Spread over 3,781,000 acres (1,530,000 ha), the tea gardens of China are organized in many different ways. Tea trees are arranged in rows about 3 feet (1 m) wide and are usually on a mountainside, according to the relief of the terrain. On the steepest slopes, small stone retaining walls are built to create a stepped effect. The tea trees can be set out as hedges, separated into bushes or「cultivated in a terraced pattern.
Although new machinery appears every year in the factories, most of the plantations in China are still cultivated according to traditional customs.
CULTIVARS AND VARIETIES
In the early 1980s, the All-China Commission of Examination and Approval of the Best Genus of Tea was created to record, examine and analyze every cultivar of tea tree growing in China. At that time, some 2,700 species were cataloged. In 1984, the commission recommended 30 teas that were considered the most promising. A few years later in January 1987, 22 cultivars were selected as the best and therefore most worthy of being cultivated in China. Consequently, these 22 cultivars were given priority over all others. Unfortunately, instead of seeking to protect the naturally rich diversity of the numerous tea trees grown in China, the principal thrust of this kind of research is to increase productivity by standardizing cultivation.
We have chosen to present here four cultivars that are found primarily in China and are outstanding for the production of tea. Each of them belongs to a different tea family. The Fuding Da Bai variety is used for the cultivation of white tea, Long Jing 43 for green tea, Tie Guan Yin for wulong and Zhu Ye for black tea.
FUDING DA BAI
The Fuding Da Bai variety seems to have been discovered in 1857, growing wild on a mountain close to the town of Fuding. The person who discovered it, Chen Huan, is said to have then begun cultivating it The Fuding Da Bai variety enjoy's a long period of vegetative growth from the beginning of March to the end of November Its buds are white, sturdy and very hairy, which allows them to remain tender longer: Rich in nutrients, the leaves are perfect for the production of white tea, but they can also be used to produce black and green teas. In addition to being highly resistant to drought and cold, Fuding Da Bai has a survival rate of close to 95 percent. Its very high yield has made it one of today's most widely grown teas in China. Some 840,000 acres (340,000 ha) are devoted to the cultivation of Fuding Da Bai.
LONG JING 43
The Long Jing 43 cultivar was developed by the Center for Tea Research at the Agricultural Institute of China in the 1960s. In 1978 it won an award at the Science Conference of China.
Chosen in 1987 as one of the best cuttivars, today it is grown in more than a dozen provinces, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi and Henan. Extremely productive and resistant, it bears buds that appear in great abundance in early spring. Its flat, pale-green leaves with brownish edges are very aromatic and thus perfectly adapted to the production of high-quality tea.
TIE GUAN YIN
The Tie Guan Yin variety, which produces a tea of the same name, is widely grown in China, mainly for the production of wulong teas. Legend has it that a certain Mr.Wei discovered it 200 years ago. Renowned for the speed of its growth and the abundance of its harvests, Tie Guan Yin has oval leaves, and its young buds, easily recognizable by their purplish-red hue, are lacy and pointed and have a thick, silky texture.
Compared to other cultivars, Tie Guan Yin contains a larger diversity of organic components, such as polyphenols, catechins and other amino acids. It is also rich in minerals, such as manganese, iron and potassium, which gives it a slightly mineral taste.
Today, the Zhu Ye cultivar is used for the production of Qimen, one of the most famous black teas of China. Previously intended for the production of green tea, this cultivar seems to have been used to produce Qimen for the first time in 1815, thanks to Hu Yun Long. According to legend, he had cultivated Zhu Ye to produce green tea until he returned from a trip to Fujian, the birthplace of black teas. He decided to convert his production of green tea to the production of black tea using the same trees. When he realized that the black tea he obtained from the Zhu Ye cultivar was better than the green tea, Hu Yun Long gave up the production of green tea to devote himself entirely to the production of Qimen.
THE AGE OF TEA TREES
From one garden to another, or even within the same garden, the age of tea trees can vary enormously according to customs and the preference of the grower. Whereas young trees are usually preferred for the production of green teas, you can find ancient trees that may be several hundred years old being used for the production of Pu er and wulong teas in Yunnan and Guangdong Provinces.