going through the first production stage called"Cuzhi"(preliminary processing). Each batch of "maocha"(tea just after the preliminary processing) will be graded and some good of them (commonly harvested earlier) can directly come to the market after selecting. The "maocha" directly comes to the market is just called Keemun Mao Feng.

The preliminary processing will be over at the end of May or early June. The Maocha of lower grades will be further processed. The further production stage is called "Jingzhi"(refinement processing). It is said during the old times, the refinement includes more than 40 procedures, now it also has 12. The aim is to make the appearance of the tea smaller, tighter and slenderer, removing the foreign substances and drying away water. The tea after refinement is called Keemun Congou which has 10 grades (Hao Ya A, Hao Ya B, Special and 1-7 Grades). The Keemun Congou of higher grades will be finished earlier than the ones of lower grades. The Keemun Congou of 7th Grades will be available until September.

In addition, the leaves for making Keemun Mao Feng will be finished harvesting until the Mid- May while the entire harvesting will be finished until the end of June. The leaves harvested between the Mid-May and the end of June will only be made for producing Keemun Congou because the leaves harvested during the period is much bigger. No harvesting will be made in Autumn and Winter for Keemun tea.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why the authentic Lapsang Souchong is pleasantly smoky

A lot of friends ever told me that they don't like Lapsang Souchong and even hate it because of its overwhelming smoky taste and some of them even wonder why Lapsang Souchong won popularity in 1600s and 1700s in Europe and was treated as a luxury drink in England, France, Dutch and The Netherlands. During recent years, we visited Tongmu, Wuyi Mountain for several times. We talked and worked with the local producers, and established firm relations with them. When we gained an insight into it, we don't wonder any more why Lapsang Souchong won the love of people and we also got to know why the fake Lapsang Souchong is hated by the people.

Here, we listed the two conditions which we think the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong should meet:

1. Growing and made in Tongmu, Wuyi Mountain, a national nature reserve seen by Chinese tea experts as the core Lapsang Souchong tea producing area. The area is only about 50 square kilometers.

2. Made by the manufacturers who stick to the traditional methods. The smoky Lapsang Souchong tea should be made through the crucial drying process using smoldering pine fire.

For condition 1, we will make an article to describe the growing environment of the Tongmu in detail with many photos to let people know why the fresh tealeaves harvested in Tongmu are special. Tongmu is the birthplace of Lapsang Souchong, the first black tea in the world. As a very important place during the tea history, it has very beautiful scenery and is now a national nature reserve that isn't open to the tourists. Thanks to the help of the local people, we can go to there each time.

Here, we elaborate the difference in production between the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong and the fake smoky ones in the market.

In fact, as now Chinese especially young people who don't like the black tea with even a little smoky taste (partly because they are reluctant or have no opportunity to approach the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong), now the annual output of the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong was declining year by year. More and more producers shift to making unsmoked Souchong black tea using the common modern production method. The unsmoked members of Lapsang Souchong family include Jin Junmei, Yin Junmei and Chigan (while there are also smoky Chigan made in the traditional ways). Some producers even totally abandoned the production of the smoky types.

While there are still the producers who made the both types; traditional (smoky) and new type (unsmoked) like the one we are now collaborating with. The traditional smoky Lapsang Souchong was still made in the old facilities which they call Qing Lou (the black house we see in the photo) and all the unsmoked Lapsang Souchong was made in the facilities newly established several years ago. The new facilities were almost the same as those we can find elsewhere for making other kinds of black teas. 

The traditional Qing Lou (black house) for making the smoky Lapsang Souchong is really special. When we visited them in the early March, 2012, we asked them to show us around and they gladly agreed. There are four floors. When the production of the Lapsang Souchong begins, the pine woods are fired at the bottom. The house is designed so well that the heat and smoke can rise through the first to the fourth floor. When the fresh tealeaves harvested, they are at first placed at the fourth(highest) floor for withering, then moved to three floor for oxidation and then after the processes such as pan frying and rolling, it is finally placed to the first floor for first drying stage to reduce the moisture content to 20%. Later, they are moved to the second floor for the second drying to reduce the moisture under 5%.

Due to the smoldering pine fire generates smoke containing vaporized amber essence, which absorbed by tea leaves, gives Lapsang Souchong typical pine smoke flavor. The drying process takes 8-10 hours in order to ensure complete drying and develop the distinctive flavor of smoky Lapsang Souchong. The authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong has dried Longan aroma and pleasant while not overwhelming smoky flavor.

In fact, we noticed that most of the people (about 90%) would like the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong while 98% people would dislike the commonly found smoky Lapsang Souchong in the market. There are two main reasons; one is that the two kinds were made of the totally different Chaqing (fresh tealeaves). The other is that they were made in the totally different ways. Unlike the complicated processes the authentic smoky one was made through, the commonly found smoky Lapsang Souchong is usually made by directly smoking the finished black tea. The finished black tea was usually of inferior quality and difficult to be sold out so people had no way but to smoke them, wishing to cover up the unpleasant taste with the smoky flavor so this kind of smoky Lapsang Souchong is usually overwhelming smoky and very cheap.

The interior of the Qing Lou: