This is the first article of One Day One Tea series which walk you into a specific area of China with tea, food, people and stories. We hope to reveal the real life there for you beside the drink.
That would be the first word if you enter Wuyi Mountain or heard it’s listed as the World Cultural and Natural Heritage site in 1999.
Take a sip of the tea, you must be shocked how strong that it could be. So let’s talk about Big Red Robe, the most mysterious tea, which ever cured the Emperor and soldiers guarded, if you picked a leaf, you will be thrown into the prison.
Taiwan scientist Lin Fu Quan
Back to 1940s, because of Japanese aggression and bombing, the Fujian Tea Center moved to Wuyi Mountain, many tea scientists hence had the chance to close watch Rock tea including Mr. Lin Fu Quan who was named one of two key persons of Taiwan tea revival (another one is Mr. Wu Zhen Duo – the father of Taiwan tea).
Lin wrote the first technical tea book in 1943 (figure below) which completely documented the history, factory organization, processing craft and marketing channels, it’s regarded as the bible of Rock tea. Later in 1955 Lin wrote another book about Taiwan Oolong and Bao Zhong, it greatly promoted the development of Taiwan tea.
Lin clearly raised a point that Wuyi Rock tea can be divided into three classes according to their farm location:
- Rock tea or Zheng Yan Cha: the top quality originated from core areas named Three Pits and Two Streams
- River tea or Zhou Cha: Common quality originated from Wuyi but outside Three Pits and Two Streams
- Outer tea or Wai Shan Cha: Tea comes out of Wuyi like neighbors Jian Yang and Jian Ou
Lin ever wrote a tea song introduce the goods of tea drinking:
工餘一杯茶，舒筋骨，消疲勞。民國茶葉先驅 – 林馥泉
Farmer Ms. Gong Ya Ling
Jin Jun Mei should be the most famous black tea in China, one of the co-creators is Ms. Gong Ya Ling who ever be one member of Wuyi Tea Bureau, a tea research institution. Ms. Gong later quit and found her company to achieve her perfect tea dream, all of her Rock teas including Big Red Robe have no fire and internationally organic certified.
Are we going to talk about how good of her tea? No, we are going to talk about how weird of her accent.
I come from the South of Fujian, we speak hokkien. Wuyi Mountain locates in the North of Fujian and they speak another local language. When she talks, even there is very nice tea in my cup, I can smell the Hokkien from her voice. So I asked, “Where do you come from?” with no surprise, she came from my hometown even left for over 40 years. Still there are many many Wuyi farmers speak Hokkien. She told me how she moved to here.
Historically almost all tea masters in Wuyi came from the South and workers came from neighbor city. As the South is close to the sea, people jumped onto the era of ocean trade and became the dominant power of tea business, they are very capable of change to adapt to the times. Wuyi local people just sticks with the tradition. Now guess who win? Both. Everything will change, to tea, the terroir and tradition will protect them and empower them.
Mr. Liu Shi Zhang – inheritor of intangible cultural heritage
Mr. Liu Shi Zhang is another story, he was born in Wuyi Mountain. Also he is nephew of a very famous tea man – Liu Bao Shun. When you arrived Sangu Resort of Wuyi Mountain, walk over the beautiful bridge under Da Wang Feng King of Peaks and maybe appealed by the croaking of frogs, you will be surprised to find out you are in a very old village, all old buildings are well protected and Mr. Liu’s home is at the end of the road.
Big Red Robe, Buddha Hand, Shui Xian, Rou Gui, Water Turtle, Half Sky Demon, many many tea bushes with name tag just sits on the roadside, through this path is a yard.
Liu owns a modern factory and persists in making the right style tea, the key of what is right is not in the hands of market but he believes in the hands of his ancestors, father and even his. The character is, the first second meet his tea, you will not be surprised or shocked but just ok, then more and more quiet smiles.
Liu is also a big gourmet, he introduced the most local food, Smoked Goose which is not just quite spicy also very aroma, oh man it uses Big Red Robe tea as the smoking material.
Stream fish is superb too. The whole area is very well protected, every spot of water is so clean and sweet, fish in there with no excuses to be so delicious. But the dish I like more is not in the stream but in the rice paddy field, every autumn when the rice turn yellow, you can take off shoes and catch the fish by yourself.
Mr. Wang Yong Zeng’s Inn
Wang doesn’t sell tea but runs an Inn close to Liu’s home, every night every dinner, there will be very crowd with diners, most of them do not get accommodation here.
To my surprise, I like the breakfast most, very simple, just rice porridge with fired peanut and steamed buns. I always eat too much of the rice porridge. One day I asked how to make such gorgeous rice porridge and he told me the secret. Also he told me how much work he put on finding how to make it. Nothing comes easy.
As he has many guests who runs tea factory, once he know you have such needs he will introduce them to you without hesitation. Here you can drink many top Big Red Robe tea for free too, a nice place to meet top teas from different factory.
Uncle Xue Feng don’t know tea
It’s true. Uncle Xue Feng thinks Big Red Robe is Red tea as the liquor is kind of red. As a man lived in the south of Fujian for over 70 years, he almost drinks tea every day. Every family has a Gongfu tea set here even the host doesn’t drink tea, as you will need it when there is a guest come. Normally there is some cookies too, or snacks or candy or home made salted fruits, all kids like that especially in the Spring Festival, the host will give each coming kid a red envelop with money inside, sometimes it’s fifty Yuan, one hundred Yuan although used to be just five Yuan or ten Yuan. All kids love to visit relatives along with parents even though they don’t like tea, the bitter tea.
In Uncle’s most life he drinks Tieguanyin only, some day I took a Big Red Robe to cup with him, his first response was “WOW Big Red Robe!” It’s an expensive tea in his mind even he hasn’t ever bought it. To him Big Red Robe is more than a tea name.