Buddha's Hand Red
The origin of the Yongchun Buddha’s Hand varietal tea tree has been traced to an ancient temple on its Shifeng Cliff during the Northern Song Dynasty. The bright yellow, lemon-scented fruit, “Fingered Citron,” (also called Buddha’s Hand), was and still is a common offering in temples. Soon after the temple was built in the late 1600’s, Shifeng monks planted fingered citron trees around it to worship Buddha. As the monks drink tea daily as part of their meditation, they also planted tea trees amongst, and eventually appended to, these fruit trees. In an experimental gesture, a monk from Qihuyan Temple in Anxi County grafted the branches of a tea tree onto a fingered citron tree. He carefully cared for it and successfully made a tea “with leaves as big as Buddha’s hands,” and with the refreshing scent of the fingered citron.
Among oolongs, Yongchun Buddha’s Hand is truly unique. Although it is a shrub species, the leaves are large and thick – they really can be as large as the palm of your hand. As such, it asks for special handling both in cultivation and in preparation as a tea. Cultivate has been fortunate to make a friend in Yongchun, Fujian who is not only very aware of the history of tea in her native region, but is working to revive many of Yongchun's beautiful, traditional oolongs that fell out of favour in the last century to teas with higher international market value.
Our friend, Mei’s encounter with Yongchun oolong started in the summer of 2013, when she was visiting her university teacher in Anxi. In her teacher’s tea room she saw a tea labeled “1960’s Yongchun Buddha’s Hand.” Mei roughly understood that Yongchun Buddha’s Hand was a well known tea amongst older people in the region, but younger generations in Yongchun gave it little attention. Mei was very touched by this brief encounter she had with Buddha’s Hand, and since then has trekked almost all of the mountains and peaks of Yongchun looking for forgotten tea trees, particularly the Buddha’s Hand and Shuixian.
With amazement, she discovered that there are many abandoned Buddha’s Hand and Shuixian tea trees tucked high up in the mountain forests, with most of the groves being at least 2000 ft in elevation. Many of the tea trees are around 30 years old, but Mei has found some that are closer to 100: they have been hidden deep in the mountains, forgotten, and thus also protected.
We carry many of Mei’s oolongs that she has made from these forgotten groves, as they are all very well crafted examples of a traditionally revered tea we hardly see anymore. This tea may be the most experimental of all of them. Usually, leaves from Buddha's Hand tea trees are processed into oolongs, but here we are able to taste this varietal differently – it has been made into a black tea.
Buddha’s Hand Red was first made in the early 2000s. Its name references the purplish red colour of the young sprouts of the Buddha’s Hand trees. This tea is made entirely out of those newly emerged, bruise-coloured sprouts. This means that the window for harvesting is very small, only 3 or 4 days, right before the Qingming Festival.
The trees Mei has harvested for this tea are around 40 years old, and grow in a tea garden at 2000 ft elevation. It is considered the highest grade of Buddha’s Hand Red, following strict picking standards and a 12 step processing method done entirely by hand by the skilled artisans in Yongchun.
This year’s harvest smells like sesame cookies. It has such a bold, toasted character, but finishes softly. The beautiful golden liquor carries the same lean tannins we appreciated in previous harvests, and closes with a citron note that leaves us feeling uplifted.
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|Steep time||10 - 60 sec|
|No. of infusions||8