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Chinese Tea Terroirs

China covers a vast territory, and tea growing spreads oyer thousands of miles. More than 3.7 million acres (1.5 million ha) are devoted to tea plantations. The best estates are concentrated in the southeastern part of China, particularly Fujian, Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces. The coastal provinces, with their mild, misty climate and numerous mountain ranges, are also favored terrain. Further south, Yunnan Province, where the tea tree originated, is famous for its tea production.

The remarkable variety of the weather and geological conditions of each of these regions gives the tea leaves produced there a unique character. In fact, these teas are often named after the region where they are grown.

We can divide China into four regions: the southwest region, the southeast region and the regions located to the south and the north of the Yangzi Jiang River. We present here the most important tea-producing provinces in each of these regions.

THE SOUTHWEST REGION

The southwest region includes the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou. In spite of its irregular terrain, the overall climate is generally mild and humid (subtropical) but punctuated by a season of heavy rains. The high mountains offer very diverse climatic conditions in relation to the elevation.

YUNNAN PROVINCE

Considered to be the birthplace of tea, Yunnan Province is undoubtedly one of the most ancient tea-growing regions. Wild tea trees, one of which is reputed to be 1,700 years old, can still be found in the tropical forests of Xishuangbanna. Its extremely varied terrain includes mountains with peaks soaring to over 6,500 feet (2,000 m). Yunnan has a temperate, moist climate that alternates between hot summers and mild winters. The region has an average annual rainfall of between 40 and 80 inches (1,000 to 2,000 mm). Yunnan Province is also blessed with a rich red soil that abounds in organic materials. This region has always offered ideal conditions for the cultivation of tea.

True to the tradition preserved over thousands of years, Yunnan still produces bricks of Pu er tea. In fact, black teas and Pu er teas represent the two major specialties of the region. The town of Pu er, which for a long time was the starting point of the Tea Road is till an important trading center Indeed, the recent enthusiasm for this type of tea has convinced several growers to follow the market trend and give up the cultivation of green or black teas in favor of the Pu er variety. However, Yunnan Province remains one of the major producers of black teas, including the famous Yunnan Hong Gong Fu.

THE SOUTHEAST REGION

The southeast region includes the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian as well as the island province of Hainan. It produces many famous teas belonging to the six families, including Anxi Tie Guan Yin, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Bai Mu Dan, Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu, Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Zhi Lan Xiang, Qi Lan Xiang, Huang Zhi Xiang and Mi Lan.

The most common soil type is old clay soil that contains both red and yellow clay.

Except in the north of Fujian, the temperature is warm, with an annual average of 66 to 72°F (19 to 22°C), the rainfall is abundant, with 45 to 80 inches (1,200 to 2,000 mm) annually, and the picking season extends over a period of 10 months.

FUJIAN PROVINCE

Fujian Province, a region with a subtropical climate (meaning hot, humid summers and mild winters) is renowned for the variety of teas it produces. The mountainous massif of the Wuyi is famous for its wulong teas, and the Anxi district produces excellent Tie Guan Yin varieties. The plentiful organic matter contained in the rich, deep soil of this region is ideal for growing the best white teas, which can be found mainly in the Tai Mu mountains and near the towns of Zhenghe and Jianyang. Fujian is also said to be the birthplace of black teas and wulong teas.

THE REGION SOUTH OF THE YANGZI JIANG RIVER

The provinces of the region south of the Yangzi Jiang Rive are Zhejiang Hunan, Jiangxi and the southern parts of the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei. Two-thirds of the tea produced in China, including several famous teas, come from this region. Most plantations are located on hillsides, and some of them are at very high attitudes. The mountainous terrain is extremely favorable for the production of high-quality teas, as the plantations enjoy excellent soil drainage and plentiful sunlight.

The annual temperature varies from 59 to 65°F (15 to 18°C) and rainfall, which is concentrated in the spring and summer can be up to 55 to 63 inches (1,400 to 1,600 mm) annually. The soil is red with yellow and yellowish-brown patches, and it can be alluvial in places. The soil quality is also excellent for pottery and is used, in particular; in the production of the famous Yixing teapots.

ZHEJIANG PROVINCE

Zhejiang, a rich coastal province, produces mainly green teas. These plantations enjoy a moist, subtropical climate and alluvial soil that is rich in minerals. Production includes high-quality vintages made according to traditional methods, such as Long Jing, Anji Bai Cha and Huiming, as well as lesser-quality teas industrially manufactured for export, such as the Gunpowder brand. This diversity is due to the fact that some plantations are in the mountains, where the best teas are cultivated, and others are on the plains, where industrial teas are grown.

ANHUI PROVINCE

Renowned for the beauty of its landscape, Anhui Province produces teas of exceptional quality, fn the mountainous massif of Huang Shan ("yellow mountain"), where the highest peaks soar to 5,900 feet (1,800 m), Huang Shan Hao Feng ("downy point of the yellow mountain"), one of the best-quality Mao Feng teas, is produced at attitudes between 1000 and 2,600 feet (300 to 800 m). A temperate climate combined with a mainly red soil, rich in humus and iron, allows the growers in Anhui to maintain a high standard of production.

The most famous black teas are grown in the southwest of the province, in the county of Qimen, located in the extension of the Huang Shan massif With an annual mean temperature of about 60°F (15°C) and an annual rainfall of almost 67 inches (1,700 mm), the region is blessed with highly favorable growing conditions. Famous teas, such as Tai Ping Hou Kui and Qimen, are cultivated here.

THE REGION NORTH OF THE YANGZI JIANG RIVER

The provinces of Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Shandong, as well as the northern parts of the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei, make up the major growing region that lies north of the Yangzi Jiang River.

These regions are newcomers to the history of tea growing in China, and they have the coldest climate of all the Chinese tea-growing provinces. The average temperature is around 55°F (12°C), and it can drop several degrees below freezing in the winter months. Precipitation is low and rarely exceeds 40 inches (1,000 mm) a yean with an average between 28 and 40 inches (700 to 1,000 mm).The yellow to yellowish-brown soil, which is very poor in some areas, resembles the desert terrain of northern China. However; there ane several mountainous regions with interesting climatic conditions that can produce good-quality teas, such as Lu An Gua Pian and Huo Shan Huang Ya. The most famous tea cultivated in the region, Xin Yang Hao Jian, is grown in Henan Province.