As the birthplace of tea, China is intrinsically important in terms of variety, styles, and traditions. According to legend, tea was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong around 2700 BC, when a leaf from a nearby tree fell into water the emperor was boiling. To this day, tea is so closely knit into the fabric of Chinese culture, it is produced in most Chinese provinces. China is also considered the only country in the world producing all six types of tea commercially; The variety of Chinese green tea alone has over 1000 distinct types. There are several factors which come into play here, most importantly the geography and climate. Particularly south China lends itself to tea production as it combines high-altitude mountain ranges with humid and hot weather conditions. We are taking you on a trip through three specialised tea provinces of China.
Let us start our journey by flying into the global financial hub of Shanghai with its breathtakingly modern skyline and taking the car down south to the province of Zhejiang. Zhejiang is one of the most important regions for tea, producing almost exclusively green teas including some of the world’s most prestigious variants. Our IMPERIAL DRAGON N°302, more commonly known as Long Jing, grows here surrounded by such a beautiful landscape, UNESCO has declared it a world heritage site. Imagine standing at the shores of West Lake by the city of Hangzhou surrounded by numerous Chinese pagodas and temples, looking out on luscious green hills of tea trees covered in misty clouds. Long Jing is extremely famous for its chestnut flavor and high concentration of antioxidants. It is also strikingly recognisable for its distinctive flat sword shaped leaves, each of which are flattened by pressing them against a hot pan by hand. It’s the dream of any tea connoisseur to visit the tea plantations of Zhejiang. Other important green teas which come from this region include our smooth and creamy TIGER ROCK WU LU N°325 as well as the renowned HAPPY HUIZONG N°301, allegedly Emperor Huizong’s favorite tea. Zhejiang has produced tea for so long, its teas are recorded in history books and numerous legends. One says that practice makes the master, and a 1000 years is a lot of practice.
If we go further south, we arrive at Fujian Province. Despite being the biggest tea producing region, Fujian only makes up 18% of total tea production, as tea grows everywhere in China. For Europeans, Fujian is historically important as we were introduced to tea at its port of Xiamen, previously Amoy. The regional dialect calls our favorite drink tê, which is also why we call it tea rather than chai. One famous kind of Fujian tea is Tieguanyin, which you might know as our BEADS OF GRATITUDE N°409 with its vegetal tasting notes. It is common knowledge that any famous Chinese tea has to have a legend, but the one surrounding this classical green style oolong is particularly beautiful. There was a very poor young farmer called Wei, who was working the fields of Anxi. Everyday on his way to work he passed an abandoned temple, which had not been used in decades. It was dirty and the walls were starting to look like ruins. Wei entered the place one day to discover the iron statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, covered in dusty cobwebs. Wei wanted to do something, but he was poor and couldn’t afford rebuilding the temple. So he did what he could and he started to clean. Everyday in his spare time, he would come to the temple and brush out the dust, tidy a bit, and burn some incense. And as the temple slowly became more inviting, people were returning to it. One night, the goddess for merci appeared to Wei in a dream, thanking him for bringing her temple back to life. She had left a present for him in a cave behind the temple. The next morning, Wei went to the place she had shown him and discovered a tea tree. Being a kind person, Wei shared the seeds of this blessed tree with his neighbors, which is the tea we now know as Tieguanyin. As you have probably guessed by now, its name derives from this old legend. Guanyin being the goddess herself and Tie meaning iron, referring to her iron statue.
Fujian Province is famous for many kinds of tea, not only Oolong. Some of the best jasmine tea comes from here, like our IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE N°323. Traditionally fresh jasmine blossoms are repeatedly placed between layers of fine Fuijan green tea to bathe the leaves and sweet buds in their unctuous aroma. Fujian Province is also the first place white tea was produced. Our TIAN CHI N°105, growing in Fuding the north-western part of Fujian, is what we would call a new style white tea or Bai Mudan. It is a full-bodied tea, a bit stronger in taste and slightly more oxidised than the other major type of white tea, Bai Hao Yinzhen.
But we cannot leave Fujian without telling you the story of the accidental discovery of Lapsang Souchong. It is believed that Lapsang Souchong was the first black tea produced in China in the village of Tongmu. Fearing the arrival of the emperor's army, the villagers were determined not to lose their tea harvest to plundering soldiers. So in an attempt to speed up the drying process, they lit up fires around the harvested tea leaves. They then proceeded to pack up the tea in bags and bury them underground. When the soldiers arrived the villagers were able to pretend that they had nothing to give. However, when they eventually retrieved their tea, it had completely oxidised and tasted terribly smokey. The harvest was ruined. The villagers weren’t going to starve so they took the tea to the port of Amoy and sold it to some unsuspecting Europeans. But surprisingly, the Europeans loved the smokey flavor and full-bodied texture of Lapsang Souchong. They kept on returning asking for more smoked tea. And so the tradition of oxidising and smoking tea was born. To this day, most Chinese will not drink black tea, it is predominantly produced for export. But we do enjoy our MCKEAG'S LAPSANG N°520.
We are ending our journey through China in Yunnan province. Yunnan is the oldest tea producing region and home to some of the most ancient tea trees in the world. Some of these 1000 year old trees are still being used for tea production. For instance our white bud tea PU ER BAI YA N°103 and our Sheng Pu-erh WILD & RAW N°602 grow on those. The tea we are most excited about is YUNNAN GOLD N°510, a luxury Dian Hong appealing to gourmets and connoisseurs alike with its striking golden tips. Atypical for black teas, Yunnan Gold is 100 % from buds, which oxidise in such a beautiful way they shine golden. The resulting cup offers so much complexity with notes of leather to honey, malty waves of dark chocolate and caramel.
We could talk to you for hours about the fascinating world of Chinese tea, as we have only just scratched the surface. But it is time to fly back home and put on the kettle. If we have sparked your curiosity and you want to taste your way through some of China’s most beloved teas, take a look at our new CHINESE DELIGHT gift set. Celebrating the 5000 year old tradition of Chinese tea, you will discover a selection of our finest Chinese teas paired with a traditional Chinese glass teapot.