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 cultivar
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.
Fresh picked leaves
Experienced tea picker
Tea harvest is teamwork
Young and old – everyone joins the tea harvest
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.
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!
Tea leaves are collected.
Old tea bushes with deep roots
While the tea master prepares everything for the night shift, I use the time to photograph the neighborhood.
Like promised I finally translated the the second part of the travelogue from Fenghuang. While the focus in the first part was mainly on harvest, I focus now on production of Dan Con Oolong.
The harvested and sun bathed tea leaves are moved inside for further wilting under controlled conditions. For this purpose, the tea leaves are spread on handy bamboo trays which are stacked in racks. It is very important that the air can circulate between the tea leaves. The tea master shows us how to optimally distribute the tea leaves. Gently, and with full attention. Almost zen like.
The tea master distributes the tea leaves
The student follows meticulous all instructions of the tea master. Nevertheless, here and there, the tea master intervenes or gives valuable tips.
Scholar learns from the master
While we distribute the tea leaves unwanted components, such as stems, are removed.
Removing of stems
The bamboo trays are pushed into the rack and the tea leaves are left to wilt again. From time to time the tea master will check to see if the tea leaves are ready to turn over. This is necessary about every one to one and a half hours. The right moment is given by smell, feel or look of the tea leaves. This step requires a lot experience as it will affect the teas quality.
Bamboo tray is pushed into the rack
During the wilt process I use my spare time to take a few night shots. I can’t sleep anyway because of the excitement although I have been traveling for 48 hours without significant sleep.
Fenghuang by night
Meanwhile, the tea master spends his time drinking tea. In Chaozhou, tea is poured without a fairness pot directly into the teacups. The cups are filled with circling, fast moves so that each cup contains the same content. This technique is a bit lavish in my opinion as a lot tea is wasted that way but after all, tea is abundant in Fenghuang. One more thing about Chaozhou style: The Gaiwans here are very small, about 120cl or even smaller and filled to the top with tea leaves which are then infused several times.
Chaozhou style tea tasting
After a while, it’s time to “wake up” the tea leaves. This is done by turning the tea leaves gently. This opens the veins in the tea leaves and the contained juice can continue to evaporate. This is necessary to keep the wilting process ongoing. This step is repeated several times throughout the night until the tea leaves are ready for the next step.
Turning of tea leaves
Towards the end of the wilting process, the tea leaves are vigorously shaken. For this purpose, another method is used. Again, it shows who is the master. All tea leaves land in the middle of the tea tray.
Meanwhile, half of the scholar tea leaves end up on the ground. Luckily, these are not super expansive Lao Cong or Wudong tea leaves.
The scholar tries
Presumably, this why the tea master let me try as well.
I try as well
At the end of the wilting process, the tea leaves are wrapped with blankets to start the oxidation process. Possibly, this also a fermentation process because the tea leaves get noticeably warm.
Tea leaves are wrapped
The last step before heating: The veins of the tea leaves are broken in the big bamboo drum in order to stop the wilting process.
The bamboo drum is filled by the tea master himself. And again, unwanted stems are removed also in this step. In the drum, the tea leaves are then spinned for about twenty minutes. The duration also depends on experience and the tea master checks the tea leaves regularly. Towards the end, the inspection intervals increase significantly.
Bamboo drum is filled
In the hot air oven, the tea leaves are heated in order to make them soft and supple for the kneading process.
The tea leaves get heated
The leaves are rolled in the kneader to break the cell walls. The leaves are noticeably stronger rolled than in Wuyi.
Kneader in action
There is not much to say about the kneaded tea leaves. Except maybe that they are a bit sticky.
This is how kneaded tea leaves look like
There is also for separating and distributing of the tea leaves a separate machine. With high-quality and thus expensive tea leaves this step is made entirely by hand.
The individual tea leaves are separated and distributed
The tea leaves are roasted in a wood stove to stop further oxidation. The parameters (temperature and time) for the roasting is determined by the tea master according to his experience.
In the wood stove is enough space for several bamboo trays.
I wonder if it’s also possible to bake bake pizza in here?
After baking, the tea looks like this. This level is called mao cha (raw tea) because it’s still unsorted and therefore full of stems and huang pian (yellow leaves). In addition, the tea must be roasted several times before it is completed.
fresh roasted mao cha
At the end of a long night (meanwhile it’s day again) the fresh produced mao cha is tasted. It tastes to me more like a green tea than a oolong. That’s because the final result can be seen only after repeated roasting.
Infused mao cha tea leaves
More about Phoenix oolong in the third part: Teamania in Fenghuang – Trip to Wudong.