5. June 2017

Dark Tea

Dark Tea Part 1 —— Dark Tea – Wudang Fu Brick

Dark tea 黑茶 [hēi chá] is a sort of post-fermented tea produced only in China, it has many varieties and a long history back to around the 11th century, at that time – The Northern Song Dynasty (1074) there was already the recordation of producing dark color tea from green tea. Read More Tea Blog

Nowadays, Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi provinces are the main producing regions, dark tea is the third biggest yield tea sort which is next only to green and black tea.

Fu Brick 茯砖 [fú zhuān] tea is a special kind of dark tea, the mystery tea of ancient Chinese Silk Road. Wudang Fu Brick is uesed tea leaves from Wudang  Mountian areas as crude materials. Its production is complicated, which  includes 28 steps:

6 fermentations: 1st change leaves color (pile-fermentation), 2nd need at least 12 months (cold fermentation), 3rd sterilize and disinfect by a high temperature steam, 4th steam pile-fermentation after blending, 5th put in constant-temperature chambers to produce “golden flower” (Eurotium Cristatum) Fahua 发花 [fā huā] and 6th is post-fermentation.

After the 4th fermentation, tea leaves are made into brick-like forms which sould look smooth, clean-cut and with the same thickness and firmness. The unique 5th fermentation procedure (Fahua) is the natural fermentation under the effects of the activities of the microbes, produces many golden yellow granules (Eurotium Cristatum).

Denser and larger granules with the bright golden Color are considered to be better, tea soup color should be bright orange with pure fragrance and mellow flavour, rich golden flower aroma. Wudang Fu bricks have many different flovours mainly depending on tea leaf materials, fermented degrees, aged years and etc..

For example, Wudang Silver Brow uses early summer harvested tea leaves (1shoot and 3-4 leaves) between 立夏 Beginning of Summer (7th solar term) and the 小暑 Slight Heat (11th solar term), Wudang Golden Peak uses later spring harvested leaves before Beginning of Summer, although both teas are strong fermented, flavours are slightly different by sweetnesses and feeling mouthfuls.



Dark Tea Part 2 ——-  Yangloudong Brick Tea

Qing Brick 青砖 [qīng zhuān] is one kind of dark tea, fresh tea leaves of altitude 600-1200m mountains are used as raw materials, and then steamed and pressed at  high temperature. Its producing area is mainly in the Yangtze Rive Valley of the south  and southwest of Hubei Province, its origin of a 600 year history is the ancient Yangloudong town, Chibi, Hubei Province. A rectangular shape, a bluish brown color and a pure aroma are the typical characters of Qing Brick.

As early as the Zhenyuan period of the Tang Dynasty (around 795 AD), Lu Yu wrote the book of tea, which described that “tea was popular 尚茶成风” in China, and tea was planted and processed in Yangloudong (now Zhaoliqiao town) in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. According to Wanquan county annals of Hebei Province, in the middle of Jingde year (around 1006) of Song Dynasty, the government traded tea and horse with Mongolia by Hunan and Hubei cake tea, and Zhangjiakou was the “place of mutual market” between Mongolia and Han China. By the middle of the Ming Dynasty (about 1400 AD), the tea making industry in Yangloudong had been quite developed, and the tea making technology had been improved. After the initial processing, the tea had to be sifted, heated by steam, and then pressed into a cylindrical hat box tea, showing the rudiment of Qing brick tea. During the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty (1736-1790), Shanxi merchants set up several tea houses in Yangloudong, among which “Sanyuchuan” and “Jushengchuan” tea houses were more powerful. They established an alliance with the largest tea merchant “Dashengkui” in Mongolia, and their products enjoyed a high reputation among Mongolian herdsmen. The word “Chuan 川” was imprinted on the Qing brick tea to win people’s trust and distinguish it from other trade names. Brick tea produced in Yangloudong flows along the Yangtze River, against the Han River, to the Yellow River, and to the desert, it is re exported to European countries through Russia, with an average annual output of more than 40000 Dan. During the Xianfeng Period of the Qing Dynasty, the tea making technology was further improved, and brick tea production was carried out on a large scale, with 60-70 tea houses. The Qing brick tea with the word “Chuan” has the best quality, good reputation and the largest scale. When herdsmen go on the market to buy brick tea, they only recognize the word “Chuan” and only touch the three bars with their hands will they buy it without hesitation. After hundreds of years, Qing brick tea, a trade name with the word “Chuan”, has been popular among the people, and has been selling well up to now. In 1983, “Chuan” brand was officially registered as the trademark of Qingzhuan tea of Zhaoliqiao tea factory in Hubei Province, which gave this legendary “Chuan” brand a legal residence.



Dark Tea Part 3 ——- Wudang Qing Brick

Wudang Qing Brick 武当青砖  [wǔ qīng zhuān dāng] has similar processing processures as the Yangloudong Qing Brick, but fresh tea leaves are harvested from Wudang Mountain areas. After natual fermentations and  sterilizations, crude tea materials are pressed into molds, which shows in the following video. When  molds are cold, bricks formed and should be left to dry in controlled chambers.


Dark Tea Part 4 ——  Raw Pu’er

Pu’er 普洱 [pǔ ěr] tea use local Yunnan big tea leaves as material, through processing steps: de-enzyming 杀青, rolling 揉捻, Shai Qing- sun dried 晒青 and drying 干燥, dry loose tea leaves could be afterwards steamed and pressed into different forms.

Pu’er tea has also been lauded as the “drinkable antique”. The flavor and color of raw Pu’er Tea changes when properly stored over a period of time. Young raw Pu’er: The ideal liquors should be aromatic with a light but distinct odours of camphor, rich herbal notes like Chinese medicine, fragrance floral notes, hints of dried fruit aromas such as preserved plums, and should exhibit only some grassy notes. Young raw Pu’er may sometimes be quite bitter and astringent, but should also exhibit a pleasant mouthfeel and “sweet” aftertaste, referred to as gān (甘) and húigān(回甘).




Dark Tea Part 5 ——- Aging Pu’er

Pu’er tea can be purchased as either raw/green 生 [shēng] or ripe/cooked 熟 [shú] , depending on processing method or aging. Raw pu’er can be roughly classified on the tea oxidation scale as a green tea, and ripe or aged-green variants as post-fermented tea. Unlike other teas that should ideally be consumed shortly after production, pu’er can be drunk immediately or aged for many years; pu’er teas are often now classified by year and region of production much like wine vintages.



Dark Tea Part 6 —— Ripe Pu’er

Ripe/cooked Pu’er 熟普 artificial processing techniques were developed successfully by Kunming tea factory in 1975, the artificial pile-fermentation step simulates the natural fermentation and shortens the long natually aging time (more than 10 years). Spraying water on tealeaves and increasing temperature in fermentation rooms/ chambers promote the microorganism reproduction significantly, firstly, microorganisms directly effect on tea leaves to form fragrances and colors, secondly, extracellular enzymes produced by microorganisms develop tastes.

The smell of aged pu‘er may vary, with an “aged” but not “stuffy” odour. The taste of aged raw pu’er or ripe pu’er which is artificially fermented, should be smooth, with slight hints of bitterness, and lack a biting astringency or any off-sour tastes. The element of taste is an important indicator of aged pu’er quality, the texture should be rich and thick and should have very distinct gān (甘) and húigān (回甘) on the tongue and cheeks, which together induces salivation and leaves a “feeling” in the back of the throat.



Dark Tea Part 7 ——- Production of Pu’er Cake

Pu’er is well known for the fact that it is a compressed tea and also that it typically ages well to produce a pleasant drink. Through storage, Pu’er typically takes on a darker colour and mellower flavour characteristics. Often Pu’er leaves are compressed into tea cakes, bowls, mushrooms or bricks, and wrapped in various materials, stored away from excessive moisture, heat, and sunlight, which help to mature the tea.

Pressing of pu’er into cakes and aging tea cakes from the natural aging process happened in the store rooms of tea drinkers and merchants, as well as on horseback caravans on the Ancient tea route 茶馬古道 [chámǎ gǔdaò] that was used in ancient Yunnan province to trade tea to Tibet and more northern parts of China. Compression of pu’er into dense bulky objects likely eased horseback transport and reduced damages.



Dark Tea Part 8 ——- Selecting Pu’er Tea as a Collector’s Item

Some suggestions for Pu’er lovers to select high-quality Pu’er as a collector’s item: Frist, choose Pu’er of quality raw material, which is the precondition for quality Pu’er. Second, special Pu’er are telatively small in quantity, from special areas and processed with special technology or of rare raw materials. For example wild ancinet arbor tea, raw tea make of old sun-baked green crude tea leaves or tender shoots or Crab Pincers, etc.. Third, choose Pu’er with special memorial significance, for example made for a special occasion.



Dark Tea Part 9 ——-Old Tea Lump

Old tea lump 老茶头 [lǎo chá tóu] refers to the Pu’er tea chunk which is hard to lossen because of the temperature, humidity and stirring during a pile fermentation. An outer lump layer has been completely fermented, while its core is not. It gives a unique taste, a mellow fragrance of fermented tea and a freshness of raw tea. In subsequent brews, a fresh and sweet taste of raw tea shows more, which is far better than that of assorted raw and processed Pu’er teas or a flavored liquid of both. Old tea lump is endurable, and its tea soup is dark red like wine, smooth, fragrant and sweet. Brewed leaves are reddish-brown, some with a dark green center due to an incomplete fermentation within a lump.



Dark Tea Part 10 ——-Processed Pu’er Tea – Mandarin peel/ Flowers

Mandarin Peel Pu’er 柑普 [gān pǔ] Tea is made of mandarin peels from Xinhui of Guangdong Province and ripe Pu’er tea from Yunnan Province, through special producing processes. On its soup surface is usually covered by oil droplets, its fruity and aging aroma is rich, and its flavor is smooth and mellow with a sweet aftertaste. Raw Pu’er tea could be processed as a good-quality herbal tea material, it is blended with flowers from Chrysanthemum, Jasmin, Lily, Peony, Rose, Sea Lavendar and etc..



Dark Tea Part 11 ——- Gongting Pu’er Tea

Gongting (imperial) Pu’er 宫廷普洱, which originally referred as the tribute Pu’er tea to the imperial court, is the best quality of Pu’er tea today. Pu’er tea was listed as tribute tea by the imperial court during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty. Tender shoots were harvested only in February, produced under the supervision of Pu’er local government and transported to the capital by caravans. Nowdays, the good quality of Gongting Pu’er tea follows a strict standard – 500g tea shoots is selected from every 50kg sun-baked green crude tea through manual selection and sifting.



Dark Tea Part 12 ——- Camphorwood Flavor Pu’er Tea

According to experts, the camphorwood flavor 樟香 [zhāng xiāng] can be added during producing processes, in which rubbed and twisted raw tea is dried by burning camphorwood. However, artificial fragrances fade soon, how to get Pu’er tea with long-lasting camphorwood fragrances?

The answer is planting camphor trees together with Pu’er tea trees. Tea leaves gradually imbibe camphorwood fragrances by sharing a same soil and root system, so these fragrances remain even after a pile fermentation process. This method was initiated by Zeng Yunrong. Moreover, camphor fragrances can drive away harmful insects, therefore, it makes Pu’er tea more ecologically friendly and safer. Since this type of Pu’er tea are mostly produced in the requirements of some domestic tea traders, it is rarely seen in the market and mostly exported to southeastern Asian countries.



Dark Tea Part 13 ——- Pu’er 老班章 [lǎo bān zhāng] tea

Began in 1476, Lao Ban Zhang village is the world king tea villiage, located in Menghai County, Bulang Shan 布朗山 country, Yunnan Province Xishuangbanna Zhou, an altitude of 1700 to 1900 meters, annual average temperature of 18.7, with an average annual sunshine 2088 hours, with an average annual rainfall of 1341 to 1540 mm. 4700 acres of tea tree could produce only 50 tons annual, since ancient times, villagers use traditional methods to maintenance ancient tea trees, follow the manual customs to pick fresh leaves up and sun dry.

Laobanzhang Pu’er tea is a standard of large tea leaf, a strong and long-lasting unique fragrance of orchid and nectar. In a first 3 years’ preservation, a tea liquid color is bright yellow, after 3 years turns to yellow-red. Its bitterness degrades quickly, sweetness turns back after 1 minute and lasts for several hours. It could brew 10 times, tea residue is yellow-green in first 3-5 years.



Dark Tea Part 14 ——- Zi Juan Pu’er

Zi Juan tea 紫鹃茶 [zǐ juān] is a variant of Pu’er tea varieties, buds, leaves and stems are purple – Zi, dry tea and tea soup are also purple. Leaves could be produced raw Pu’er or black tea, Zi Juan Pu’er has its special fragrance, because of a high anthocyanin content,   tea soup of raw Zi Juan Pu’er is normally light  purple.



Dark Tea Part 15 ——-  Pu’er Dan Zhu

Pu’er Dan Zhu 单株 – Single Plant, it has been  known only using tea leaves from one single tea tree to make Pu’er cakes.   Not every single  pu’er tea tree could be used to make Dan Zhu, tea trees  need to be old and big enough to produce tasty  and qualified  Pu’er cakes,     tree-age  is optimum above 500 year old,  large root system  helps  to  absorb more  nutrition, therefore, fragrances and flavours are better than  tea from young trees.   Moreover, each single tree has its own  unique growing environment, it makes each Dan zhu   cake  special and  unique.  Good Dan Zhu  cakes are rare  and  valuable,  because  single tree could be only produced 0.5- 3 kg dry tea.

Dark Tea Part 16 ——- Anhua Dark Tea

Dark tea of Anhua, Hunan province, it is used big leaves of the tea variety from local mountian areas, raw materials need to be roasted, rolled, pile-fermented and dried, then naturally ageing process is also necessary. Anhua dark tea can be pressed into many different forms (brick, cake, coin, chocolate or cylinder etc.).


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