We spent 10 days this year staying with Master Huang’s family, learning more about the processing and working in his studio for a couple of days at the end.
Coming from the mountains of Yunnan, the difference in attention to detail was striking. The extra stages in the processing added so much complexity and the skill required and attention to detail was incredible. Master Huang was involved in every step, overseeing the processing, touching the ground to gauge the temperature to adjust the amount of time the leaves should wither, paying attention to the strength of the sun, cloud cover, whether the leaves were damp when picked, the strength of the leaves. All of these variables and many more influenced the decisions he made when processing.
His sons worked closely with him, constantly learning from their father. His second son is one of ten people who’s skills for processing Da Hong Pao have been officially recognised by the Chinese government as a World Cultural Heritage.
To share some of the effort and skill that goes into handprocessing Wuyi yancha, I thought I’d write some posts documenting the process that makes this tea so special.
1. The location of the bushes
Wuyi Rock Tea is divided into 4 distinct categories based on the location of the bushes.
1. Zhen Yan
For more than a thousand years spiritual practitioners have been drawn to Wuyi. The natural qi of this place is perhaps one of the most important factors in making this tea so special. Throughout the park, one can find monasteries, caves and other signs left by the spiritual practitioners who felt this place was so special.
Zhen Yan refers to the tea made from bushes growing within the UNESCO designated world heritage site. They are grown between cliffs, often on terraces built by farmers there throughout the last few hundred years. The soil is naturally rick and fertile, rich with minerals from the limestone cliffs and well drained. The bushes are well spaced, allowing them to grow naturally. The use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers is banned within the world heritage site.
2. Ban Yan
These trees grow around the boundaries of the park. The conditions aren’t as pristine as within the park and pesticides and fertilisers are used, but they share relatively close proximity to the Zhen Yan trees within the park.
3. Zhou Cha
The Wuyi park is bordered by the Nine Bends River. Tea grown on the low lying areas next to the river is known as Zhou Cha. The ground is flat, without good drainage, but can support tea and crops.
4. Wai Shan
This refers to teas grown outside the park and outside the other areas previously mentioned. These areas are characterised by intensive plantation farming, concentrating on maximum yield. The bushes are planted in close proximity to each other (requiring chemical fertilisation to sustain them and maximise yield) and often harvested by machine.