Tea Region Spotlight: Fujian, China

jasmine-pearlsFujian Province, located along the southeastern coast of China, is the birthplace of many famous and delicious tea varieties. There are so many, in fact, that entire books have been devoted to Fujian tea. For this spotlight I have decided to focus on three major areas: the Wuyi mountains, Anxi County, and Fuding County.

The Wuyi mountains are located in northern Fujian. The beautiful rocky peaks and high cliffs that make up this dramatic landscape are home to many wonderful types of oolong tea. Historical evidence suggests that oolong tea was invented in this area nearly five centuries ago. Around that time tea farmers and monks were experimenting with new methods of oxidation, shaping and baking tea leaves.

Wuyi mountain oolong teas are sometimes called yancha (cliff tea) which is a reference to their rocky birthplace. They are also sometimes called Min Bei oolong tea. Min is the name of a major river that bisects Fujian province, and Bei means north. The recipes and skills needed to produce oolong tea are believed to have spread from northern Fujian southward to Anxi county before heading east across the strait to Taiwan. Shui Xian Oolong is a perfect introduction to yancha. It has long twisted leaves, medium oxidation and a heavy roast. The taste is smooth, toasty and just a little bit chocolaty.

Another famous tea from the Wuyi mountain is Lapsang Souchong, a pine-smoked black tea that some people consider to be the very first black tea. It has a fascinating legend surrounding its creation. In the early 1600s, the settlers of Tongmu village in the Wuyi mountains produced exclusively green tea. One spring a general brought his army through Tongmu along his route to surprise his enemy. The villagers in Tongmu had just harvested the tea leaves, and they were forced to abandon their crop in order to hide from the army in the forest. While the army rested in Tongmu for several days they ate all the food in the village and used the freshly picked tea leaves as bedding. After the army finally made their way out of Tongmu and along the mountain trail, the locals returned from the forest to find that the tea leaves had withered and bruised and were beginning to oxidize. They were desperate to save their tea harvest, so they came up with the idea to smoke their tea using native pine branches, hoping to mask the residual stale odor of the soldiers. The finished tea was quite unlike what they had previously produced but they managed to sell it to traders in the port city of Fuzhou, who eventually found a market for this interesting new tea. Today Lapsang Souchong is an extremely popular tea all around the world, and can be found with varying degrees of smokiness. At Phoenix Tea we carry both an unsmoked Lapsang Souchong and a smoky one. They are both authentic Wuyi Mountain black teas and the smoked version uses only smoldering pine to naturally scent the leaves.

Tie Guanyin

Anxi County, in southern Fujian, is famous throughout the tea drinking world as the home of Tie Guanyin oolong, another tea with an interesting legend attached to it. Tie means iron and Guanyin is the name of a Bodhisattva of compassion and mercy. Legend has it that a poor tea farmer named Mr. Wei would walk by a run-down temple devoted to Guanyin every day on the way to his farm. Mr. Wei had the desire to repair the temple, but he lacked the money. So he did what he could, sweeping the temple twice a month and burning incense. After many months of this Guanyin visited him in a dream. She told him of a cave behind the temple where he would find a valuable treasure. The next day Mr. Wei found the cave, and inside was a single baby tea plant. He planted it in his garden and raised it into a sturdy bush. The tea made from the leaves of this special tea plant tasted incredible and it wasn’t long before the generous Mr. Wei began to share cuttings with his friends and neighbors. The entire area prospered as a result of the tea produced by this plant and its offspring, and Guanyin’s temple was beautifully restored. We carry a traditional Tie Guanyin oolong with medium oxidation and bake. It delivers a delicate sweetness and satisfying earthy mineral note.

Other tea plant cultivars are also used in Anxi to make fine oolong tea. Two varieties currently available at Phoenix Tea include Benshan oolong, a lightly oxidized tea with a golden-yellow color and floral aroma, and Mao Xie (Hairy Crab), a sweet, smooth oolong with excellent mouth-feel.

Fujian province also makes many wonderful white teas. One example is Yinzhen, meaning silver needle, which is often considered the quintessential example of Chinese white tea. It is made from plump, fuzzy white buds. Our Yinzhen is a competition grade tea made in Fuding County, in northern Fujian, using the “Da Bai” (big white) tea plant cultivar. It produces a substantial tea soup with a good balance of sweetness and herbaceous complexity.

Jasmine Pearls is another famous tea from this area. This delicious green tea uses two jasmine scented leaf-and-bud sets rolled into neat little pearls that unravel as they infuse, yielding many repeat infusions.

Thank you very much for reading this Tea Region Spotlight about one of my favorite tea producing regions! Keep in mind, this post is merely a drop in the ocean when it comes to describing the vast world of Fujian Province tea!

Yours in Tea,