Famous China Teas: Tribute Teas presented to the Chinese emperors
China is justly famous for its magnificent teas, whether these be black, green, oolong, yellow or white. In particular however are the Famous China Teas, which should be experienced by all lovers of China teas. Tribute teas, as they used to be known, were produced exclusively for the emperors from 618 AD during the last four dynasties (the Tang, Song, Ming and Qing). They were presented to the emperors in lieu of tax but should they not have been to the emperor’s taste they were offered to courtiers who sometimes sold these great teas at high prices. The name was changed to Famous Chinese teas when the Imperial dynasties ended in 1911. Today the superb quality and distinctive characteristics of these teas can be appreciated by all and are exported world-wide. Famous China Tribute teas are conspicuous by their leaf shape, general appearance and flavour. Most are produced in eastern provinces close to the seat of the emperors. Here we introduce these to you and explain how they have come to such prominence.
Famous China Black
Keemun teas, from Anhui Province, are some of my personal favourites. A kung fu tea, in that they are made with great skill, the neatly twisted leaf produces a lovely rich, winey character which explains how they are justly referred to as being the ‘Burgundy of teas.’ They can vary in body from light and delicate as with the young leaf of Hao Ya A to rich to full-bodied such as Mao Feng, renown for its large, more mature leaf.
Whilst Keemun , qimen, teas are ‘tribute’ they were originally made for export markets where the oxidation process helped preserve their freshness on the long sea voyage to Western markets. Today these subtle, elegant and fragrant teas are being increasingly appreciated by Chinese consumers who have become more familiar with Western tastes.
Famous China Green
The fabulous mountains of Huang Shan adorned with peaks penetrating the all-pervading cloud is home to two ‘Tribute’ teas. It is a remote area, heavily forested with ancient pines and blessed with abundant springs and streams.
Huang Shan Mao Feng is grown amongst the ‘sea of clouds’ swirling around the peaks of Huang Shan in Anhui Province, a rarified microclimate. This tea has a sweetly floral aroma and a nutty, fragrant character.
Also from Anhui is Tai Ping Hou Kui or Monkey King. It is large leafed and uniquely dried by being layered with rice paper and flat from being pan-fired and then basket fired. Smooth with a vegetal character it has a certain sweetness with a toasty aroma which is very moreish.
Lu An Gua Pian is also a very precise picking of just the second leaf. Melon Seed tea, as it is also known, is clean-tasting, vegetal and smooth with a floral quality.
Dragon Well, Long Jing or Lung Ching is from Zhejiang Province. It is well known for its almondy nuttiness enhanced through pan firing and its slight, natural sweetness. This is one of China’s most famous green teas.
Tian Mu Qing Ding is also from Zhejiang Province. ‘Heavenly Blue Summit’ is picked during only two weeks each spring in the sub-tropical rain-forests around Tian Mu mountain. Having a pronounced floral aroma, it is light, sweet and smooth with a long finish.
Pi Lo Chun or Green Snail Spring tea, as it is known is deliciously sweet with fresh, fruity notes. It originates from Dong Ding mountain in Jiangsu Province.
Famous China Oolong
Tie Guan Yin, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong, is celebrated for its fragrant, smooth, sweet toastiness. It is one of the most well-known of China’s famous teas and comes from around the town of Anxi in southern Fujian Province.
Da Hong Pao, Royal Red Robe, is a ‘rock tea’ plucked from ancient tea bushes growing amongst the crevices of the Wuyi Shan nature reserve in Fujian Province. Oxidised to about 80% it is one of the most oxidized, blackest, of Fujian oolongs. The high mineral content of these soils give rise to a highly complex tea which has been aged for three years. The tea is fruity: peaches, apricots come to mind as well as being slightly smoky, having been charcoal fired. It has a sweet aroma and a long, mellow finish.
Famous China Yellow
Huoshan Huangya or Yellow Sprouting is a fresh, young spring tea. Pan heated and then steamed slowly it is much appreciated for its vegetal characteristics in the cup, having notes of banana and sweetcorn. A very refreshing tea.
Famous China White
Baihao Yinzhen, otherwise known as white needle, is a traditional budset white tea from the home of
white tea: Fujian Province. This means that it contains only the downy-white buds of the first tea growth and does not contain any leaf. Acclaimed for its honeyed aroma, it is light, fragrant and has a mild, buttery taste.
Taking a journey through China’s famous Tribute teas is a real pleasure, in fact one of the most enjoyable culinary experiences you can have. To combine this with an appreciation of the glorious landscapes in which these teas are produced and the great skill with which they have been harvested and made over the centuries is truly fascinating.
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