Yongxi Huo Qing "Fire Jade" 2022
April 3, 2022
Shijingkeng, Huangtian Village, Jing County, Anhui
This unusual and rare tea comes from the ancient village of Huangtian, in Anhui Province, situated in Southeastern China, along the Yangtze River. Huangtian, protected by the peaks of Huangzi Mountain, and threaded by interlacing valley streams, is a place that maintains many traditions: they are famous for their handmade paper and the traditional architecture that makes up their village, where all of the structures still have white concrete walls and black tiles. They are also famous for the craftsmanship of this particular kind of green tea.
Huangtian and the village Yongxi, on the other side of the mountain, are the birthplace of this type of green tea, named Huoqing 火青, or “fire green.” In this region, tea making began in the 1500’s, in the Ming Dynasty. This area is home to many century-old indigenous varietal tea trees. The soil in this rocky area is particularly dense, which lends tea leaves both strong flavour and energy. Here, the semi-wild tea trees thrive on their own, in the valley between two mountains, undisturbed except for the Spring harvest which lasts 2 weeks each year. It takes both knowing and endurance to reach the wild tea trees scattered throughout the area. The most remote trees are located 20 kilometers from the village; to get to these tea trees is a 3 hour hike into the mountains. Usually, the elders will trek out in the early morning, bringing lunch with them, and return to the village with freshly harvested tea leaves in the late afternoon.
This profound effort is matched in the craftsmanship of Huoqing; it is one of the most labour-intensive green teas we are aware of, requiring extreme patience, skill and experience to make. Crafting Huoqing involves 20 hours of continuous pan-frying over charcoal. Traditionally, making one batch of Huoqing meant splitting the 20 hours of pan frying into 3 shifts of 7 hours at a time, requiring 3 people to take the 3 shifts. This Huoqing is crafted by Mr. Zhu, who is now in his seventies. He enjoys his slow life in the mountains: Mr. Zhu has been a tea farmer and a beekeeper all his life.
Mr. Zhu started learning how to make tea with elders when he was 16 years old. As an apprentice to the master craftsmen, he spent 2 years washing the iron woks that were used to pan fry the green tea. Gradually, he learned how to craft Huoqing tea by hand independently, mastering each of the subtle hand motions that turn the fresh leaves into the tightly rolled balls we see in the finished tea. The tea must be continually moved in every minute of the 20 hours that it is in the wok, otherwise the leaves will burn and have to be discarded. Each year, Mr. Zhu and his wife only make 50kg of Huoqing green tea.
After 20 hours, when the tea finally comes out of the iron wok it has been gently roasted in, it has turned a deep, rich green, with a beautiful “oily” sheen. When we first taste this tea the warmth, or the metal, comes first, followed by the plant, the forest valley, and then, its flowers. Inflected by the extended, rhythmic pan frying process, this green tea presents with such depth and complexity it feels more like a pu-erh. Like a pu-erh, it is such a direct expression of the tea leaf itself and, also like a pu-erh, its energy moves evenly throughout the whole body. In the gaiwan the leaves, which have become shiny, tightly bound knots during the pan-frying, unfurl quickly into bright, youthful leaves that curve softly in the water.
The best Huoqing tea leaves are found deep in the mountains of Huangtian. Tea plants that grow on the slopes closer to the village receive more hours of direct sunlight throughout the day, meaning the tea will have a weaker fragrance and lose depth. Tea trees that grow deep in the mountains receive more dappled sunlight, which makes for better tea.
Mr. Zhu has trekked the winding narrow roads that lead deep into the mountains to gather tea for over 60 years. It appears that there are less and less people who are willing to make this trek, which means that the best Huoqing teas are slowly disappearing. With that in mind, we appreciate this tea.
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|Steep time||10 - 60 sec|
|No. of infusions||8-10