Friday, 26 March 2010

Seven Stars Green Tea in Guilin, home of South Chinas most picture-perfect scenery

While travelling with my friends in Guangxi province, southwest China, I was in the small backpacker-mecca of Yangshuo, nestled on the side of the Li River, in Guilin county, home to some of most well known scenery in all of Asia. Along the river, huge limestone karst peaks jut up into the air, giving the landscape a surreal beauty. The surrounding area is home to many of Chinas ethnic minorities, people who have a very distinct culture, lifestyle and language compared to the majority Han Chinese, who compose 90% of the population. Some of these minorities include the Zhuang people, Chinas largest minority and the Yao, famous for the womens really long hair. The town of Yangshuo, which is largely comprised of traditional white-washed houses, has become a backpackers paradise in recent years, with the main street, Xi Jie (west street) coming to refer more to the fact that is is full of westerners than that it is on the west of town. But several minutes of cycling will take you away from the western cafes, bars and hostels and into pristine countryside, where rice paddies and buffalos dominate, with the huge karsts jutting up randomly.

One evening I was walking along the street and I noticed a small teashop, called Seven Stars, so I decided to take a look and was invited by the owner, Annie Zhou, to sit down and try the local tea, Cuiyu, which is grown by her family in the nearby countryside. It had a distinct chestnutty taste with a clear green colour and the leaves were coated in small white furs. Her brothers plantation was opened in 2000, when he realised that as living standards were higher, people could afford to drink high quality tea. The plantation now covers 40 hectares of mountainside nearby Jiaobalin, a small village outside of town.

Annie can organise tours of the nearby area, including the tea plantations and she will often perform the tea ceremony for visitors, where you can sample many different teas in a relaxed atmosphere.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Wu Dang Mountains, Mystical Retreat of Taoism, Ancestral Home of Tai Chi, A Centre of Tea

Many people who are familiar with China or martial arts will know that spread throughout the 72 peaks of Wu Dang are numerous Taoist temples, meditation retreats and Kung Fu schools. But what is lesser known is that this mountain range is home to some exceptional teas.

For centuries Wu Dang has been shrouded in secrecy, the Taoist monks who live here have practiced Qigong, a kind of esoteric excercise combining soft movements, breathing techniques and meditation, for centuries. Around 1000 years ago an immortal named Zhang San Feng was said to find his way to this place, where he brought his Kung Fu. But after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane he was inspired by the graceful and flowing movements of the animals and so was said to have created the "internal" branch of martial arts, which doesnt rely on brute power or strength, but on yielding to force and developing Qi, an intrinsic energy in the body.

he martial arts developed and grew, and so did the monasteries on the mountains, with Wu Dang becoming a centre of many Taoist academic studies, not just martial arts but also medicine, fortune telling and agriculture. Of course with a refined understanding of the cycles of change in nature and the seasons, the monks were able to grow outstanding crops, one of which was tea, which survives to this day.

At Wu Dang over 20 different kinds of tea are produced, all of which are organic and grown according to ancient taoist agricultural methods.They have many varieties of green tea, including Zhen Jing, Kung Fu and also wulong and black teas. I would love to see these teas become better known and spread, and hopefully in the future I will make them available to the west, so let me know if you are interested.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain surrounded by a sea of clouds

Huang Shan is probably the famous mountain in China. It has inspired poets and artists for centuries and even the Yellow Emperor, mythical founder of China and Taoism was said to have become a recluse here. The peaks of the mountain jut up into the sky and are often surrounded by clouds, giving it a mystical, heavenly feel when at the top. There is a phenomenon known as Buddhas light which can occur, where a persons head can become surrounded by a rainbow of light, resembling a halo. This is caused by a refraction of light. The mountain is also famous for its sunrise scenesand hot springs.

Of course the moutain is home to a variety of teas, most of which are listed in the 10 famous teas of China. Huang Shan Mao Feng is a light green tea with a slight smoky aroma. Mao Feng translates as furry peak, describing the appearance of the processed leaves. Taiping Houkui is another green tea,, grown around Taiping Lake (ultimate peace lake) which has extremely long, large leaves. It has a stronger flavour and can be brewed up to 8 times. Qimen Hong Cha is a black tea grown in Qimen village close to the mountain, and has a rich, brandy like flavour.

One that i didnt mention in the 10 famous teas, but is also well known is Liu An Gua Pian, a very light green tea. This isnt from Huang Shan itself, but a nearby area called Liu An county. Gua Pian translates as Melon Seed, referring to the appearance. The tea is unique in that doesnt use the top leaf, but the second one down, the central vein is remove and it is pan fried to dry.

The surrounding area is known as Huizhou and has a strong local culture and identity. It is famous for its calligraphy and inkstones (above), as well as its unique architechture of white washed houses with ornate wooden carvings inside. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed in this area, in both Huang Shan and a Huizhou village called Hongcun. Teapots, carved from Huang Shan rock are also produced locally, photos below.

10 Famous Teas of China

Over the centuries, tea connoseurs in China have compiled lists of their favourite and highest quality teas. These lists have been compiled, edited and changed, but as yet there is no complete standard list, although the most common 10 are presented here.

Xihu Longjing, or West Lake Dragon Well is pretty much always number 1. It is a green tea with a rich, nutty taste that is grown on the mountains around West Lake, in Hangzhou city, eastern China. The tea leaves have a unique flat appearance and are crumbly in the fingers.

Huang Shan Mao Feng, or Yellow Mountain Furry Peak is grown on Huang Shan, a beautiful mountain in Anhui, central China, which is famous for having many famous tea varieties grown here. Mao Feng is a much lighter tea than Long Jing with a more delicate flavour. The tea has a very slightly smoky aroma.

Taiping Houkui, is a tea which is grown on Lake Taiping (ultimate peace), in Huang Shan. It is unusual in that the leaves are unusually large and long. It has a rich flavour and can be brewed up to 8 times, unique among green teas.

Qi Men Hong Cha, is a black tea (red tea in Chinese), which is from Qimen, a village close to Huang Shan. It has a rich, almost brandy like flavour and is good for warming the body in cold winters.

Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is a delicate green tea with a white fur on it that is grown on the mountains at the side of Lake Tai, near Suzhou in eastern China. Suzhou is a very cultured city, in ancient times it was home to many rich merchants and scholars and the area has many beautiful canal towns.

Anxi Tieguanyin, is known as the Iron Buddha of Compassion and is a rich, intense wulong grown in Anxi in Fujian province, southeast China. The area has many varieties of wulong and black teas and has a unique culture and dialect. Tieguanyin was believed to have been created when a farmer found an abandoned shrine to the female Buddha, Guan Yin, who came to him in a dream and told him if he restored the shrine, he would be rewarded. So after he cleaned  it up he found tea plants growing at the foot of the shrine. Another story talks of how buddhist monks trained monkeys to climb the mountains and pick the tea from the sides of cliffs.

Da Hong Pao, or Big Red Robe is a black tea from the Wuyi mountain range in Fujian. Legend has it a Ming dynasty emperors mother was sick and this tea cured her, so the emperor covered the tea plants in red robes, three of the original plants survive today and are highly venerated.

Wuyi Yan Cha is a smoked tea that comes from the same mountain range. It has a unique smoky flavour to it as the tea is flavoured with the smoke from the local pine trees.

Pu Er Cha is a unique tea from Yunnan in the far southwest of China on the borders of Burma and Laos. It is unique in that the tea species is a larger leaf variety that is often grown wildly and many of the plants are hundreds of years old. The area is mostly inhabited by ethnic minorities, hilltribes with a very different culture and language to the majority Han Chinese. Pu Er tea is fermented and processed, often into bricks or cakes, then can be aged for many years to improve flavour. There are 2 varieties, Sheng Cha, which is unprocessed and green, or Shou Cha, which is processed black tea.

Junshan Yinzhen or Gentleman Mountain Silver Needle is a yellow tea from Hunan province. Yellow tea is similar to green, except they are given a longer drying phase, allowing the leaves to yellow slightly. It was the preferred tea of Chairman Mao, whose home province this tea originates. Hunan is in south-central China and has a diverse climate, with many mountaineous regions.
please visit my ebay shop to see the tea items im selling. im starting small, but im hoping to get some high quality and rare teas from china in stock and also some good teasets and teapots.