Continued from Precious State: The Unusual and Obscure Teas of Guizhou – Part 1

In contrast, Guizhou’s tea is generally consumed locally, giving it few opportunities to develop the kind of fame and following that teas like Pu Er and Anhua Hei Cha enjoy. Without a historical commodity tea industry, Guizhou has been producing tea largely in isolation from the greater tea-making community. As a result, in Guizhou they do weird things to tea that I’ve never heard of anyone doing elsewhere.

Rui’s tour started in the capital, Guiyang, where her teacher, Master Lin, maintains a beautiful tea house in an old Qing-dynasty temple. Lin grows tea in the mountains of Pan Yin, making use of local strains (including one called Bird King) and the traditional processing methods that are unique to Guizhou to produce green, yellow, red, and white teas. My favorites of these employ a very idiosyncratic technique of allowing the fresh leaves to wither for weeks outside on bamboo trays.

Teas processed in this style are plucked far below the leaf, leaving a long stem. The leaves, exposed to the elements, dry out in the sun and then are rehydrated at night by moisture retained in the stems, as well as dew. This repeated drying and dampening causes the tea to oxidize (and probably ferment some as well). When they reach the desired state of ripening the leaves are fixed and fully dried – like green tea – and the result is a complex, moderately-oxidized profile with fruity and floral fragrances. They are not unlike some of the low-oxidation Phoenix, Anxi, and Taiwanese oolongs, especially reminiscent of Baozhong (Pouchong) because of their informal shape. Master’s Green and Master’s Yellow–as they are known in the Grass People Tree catalogue–are called 古法綠 Gu Fa Lv (Ancient Technique Green) and 老工黃 Lao Gong Huang (Old Process Yellow) in Chinese. Both refer to the “Old Style” of processing Guizhou teas through extensive withering.

Next, we went to Shiqian, several hours northeast of Guiyang. This was our first foray into rural Guizhou and I was astounded about how pristine the environment was. In addition to hot springs, Shiqian is blessed with a local strain of tea plants called 苔茶 Tai Cha, “Moss Tea”, which is purple – sort of. Unlike the more famous purple Pu Er, Tai Cha has purple leaves in the early spring that ripen to green as the weather warms. Some of the ancient Tai Cha plants are purportedly more than a millennium old, putting them in the company of Yunnan’s oldest Gu Shu pu er trees.

One of the most traditional styles of processing Tai Cha is to apply a simple fixing-and-sun-drying process–similar to Sheng Pu Er–before stuffing the finished leaves into earthenware jars and suspending them from the rafters of the kitchen, where they may be aged for decades before being boiled and drunk from bowls. This distinctive style of Hei Cha (fermented tea) is called 罐罐茶 Guan Guan Cha “Jar Tea”, and unlike many of the more famous Hei Cha, it is not exported but consumed by the people who produce it – primarily the Miao ethnicity, who are the predominant minority group in Guizhou.

To be concluded in tomorrow’s post Precious State: The Unusual and Obscure Teas of Guizhou – Part 3

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