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Wulong of CHINA (PART 2): THE DAN CONG OF THE FENG HUANG MOUNTAINS

30 January 2010

at 4:54 by Seb

DanCong-vieux théiers
Guangdong Province conceals a tea tradition of its own. Although some of the hills produce other types of tea, the speciality of this coastal region of southeast China is without a doubt wulong. Even within the same family of tea several distinct types are possible, this is even more so in the case of wulongs. Cultivated on the sides of the mountain chain of ‘The Phoenix’ (Feng Huang), the very special full sized tea trees, some aged over 900 years old, produce surprisingly complex teas.
It is through the genetic makeup of the tea trees, their manner of cultivationbased on age old wisdom, the type of harvest of their leaves and finally the transformation of the leaf, requiring its own very particular mastery, that  Dan Cong wulong teas divulge their differences from other members of the semi-oxidized teas.

DanCong-transformationTo understand this subfamily of tea, some understanding of botany is necessary: Until recent decades tea plants were propagated only by seed. Camellia sinensis has the ability to mutate easily, each tea plant having its own genetic makeup, more or less different from that of the parents, the taste and aroma offered by their leaves varying in  sometimes surprising nuances from individual to individual plant. In Feng Huang, some tea plants with taste qualities of particular interest were pampered and even personified, sometimes by being given quite zany names. Highly regarded, these unique tea plants have survived the centuries until today when they are now almost revered by producers and enthusiasts, each tree rarely giving more than a kilo and a half of tea per year. Dan Cong means “single tea tree” since, each of these tea bushes reveal flavors of their own unique essence, and harvests are from each individual without being mixed with those of their neighbours.

DanCong-infusionWith the modern world and its demand for higher productivity, the method of reproduction changed from seeds to cuttings. Branches taken from a mother plant are rooted in a nursery then transplanted onto mountain slopes: the ideal cultivation conditions, these old tea trees were cloned in an effort to increase in their numbers and to preserve their aromatic qualities with a dependable constancy. While some of the second generation tea bushes have now aged a few decades and have become Dan Cong where the harvest is preserved individually, most of the cultivation on a larger scale will be the combined plucked harvest taken from  relatively young, identically cloned, tea plants. It is true to say that, of the teas of exceptional aromatic quality these teas are, somehow, too often ignored.

With names such as Mi Lan Xiang (honey orchid fragrance), Qi Lan Xiang (Rare orchid fragrance), Huang Zhi Xiang (gardenia fragrance) or Zhi Lan Xiang (iris fragrance), these teas are classified by the type of flavors they offer on infusion. Scores of nuances are possible, always going from flower to exotic fruit, from butter to honey, usually with an ample and sophisticated liquor, with an oily texture yet refreshing. High in aromatic profile, their infusion calls for an  awakening and opening of the senses, like a good perfume in a marvellous chemical correspondence with our skin.

Wulong CHINA (PART 1): THE ROCK TEAS OF OF WUYI SHAN

20 January 2010

at 5:59 by Seb

Wuyishan-2008-théiers

The mountain of Wuyi (Wuyi Shan), north of the Chinese province of Fujian, is a nature reserve with beautiful landscapes. Cascades of pure water, monumental pillars of stone and, just as spectacular, deep valleys carved into the rock which harbour many plantations of special tea trees. In this most natural setting, on the slopes of rocky cliffs, is where a special type of wulong of age-old origin is produced: the “rock teas” (yan cha).

Wuyishan-2008-da hong pao-originels

On some cliffs there are still several original tea trees of the most renowned products of this very specific terroir: Da Hong Pao, Bai Ji Guan, Shui Jing Gui and Tie Luo Han are highly esteemed. Vigilantly guarded day and night, this handful of first generation tea trees now only produces a few hundred grams of tea sold at a high price. However, they have been mother plants for the propagation of identical tea trees now grown for rock teas. Since then, several other cultivars such as Shui Xian Lao Cong and Rou Gui were added to them to make this type of tea a fully fledged family of wulong.

wuyi-da hong pao-infusion

Classified as black wulong due to their woody and mineral character, their large leaves are oxidized to about 40-50% after harvesting, before being grilled for several hours in electric furnaces or, more traditionally, over charcoal (without absorbing smokey notes) depending on the ancestral knowledge that the craftsman carefully applies at each stage of production. The best harvests come from those of spring, these teas have the virtue of softening over the months following their production. Some experts also recommend a 2 or 3 year ageing before tasting. Depending on the particular tea, in infusion, their aromatic character ranges in nuances of woody to spicy notes, caramelized to chocolaty, floral to fruity. Warming and comforting, they are an ideal choice for the cold and wet season. Digestive and tonic, they have the prodigious property of prolonging life … due to their gourmet flavors, intoxicating and persistent enough to  instill the desire to live forever to sip more of  these teas!

 

Gao shan cha : high mountain tea

1 January 2010

at 20:55 by Seb

Shan Lin XiShan Lin Xi et ses jardins escarpés

Tea bushes that grow at over 1000 meters in Taiwan are named gao shan cha, meaning “high mountain tea.”
Note that, besides Sri Lanka, Taiwan is the only country to differentiate between high and low altitude teas. As with Darjeeling in India, these teas, cultivated in high-altitude conditions have exceptionally complex taste profiles. The climatic conditions in high mountain regions are generally cooler which reduces the growth rate of tea plants and increases the concentration of aromatic oils in the leaves.

Moreover, with the cool breeze and thick fog that dims the sunshine both morning and evening (reducing the sunlight to a few hours per day) the plant produces very dark green shoots that contain more amino acids and nitrogen compounds. Dampened by fog, the leaves are more tender thus retaining their flexibility unlike leaves from lower altitudes. This tenderness is a favorable quality for the manufacturing techniques that follow.

A few of the most famous styles of gao shan cha are:

Ali Shan, Li Shan, Da Yu Lin, Shan Lin Xi

Extrait tiré du livre “Thé: Histoire, terroirs, saveurs”

 
 

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