Next month my Chicago brother Jiaoshou will visit China to stay with us for a week. He has plans to open a tea class at his college. The plan is for us to spend the whole week in Anxi county exploring tea, but there are no details yet. What can we do in those seven days?
My first thought is that we absolutely must drink the best tea there. There are so many famous tea varieties, all of them excellent, in Anxi. The varieties I know include the following:
- Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess)
- Ben Shan (Local Mountain)
- Mao Xie (Hairy Crab)
- Huang Dan (Yellow Bullet)
- Mei Zan (Praise for Plum)
- Rou Gui (Cinnamon)
- Bai Mu Dan (White Peony)
- Er Qi Zi (Two-Seven Son)
- Ruan Zhi Oolong (Soft Branch / Qing Xin Wulong)
- Wu Dan (Black Bullet)
- Jin Guanyin (Golden Goddess)
- Zi Mu Dan (Purple Peony)
- Jin Mian Qilan (Gold-Faced Orchid)
- Da Ye Wulong (Big Leaf Oolong)
There are other little-known cultivars, as well as some migrants from other areas, such as like Shui Xian (Water Fairy), Hong Yu (Red Ruby) etc.
We will walk into the field, recognize each cultivar and compare the differences. So we will definitely visit the Mother Bushes. For Iron Goddess there are two stories about the source, so there are two spots, two mother bushes, both in the town of Xiping. I know one spot has very yummy very local noodles, we can eat the noodles while we compare the two mother bushes. Ha ha!
Anxi and Taiwan
Anxi county has a lot of mountains. The climate is similar to Taiwan, and that’s why over a century ago, some farmers from Anxi farmers immigrated to Taiwan and kindled the tea industry there. It’s also why, more recently some Taiwanese tea farmers planted tea here. Qing Xiang Tieguanyin (green iron goddess) is the most popular tea in Anxi, and much of the technology behind this tea comes from Taiwan including the equipment, with the exception of air conditioning. I’m glad to say that Taiwan promoted the modernization of the Anxi tea industry.
These changes took place not long ago, many people witnessed them, and we’re gonna find them, talk to them, and drink their best tea. I am sure some of them cannot speak Mandarin, and some times I just don’t know how to translate specific words. The good new is that even if I make mistakes they will not know it.
On mystery I would like to investigate is the introduction of air conditioning in tea production. I wonder who introduced this, since air conditioning is not a part of traditional Taiwanese tea making. Thanks to air conditioning, we can control the temperature and humidity of the withering room, so even in the heat of summer or autumn, we can get freshly green yet floral tea. It is rumored that the creator might be Wang Yi Rong from Qi Yang village, Gande Town, who experimented with the use of air conditioning in 1996.
Weather is the Boss
Actually Gande Town didn’t plant much tea before. My old friend Mr. Fortune still can remember the first time he was there in 1991, and people started to plant Iron Goddess, he bought some tea from a farmer. The three of us just met three days ago, it’s very interesting to hear their memories.
The reason Gande Town started to plant tea at that time is because Gande has higher altitude. As the China Economic Train started running, the weather started to get warmer, and higher altitudes are cooler, which is vital for tea making. Normally Anxi county can be divided into two parts (based on tea): Inner Anxi and Outer Anxi.
- Inner Anxi means higher altitude and better quality tea, it includes Huqiu town, XiangHua town, Gande town, LongJuan town and several other towns who don’t have so high good tea.
- Outer Anxi is the traditional tea production area, most of the famous tea companies and varietal comes from here, it includes LongMen town, XiPing town, GuanQiao town, HuTou town etc.
From Outer to Inner, we can see how the tea industry develops and better understand the role of weather in tea making. So maybe we can follow this same path, take a journey of Anxi tea industry development. The SIX most important tea towns are:
- Da Ping town
- Hu Qiu town
- Xi Ping town
- Long Juan town
- Xiang Hua town
- Gan De town
- Hua An town (belong to another county)
Tea Growing Seedlings
Tea is not a stranger but where the new tea plant coming from is, by googling you can find a lot of sources selling tea plant, even on Amazon and a full kits for tea growing, also there are plenty of online guides available for tea growing in your garden, I ever sent some Yunnan Puerh tea seeds to an U.S. friend several years ago, now the Puerh plant grows well and I hope go to America to make Puerh tea together with my friend one day, just don’t know how the taste will be …
There is a lot of fun to grow a Camellia Sinensis plant in home, for most of the people especially the Western, the most possible way to get a tea plant is buying tea seeds and wait for the seeds to become a plant. International shipping of any plant is restrictedly controlled and thus too complex and cost too much for ordinary enthusiasts.
Using seeds for tea-grow seedlings has been existed for thousand years, the other technicals of reproduction include:
- Layering Propagation
- Long Spike Cuttage
- Short Spike Cuttage
Above 3 technicals all were invented in Fujian province/China, as Fujian has so abundant tea varieties resources, Fujian can produce Oolong tea, White tea, Green tea, Jasmine tea, Black tea, if you want to learn tea making, Fujian is your best choice.
Long-spike Cuttage and Short-spike Cuttage were invented in Anxi County, Long-spike Cuttage’s invention was too long time ago, Short-spike Cuttage not, it just happened in 1936, the inventor is a home tea growing teacher named Wang Cheng Wen, he came from Ping Yuan village, Xi Ping town. In 1937 his cousin Wang Wei Xian learned that technology and applied to Mei Zan variety. In 1938 a tea master named Fu Shui Shou from Luo Yan village, HuQiu town learned it too from Wang Wei Xian and spreaded to more villages.
So maybe we can visit descendants of these three men:
- Wang Cheng Wen 王成文 in PingYuan village
- Wang Wei Xian 王维显 ( descendant: 王益忠)
- Fu Shui Shou 傅水寿 in LuoYan village
Also we can visit some tea plant seedlings companies, we can see how they get the tea plant and I am sure there must be some rare varieties.
Status: I will try to update on Instagram everyday and see what kind of interesting we find, till now we have found 3 Mother Bush and some tea seeds which can be free offered to anyone has interest.