Category Archives: Chinese Tea

Teamania in Fenghuang – Dan Cong Harvest

Nǐ hǎo, dear tea friends

After more than a year now another travelog from Teamania. This time from Fenghuang, home of Dan Cong Oolong (also known as Phoenix Oolong or single bush tea).

Since I still do not speak Chinese I was glad that Huang, the daughter of the tea master, picked me up at the airport and also organized everything else. From the airport we went first to their home in Chouzhou city where I was immediately supplied with tea. Afterwards I wanted to recover from the long journey in the hotel but the tea master had other plans. He wanted make oolong this night. So after a short shower we went straight to the small village Tie Pu in Fenghuang.

At Huangs home in Chouzhou

In Fenghuang, the harvest season already started and tea pickers are busy all around the town. Currently, Xin Ren Xiang (almond scent) and Xiong Di (brothers) are ready to pick. This cultivars are obvious early budders. Other cultivars, such as Ya Shi Xiang (duck shit) or Ba Xian (eight immortals), will be ready later. This is a huge advantage in the hectic harvest season.

Xin Ren Xiang Dan Cong

Xin Ren Xiang cultivar

Teeernte in Fenghuang

Wannabe tea picker

I also try to pick some tea leaves. It’s not so easy to choose the right branches. It works best when I check the softness of the stems with thumb and forefinger an then pick the leaves. But, that way it takes much more time compared to an experienced tea pickers.

frische Teeblätter

Fresh picked leaves

Dan Cong Teepflückerin

Experienced tea picker

Teeernte

Tea harvest is teamwork

Teepflückerin

Young and old – everyone joins the tea harvest

Welken der Teeblätter

The harvested tea leaves are withered in the sun

The harvested tea leaves are immediately spread out on the roof top so that they wither in the sun. It’s very important is the harvested tea leaves are dry and free of dew or even rain. Otherwise, the quality of the produced tea will be inferior.

Teeblätter werden an der Sonne gewelkt

Our and neighbors tea leaves

As one can easily see in the photo the sky threatens with dark black clouds. A little later, the worst case occurs: rain! In all hatred, the tea leaves are collected and brought to safety. The harvest of a whole day is at stake!

Teeblätter einsammeln

Tea leaves are collected.

Lao Cong

Old tea bushes with deep roots

While the tea master prepares everything for the night shift, I use the time to photograph the neighborhood.

Duck Shit Teebüsche

old Ya Shi Xiang tea bushes

Teefelder

Tea fields in Tie Pu

Terassen

Terraces with tea bushes

Top View

Top view

Small village in Fenghuang

The tranquil village Tie Pu

Fertig geerntete Teepflanzen

After a long day all tea leaves are picked

More about my tea trip in Part Two: Teamania in Fenghuang – Production of Dan Cong.

 

 

How Feng Huang Dan Cong is produced

Phoenix Berge

The slopes of Fenghuang mountains are steep

Feng Huang Dan Cong is the name of a extraordinary oolong originating from the mountains around the town of Fenghuang. The Pheonix mountains, how this mountainous area near Fenghuang is also called, covers an area of 231.73 km ² and is situated at an altitude between 300 and 1498 meters above sea level. The climate is with an average temperature of 22°C rather mild and the soil rocky with high mineral content. The growing conditions are similar to those of the Wuyi mountains and the tea cultivars used are closely related.

It starts with a seedling

Feng Huang Oolong Setzling

A Dan Cong seedling

Before any tea can be produced a tea bush needs to be planted first. If there is already a good mother plant usually a clone is taken. This has the advantage that the properties of the growing tea bush are well known. However, this has the drawback that clones are genetically impoverished while tea bushes from seeds can adapt better. In addition, seedlings are good for a surprise. Both, positively or negatively. In Chaozhou is taken rather the middle path by using both methods. However, the exact composition is a well guarded secret of the tea master and is disclosed only to close relatives.

The harvest

Die ganze Familie bei der Ernte

The whole family helps harvesting

Most tea leaves are harvested in spring because of the superior quality. Later crops do not reach this quality and a repeated harvests also means additional stress for the plants. An optimal time to harvest is a sunny afternoon when the leaves are already free from dew. Usually, between two and up to five leaves are harvested.

Baby erntet Tee

Early practice makes the tea master

The whole family helps harvest and even relatives from far distant provinces come along and lend a hand. Often, additional tea pickers are hired from the northern provinces to cope with the work load in peak season.

Withering

Tee in Bambuströgen

Tea gets withered

The tea leaves are withered in bamboo trays at about 35°C for 10 to 20 minutes. If it is warm enough this is done under the sun, otherwise indoor. This step has huge influence on the flavor building and must be done carefully. By now, the leaves already release an intense fragrance and let one imagine the potential of the tea.

The slow horse reaches the mill

Tee wird Ruhen gelassen

Time to cool down

After withering the leaves are stacked in bamboo trays for several hours to cool down and rest.  In addition to a space-saving effect this arrangement has the particular advantage that the leaves do not dry too quickly and remain soft. Now the harvest workers have time for a break and a cup of tea.

Oxidation process

Kneten des Tees

Oxidation through kneading the tea leaves

This important step will be made ??by the tea master himself. To initiate the oxidation the leaves are gently kneaded. Thus, to break up the leaves cells what causes the plants juice reacted with the oxygen in the air. Now it’s clear why greatest possible caution is demanded at this step: If the tea master exaggerates this step he will get black tea instead of oolong. The common level of oxidation for oolong is between 20% and 80% while for Dan Cong particularly between 50% and 80%.

Stop oxidation

Rösten des Tees

Roasting of tea leaves

When the desired level of oxidation is reached the oxidation must be stopped. This process is called “kill green”. Everyone one ever made ??applesauce should be familiar with this process: By heating the reactive enzymes are destroyed and thus prevented further oxidation. For Phoenix Dan Cong this is done with charcoal fired ovens at 140 – 160°C. The tea master must do that especially careful because otherwise the tea could get a smoky flavor.The tea leaves are roasted until they become soft. This is important for the next step.

Get tea into shape

Modernste Technik: Die Rollmaschine

High tech: Rolling maschine

To form the leaves they are rolled mechanically. Probably, previously this process was carried out manually but apart from that Dan Cong is still entirely handmade. Unlike Taiwanese Gao Shan or Anxi Tie Guan Yin, which are rolled into beads, Dan Cong is like Wuyi oolong only slightly twisted.

Primary roasting

Erste Röstung

Neither a pizza oven nor a pizzaiolo

Through primary roasting the tea is dried and develops flavors. Ideally is a temperature of  80 – 90°C for a duration of about 10 minutes. After the tea is again allowed to rest so that it can dry it at low temperature.

Once assess the tea leaves they are ready for the final roasting.

Final roast

Bambustrommeln

Bamboo drums

The final roast has significant influence on taste and shelf life. A strong roast benefits a long shelf life and adds toasty aromas to the tea. The roasting temperature mustn’t be too high nor the duration too long because otherwise the tea tastes burnt. This is often the case standard Tie Guan Yin from the supermarket. Sometimes the tea is also much later reroasted in order to improve the shelf life

Search and sort

Tee wird verlesen

Sort the tea leaves

At the very end the tea is checked to remove unsightly leaves and branches and eventually gets sorted. This is still done by laborious manual work. However, the tea pickers seem to like this kind of work as there is a change for chit chat and the place is protected from the sun. A pale skin is in Asia still a desirable goal.

The final product

Ye Lai Xiang Dan Cong

Ye Lai Xiang Dan Cong

Ideally, one will get a superior Dan Cong: Slightly twisted colorful leaves with a sweet, fruity and flowery aroma. By using the traditional Chaozhou technique countless infusions of consistently high quality are possible.

Update

Feng Huang Dan Cong is now available in our tea shop.