The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
China's Black Teas - A Labor of Love
China's black tea production is much smaller than that of their green tea (13%
black vs.70% green), but just as much care is taken to produce a superb black
tea that is of the highest quality and flavor.
China's black teas are very
different from those of
India
and Sri Lanka.  The Chinese
refer to the highest grades of black tea as
"kung fu" teas, a term meant to emphasize
a process or product that is well made and
labor intensive, while being skillfully made
and carefully produced.

It takes extraordinary skill in every step of
the
manufacturing process, from plucking, to
first sorting, manufacture, and then the final
sorting, to make a kung fu tea.

What is called black tea in the West, is called
hong cha or red tea in China, referring to the
color of the infusion.
China black teas are softly sweet and fragrant, but with full body
and flavor.  The Chinese slowly and carefully coax the fragrance
from the tea leaves, using a much lighter touch during the steps of
withering and oxidation.

A great example comes from
Anhui Province, where Keemun teas
are produced.  The area where Keemun (spelled Qimen in the East)
is grown is comprised of four areas:  Dorgzhi, Guichi, Shitai, and Yixian, located not far from the
famous Huang Shan Mountains.

                                               Keemun Hao Ya (also called Qimen Hao Ya or Keemun Downy
                                               Bud), Keemun Hao Ya B, Keemun Mao Feng (also called Keemun
                                               Hairpoint Mao Feng), and Keemun Congou are grown there.

                                               The picking season for high-grade Keemun teas is in the spring,
                                               with very little made from summer or fall pluckings.

                                               Keemun teas are produced from eight different types of tea
bushes, but the best is said to come from leaves with a little red vein running down the back of
the leaf.  The leaves for Keemun tea are small and thin and slightly twisted, with a naturally
sweet, refreshing flavor.

The leaves of Keemun Hao Ya A and Keemun Hao Ya B, the two highest grades, are tiny and
carefully hand sorted both before and after processing.  Named after Qimen in Anhui Province
where it's produced, Keemun tea is China's most famous black tea, sought after for its intriguing
chocolate flavors, which have been favorites of the West for well over a century.

Keemun Mao Feng (Keemun Hairpoint Mao Feng) has a larger leaf than Keemun Hao Ya and
Keemun Hao Ya B, and is a special plucking comprised of two leaves and a bud, imbuing the tea
with a full, rich flavor.  There is rarely any light colored downy tip on the ends of the leaves.

          From the
Fujian Province comes a group of black teas
          belonging to the Panyang Congou family which include:
  •   Dan Gui
  •  Golden Crab
  •  Golden Monkey
  •  King of Golden Needles
  •  and of course, Panyang Congou

          Panyang Congou is one of the last historical teas of its type, produced in China during
          the tea trade days.  This tea is carefully made as its name asserts (Congou is a variation
                                                           of Kung fu, meaning "skillfully made"), starting with the
                                                           special plucking of one bud and one leaf, and sorted into
                                                           four quality grades, starting with
King of Golden Needle,
                                                           which has the finest leaf with the largest amount of tip,
                                                           making it light and sweet.

                                                           Next comes
Golden Monkey, with a slightly larger leaf and
                                                           less tip.  Golden Monkey is a relative newcomer, develop-
                                                           ed for export in just the last 20 years.  With a hint of
          bittersweet chocolate flavor and light, sweet scent of rock fruits, it's become a favorite in
          Europe and the U.S..

          Golden Crab is next in the Panyang
          Congou family, and has an even larg-
          er leaf.  Finally there's Panyang
          Congou, with the largest leaf of the
          group, but with the least amount of
          tip.

          "Congou" is a tea trade classification
          pertaining to
Chinese black teas with
          this particular twisted shape.  Hand-
          made by masterful, skilled tea mast-
          ers for centuries, Panyang Congou is
          now made almost entirely by machine,
          where the leaves are expertly rolled
          into a tight twist before being slowly
          oxidized.  The finished tea is light and
          sweet, with the fruity flavor of unsweetened baked apple.
Yunnan Province - An Area of Contrasts
The Yunnan Province is also an area of contrasts, with the far northwestern tip of Yunnan touching on the Tibetan
Himalaya.  To the south it shares a border with Myanmar, Laos, Burma, and
Vietnam.  Rich with history, some of
China's most interesting and flavorful teas come from Yunnan Province.

                                               This remote region, bordering Laos and Burma is where tea is thought to have
                                               originated. Yunnan Buds of Gold and Yunnan Golden Needles are both made from an
                                               indigenous variety of large, broad-leaf tea bushes and trees found in this remote
                                               region of Yunnan Province.

                                               For over 1,700 years Yunnan has produced quality black tea known to locals as
dayeh,
                                               a sub-variety of
Camellia sinensis classified by botanists as Camellia sinensis var.  
                                               assamica
.

Dayeh produces a full-bodied, flavorful tea with leaves a golden-russet color both before
and after brewing.  The dayeh trees come from old-growth tea trees (not bushes), found
growing naturally in the jungle and forest eco-systems of China.  As far as
organic tea is
concerned, it doesn't get any better than this.

Yunnan Buds of Gold and Yunnan Golden Needles are considered to be some of the high-
est grades of
Yunnan black tea, made with plenty of long tips giving these black teas a
sweet, creamy and malty flavor with no bitterness or bite.

From Xishuangbanna, the hot and steamy tropical region of Yunnan Province located in
the southwestern corner, you'll find the home of pu-erh tea.  Visit our
sheng pu-erh and shou pu-erh pages to learn
all about these healthy teas, considered to be medicinal by the Chinese.  Pu-erh teas have been shown to help in
weight loss, as well as many, many other health benefits.  Ongoing research is showing that pu-erhs have many of
                                               the same health benefits as green tea.  Referred to as the "slimming tea" because it
                                               helps balance and detoxify your system, it's one of the reasons Pu-erhs are the most
                                               popular teas, both in China, and beyond.

                                               Lastly, from the area considered to be the birthplace of black tea, China's Wuyi Moun-
                                               tains in the northern part of Fujian Province, comes a revered black tea - Lapsang
                                               Souchong (or Tarry Lapsang).  Today, teas from all over the world are marketed as
                                               Lapsang Souchong, but the quality original version is still produced in Wuyi Shan.

Learn about the
history of Lapsang Souchong and how it was discovered purely by accident, and get a close-up look
at how
Lapsang Souchong is made, and the manufacturing process that for centuries was a closely guarded secret.  
Enjoy.
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Next we're on to Sichuan Province, a mountainous region with vast areas of wilderness and untouched natural beauty,
in sharp contrast to its large, congested cities.  This area produces a single black tea of note - Zao Bei Jian (also called
Imperial Sichuan).  Like the leaves of Keemun, this black tea's leaves are also small and thin, with a small amount of
golden tip.