China has 16 Provinces that produce tea, including Taiwan. From boiling tea as soup, to making it into tea cakes, and to make tea with full leaves, Chinese people have passed a long period in their study and usage of tea. Either by accident or on purpose, they continually discovered and modified new methods of making tea, thus deriving different kinds of tea. Because of the different producing methods, people generally categorize Chinese tea into six major types – green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea and dark tea. Besides, there are processed sorts such as jasmine tea, compressed tea, etc. Each type has its representative “celebrity tea,” and each “celebrity tea” has its irreplaceable appearance and scent, some even have beautiful legends. The so-called famous teas renowned for their top quality in color, fragrance as well taste are mostly the combining result of excellent natural condition, top class breed of tea trees, refined picking methods, and exquisite processing technique.
Green tea is the oldest type of tea in China. It is also the tea with the largest output in China. Many Provinces and cities are renowned for their production of green tea, the most eminent ones being Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Anhui. Green tea leaves haven’t been fermented, so they largely retain the original flavor of tea, which is simple, elegant and lasting. On first sip, green tea tastes a little thin. But on appreciating it, you will find its fragrance flowing in your mouth and reluctant to leave. To make green tea, we mainly use the methods of steaming green, frying green and sunning green, respectively using steaming, frying and sunning to get rid of the moisture in fresh tea leaves and bring out their fragrance. The water shouldn’t be too hot when making green tea, favorably 80℃ First soak the leaves in a little warm water, then fill the cup full. Only put on the lid for one or two minutes, otherwise the taste would be affected. Or you can first prepare a glass of warm water and then put leaves into it.
West Lake Longjing tea West Lake lies in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Hangzhou is one of the beautiful cities of China, enjoying a high fame since ancient times. It is, together with Suzhou of Jiangsu Province, regarded as the paradise under sky and heaven on earth. West Lake is the most celebrated scenic spot of Hangzhou. It makes a big contribution to bring Hangzhou its enormous fame and it is also why West Lake Longjing tea gets its name. Hangzhou is surrounded by mountains in three sides. As early as the Tang Dynasty, Tianzhu Temple and Lingyin Temple in the West Lake area already made tea. Longjing was called Longhong in early times. In the Ming Dynasty, local people found a dragon-shaped rock when digging a well, so the name of Longing came into being (Jing means a well in Chinese), After its appearance, Longhong tea rose to fame quickly and soon became one of the fame teas. Known for being fresh and tender, the best Longjing leaves should be picked and processed before Pure Brightness (a day around April 5th or 6th), called before-brightness tea- Leaves picked and processed after Pure Brightness and before Grain Rain were a little worse in quality, called before-rain tea. According to the various shapes of the leaves, people gave them different fancy names. The carefully selected leave shoots were Lotus Heart. One-shoot-one-piece leaves were Banner Spear. One-shoot-two-piece leaves were Sparrow Tongue. West Lake Longjing has always been known for four typical features – green in color, strong in fragrance, sweet in taste, and beautiful in shape. After being made, the leaves stretched out straightened themselves and swam up and down in the water, displaying a lively picture, The tea was clear and clears and left a pleasant and long aftertaste.
There is an interesting tale about West Lake Longjing. When Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty went to the south, he went to the West Lake district to have a drink of local Longjing tea. Seeing the skillfulness of the tea-picking girls, he couldn’t help getting interested and started learning to pick. Just then, some attendants hurried along to announce that the Queen Mother was ill. Carelessly putting the newly picked leaves in his sleeve, Qianlong hurried back to Beijing. The Queen Mother had nothing serious, just a little indigestion, plus missing her son. With the son’s coming back, the Queen Mother got half well. She noticed that gusts of fragrance came out of Qianlong and asked why. Only then did the emperor remember the leaves in his sleeve. He took them out and made tea with them. The tea was sweet, strong and tasteful, curing the Queen Mothers ailment at once. Qianlong was so pleased with this that he gave orders that the 18 tea trees in front of Longjing Temple be named “Royai Tea,” which made Longjing tea even more famous. Because the leaves that Qianlong took back to Beijing were pressed flat in his sleeve, the later leaves were all made into that shape.
Picking Longjing involves a lot of knowledge and skill. Tea picking is closely related to seasons. Farmers in tea areas often say that, “three days earlier, it’s a treasure. Three days later, it’s trash.” Generally speaking, the annual picking period lasts 190 to 200 days. Leaves on a tea tree need 22 times of picking a year. Spring tea leaves are picked around late March, when little buds start to pop out. They want 8 to 9 times of picking because if it’s good weather, new leaves will come out in less than 3 days after the previous picking. Only after 8 to 9 times of picking do the leaves come to dormancy. However, in early summer, they wake up and give birth to new leaves again, which are called “Second Tea.” Picked leaves must be no longer than 2 centimeters. Two things need to be noticed in picking. First avoid broken leaves. Second, keep the young leaves, because they will germinate and then one young leaf will become two new leaves, and two become four. While picking, bath hands and eyes are busily engaged- Leaves on protruding branches will be picked from bottom up alternatively. When picking clumps of different height you have to stand at one time and squat at another, On sunny days, the newly picked, fresh, tender leaves will have to be put in the basket in time. Seen in a distance, the quick and deft hands of the tea-picking girls are like pairs of butterflies flying among the green leaves. What a wonderful scene!
Picking decides the grades of the leaves, while frying decides their color, shape, and taste. In the past, wood fire or coal fire was used in frying leaves, so heating was very important. There was a saying of “70% of heating and 30% of frying. But now electric cooker is widely used in order to better control the temperature. The procedures of frying Longjing tea is very complex, including shaking, stripping, swinging, tossing, rubbing, knocking, scratching, pressing, grinding, squeezings etc. Longjing frying is divided into two parts — primary and finishing. The primary part is a process of putting the leaves into a rough shape. The cooker temperature is first high and then low, kept between 240°C and 300°C, The hand movement mainly involves scratching and shaking. After reducing some water, pressing, shaking and swinging procedures are used to primarily shape the leaves. The pressure changes from light to heavy, until leaves are straightened and flattened. After about 12 or 15 minutes, when leaves are 70% or 80% dry, they will be got out of the cooker. Leaves fried at a time weigh about 120 grams. Hie aim of the finishing part is to further shape and dry the leaves. Normally four cookers of leaves in the primary part go to one cooker in the finishing process, with the temperature around 100°C for 20 to 25 minutes. Hands gradually add force, mainly using scratching, knocking, grinding, pressing, pushing, and other procedures. Each frying process involves only a small amount of leaves but requires a long time. A skilled expert can only fry 1 kilo of dried leaves. Although presently leaves are also fried by machines, these leaves cannot be compared with hand-fried leaves either in appearance, color or taste. Therefore, first-class West Lake Locking tea leaves are still fried by hand. This craft usually runs in the family, handed from one generation to another. Tea frying is arduous work. Hands can’t touch the cooker bottom but have to contact the leaved surface, whose temperature is about 60°C. It’s ineluctable for learners to get their hands burned. Only after a year of trying, when both hands are covered with thick callus, can they bear the in the cooker, Frying is also a practice that needs power of understanding and creativity. Ways of frying vary according to types of tea leaves, water content, cooker temperature, and the size and strength of hands. All these require a lot of thinking. What is more, they require constant accumulation of experiences through practice. The older generation of tea frying workers usually started their apprenticeship since teens. They began with tending the kitchen fire. After 20 or 30 years of training and practice, they finally acquire maturity in their skills. Nevertheless, whether one can become a superb master of tea frying depends on one’s talent as well as diligence.
Longjing tea mainly comes from five districts near the West Lake. They used to be classified into five types because of their different producing areas – lion, dragon, cloud, tiger and plum. Now they are combined into three – lion, plum and dragon, of which the mast precious are the leaves from the 18 tea trees that had been conferred by Emperor Qianlong. In an auction held in China in 2005, the trigger price for 100 grams of such royal leaves was 80,000 RMB, and the knock-down price was 145,600 RMB per 100 grams,much more valuable than gold.
It’s best to use the water from tiger-running spring in Hangzhou when drinking Longjing tea. The spring water, springing from sandstone and quartz sand, is luscious and dear, with high water molecular consistency and surface tension, and low calcium carbonate content. It’s also better to choose transparent glasses in order that the stretching and reeling of the leaves in water can be better observed. The rate between the amount of leaves and of water is about 1 to 50. First, pour water into the glass to 1/4 full to wet and immerse the shoots and to feed the dry leaves with water to have them unfold. When fragrance starts to pervade, pour water from a higher position to let the water drop straight into the glass. Use the power of your wrist to raise and lower the pot three times, thus setting the leaves stirring in the water. This tea-cooking method -known as Phoenix Nods Three Times – assures that the leaves have thorough contact with water. It is also to show respect to the guest because “nodding three times” means to bow and salute. This elegant gesture demonstrates the respect for both the guest and tea ceremony, Longjing leaves can be made three times, the second-time tea tasting the best.
Maojian of Mount Huangshan Mount Huangshan is situated in Anhui Province, China, It has topped other famous mountains since ancient times. The great tourist Xu Xiake (1586-1641) of Ming Dynasty, after visiting Mount Huangshan, exclaimed “there’s nothing like Mount Huangshan of Anhui in the whole world. Compared to Mount Huanshan, no other mountain is great enough.” Mount Huangshan is made up of a lot of peaks and ridges, 77 of which are over 1,000 meters high. The four most celebrated tights are: rare pines, strange rocks, hot spring, and Cloud Sea, known as “Four Specialties of Mount Huangshan.” The tea leaf of Maojian of Mount Huangshan has a light yellow in its verdure. The leaf is covered with white hairs, and the shoot tip is shaped like a mount peak. That’s how the name comes into being. After being cooked, the water is dear and bright with a touch of apricot yellow. It tastes strong and fresh and pure. The best Maojian tea leaves an aftertaste even after being cooked five or six times.
Pilochun Pilochun comes from Mount Dongting of Wu County in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, so it is also called “Dongting Pilochun.” Its special feature is its luscious fragrance, so the tea is once called by the local citizens as “frightening fragrance.” In Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qianlong visited south China, local officers treated him with this kind of tea. When Qianlong lifted the tea cup, a strong fragrance flew into his nose even before he drank the tea. After drinking it, Qianlong said that it sure deserved its reputation. But finding its name not elegant enough, Qianlong personally gave it the beautiful name of Pilochun. Pilochun looks verdant and like a trumpet shell, with fine and dense flosses around the circumference. It’s best to use glasses when drinking Pilochun, because the tea leaves unfold themselves slowly after absorbing water. When they sink and float in the water, their white hairs can be observed vividly, like snow flying in the wind. Pilochun not only gives people pleasure in smell and taste, but gives visual enjoyment as well.
Sweet Dew of Mengding (meaning the top of Mount Mengshan) Sichuan Province is where tea culture is in its height. Many well-known teas stem there, and Sweet Dew of Mengding is one of them. Mount Mengshan lies across Mingshan county and Ya’an county of Sichuan Province. Its five peaks huddle together like a lotus. The mid-peak, which is die highest, has a piece of flat ground on its top, and Sweet Dew of Maigding originates here. As the legend goes, an eminent monk called Ganlu (meaning sweet dew) in Western Han, the welfare of all, planted tea trees on the mount top with his own hands. That’s how Sweet Dew of Mengding got its name. It is one of the most time-honored well-known teas in China, and was honored as the head of tribute teas as early as Tang Dynasty. As the tea is associated with Buddhism, it has been regarded as celestial tea. It is said that once a monk got sick, he met another old monk who told him to pick as many as tea leaves of Mengding within three days around vernal equinox when spring thunders started in action. One Liang (a unit of measurement, about 1/20 kilo) can cure chronic disease, two Liang can keep him forever, three Liang can remold him thoroughly, arid four Liang can elevate him to be immortal. The sick monk followed the old monk’s instruction. He picked one Liang of leaves and his illness went immediately. Even his appearance changed young. Sweet Dew of Mengding is tenderly green and moist tasting better with second cooking, It is recommended and loved by a great many people.