China

The tea routes

25 January 2019
The tea routes

For centuries, tea travelled on the backs of donkeys, horses and yaks. There were a number of tea routes. They started at the Chinese provinces that produced compressed teas (Yunnan, Sichuan, etc.) and led to Tibet. In those days, tea was traded for salt or horses.

To perpetuate this tradition today, some people hold re-enactments, and you can watch hundreds of animals file past, carrying cakes of tea.

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The art of making jasmine tea

5 October 2018
The art of making jasmine tea

The world’s finest jasmine teas are produced in August and September in Fujian province (China). They are made using a green tea base, and as the best green teas are harvested in April, the necessary quantity is reserved at the time. The jasmine flowers on the other hand, are picked at the end of summer. Jasmine flowers open in the evening, when they release their fragrance. When this happens, they are placed in layers with the tea leaves, impregnating them with their heady scent. Throughout the night they are mixed together to ensure the leaves have absorbed as much of the fragrance as possible. When day breaks they are separated, before the jasmine flowers turn bitter.

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Who is Mr Tian?

17 November 2017
Who is Mr Tian?

Wen Rong Tian has had two lives: the first as a physical education teacher; the second, which began 27 years ago, as a tea producer. From the first he has kept his love of a healthy life, and follows a daily programme of vigorous exercise and a strict diet. The second came from his father, who managed a tea factory for 20 years. However, son has surpassed father: today, Wen Rong Tian is one of the main, if not the leading, producer of black tea in Yunnan. He makes excellent teas and even claims to have created the famous Yunnan Golden Buds and Golden Needle teas produced in the province. I visited him near Baoshan, where he lives. His passion lies not so much with walking though tea fields as spending all his time tasting his teas and improving production processes. He lives, sleeps, eats and breathes just a few metres from his factory. What gives him the most pride is to make some of the most amazing teas in the world, just from simple leaves. And unlike many Chinese producers, he prefers black teas to green teas, for their generous aromas and smooth presence.

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Cooked Pu Erhs: an autumnal palette

29 September 2017
Cooked Pu Erhs: an autumnal palette

What possible connection could there be between these tattered old cloths and tea? Simple: these thick cloths are used to cover piles of tea leaves, keeping the oxygen out. In the damp, dark environment, the tea will ferment. This is a crucial step in processing cooked pu erh teas. Every day, someone will check the temperature of the leaves, letting in a bit of air if they get too warm. They will also dampen the leaves several times over the forty days or so of ripening, covering them again immediately each time.  In the cup, cooked pu erh teas develop notes of wood, undergrowth, caves, damp earth, straw, humus, leather, and liquorice, and it makes me smile to think that these cloths with their shades of brown express the same sense of autumn as the scent bouquet of the teas they cover.

 

 

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Make tea not war

15 September 2017
Make tea not war

I got to know Xuan Dong Wu this summer. I met him in the Ming De factory he manages and where, that day, he was overseeing the withering of the tea leaves with the greatest attention. Xuan Dong Wu loves his job. He has not always been in the tea business. He started out in the army, and fought in the Sino-Vietnamese War in the early 1980s. He then returned to the village where he was born, and where tea provides the majority of work. He makes white teas, pu erhs, and black teas that are considered the best in Yunnan. He likes to introduce new ideas, and is responsible for several of our Mao Chas, the intermediate teas used to made Pu Erh. Xuan Dong Wu is a shy man, and didn’t say much when I asked him what he wanted me to write about him here. He simply told me about his life, and what he likes. He said he likes making tea with his heart and with his efforts, he said he wanted to do his best and make the best teas possible. And then he plunged his hands back into the withering leaves, and didn’t take his eyes off them. 

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Rolling Mao Cha

8 September 2017
Rolling Mao Cha

Mao Cha – the raw tea from which Pu Erh is made – increasingly undergoes a rolling stage. Right after the leaves have been withered then heated in a wok, they are placed in a machine that shakes them from side to side, rapidly and regularly. The leaves hit the vertical sides and gradually their shape changes – they curl up gently lengthwise.  Rolling takes place with most teas, it shapes the leaves. With green teas, for example, it breaks down the cells and releases the aroma compounds that oxidise or ferment.

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Tea and style

1 September 2017
Tea and style

It’s true that preparing tea consists simply of placing tea leaves in contact with water, an encounter that produces a delicate, fragrant drink. The process can be more or less simple, more or less delicate. In China, in the space of barely 20 years, preparing tea using the gong fu method, which is slow and controlled, has become incredibly popular. It is often young women who perform the task. They are always elegant, and every movement is carried out with precision. We can admire their agile fingers that trace beautiful smooth arcs in the air before depositing a few drops of the precious nectar into your tiny cup. 

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The four stages of making mao cha

25 August 2017
The four stages of making mao cha

There are four stages in making mao cha. First, a reminder that mao cha is the tea used to make pu erh, either raw or cooked. It is also worth remembering that the way mao cha is made has evolved over time. Basic withering followed by drying in the sun has become more complex as trends have changed, and as dark teas have become so popular among the Chinese. Today, this is what is involved: after harvesting the leaves, they are withered for around two hours. Then the leaves are “fixed” in a wok (see photo) at 200°C for around 30 minutes. Next, the leaves are rolled for ten minutes before being left to dry for the whole day in the sun. In theory, mao cha is used to make compressed tea, but it can be drunk as it is, and appreciated for its mineral, fruity, vegetal and animal notes.

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New-season Chinese teas: an incomparable variety

30 June 2017
New-season Chinese teas: an incomparable variety

Tea has been consumed in China for more than 3,000 years, and it is only in this country that we find such a rich variety. It produces all colours of tea: white, green, blue-green, yellow, black and dark. In China we find a unique culture of terroir: one village might have been following a very specific tradition of tea shaping for centuries, while in the next village the leaves could be processed in a completely different way. Nowhere else in the world do we find such a variety of practices. This photo shows my 2017 selection of “new-season” Chinese green teas, some of which were harvested before the Qingming festival. From left to right: Pre Qing Ming Bi Luo Chun, Pre Qing Ming Long Jing, Pre Qing Ming Bourgeons de Jade, Pre Qing Ming Lu An Gua Pian, Pre Qing Ming Anji Bai Cha, Bai Mao Hou, Mao Feng Premium, Yong Xi Huo Qing, Huang Shan Mao Feng. It goes without saying that just as the size, shape and colour of the leaves differ so much, the tasting experience is equally varied among these premium teas.

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Ecology: what if we take matters into our own hands?

23 June 2017
Ecology: what if we take matters into our own hands?

Ecology is rarely a priority for politicians, but why should we expect them to do everything? Why complain that the environment does not play a big enough role in political debate or manifestos, and wait passively for things to change at the next elections? We expect politicians to do everything. What if we took matters into our own hands? In terms of the environment, our power is not limited to ticking a box on a ballot paper. Our purse, for example, represents a lot of power. If we don’t want a plastic bag, we can refuse one. If we don’t want a whole heap of packaging, we can refuse it. If we don’t want animal cruelty, we can start by eating less meat. Eat it a bit less often, and choose meat from animals that have enjoyed a healthy life, out of doors, raised by good farmers who care for their welfare. Or fish caught by conscientious fisherman, and not by trawlers that scoop up everything in their path and decimate the seas. We can buy fresh, seasonal produce; we can buy local whenever possible. We can buy from the producers themselves rather than from supermarkets. Each one of us has the power to help limit the often disastrous consequences of the food industry, which produces on such a large scale. We can avoid ready meals. We can stop buying pointless chemical products: people criticise farmer’ practices when they cover their own gardens with weed killers and fertilisers. We can recycle, we can reduce our consumption. We can compost, we can grow our own food. We can think as a community. We can help each other, give to others. We can upcycle, we can cycle. We can cook, we can keep animals. We can walk.

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