Notes on Fuding White Tea
We spent just a few days with Mister Qiu in Diantou (a tea-centered village just outside of Fuding, Fujian, China). During this time, he talked non-stop all about Fuding white tea, the joys and pleasures of it, the slight distinctions between grades, varietals, processing methods, and ages. What follows is a hastily composited list of everything we managed to note down and remember. It was truly an amazing experience to get this knowledge directly from a patient, enthusiastic man fully entrenched in the white tea industry.
Biological Structure Of the Tea Leaf
Veins of the tea leaf do not terminate at the edge of the leaf, but are contained within themselves. This allows for the withering process to be carried out the way it is when drying and processing white tea. If the cell walls aren’t broken by the maceration process then the tea leaf keeps its integrity and can be dried while preserving its flavor.
Left, not a tea lea.
Right, a white tea leaf.
- Less pesticides - summertime is the worst for bugs and insects, so if the tea isn’t being harvested, the battle with pests doesn’t need to be waged. Now tea is only picked when the pests are less, in the early doing, or late autumn.
- Less supply, more demand - When summer harvests of white tea prevailed, the market was flooded with low quality white tea (which eventually gets pressed into cakes and aged, this overflow of tea does not serve the Fuding tea growers, but lowers the market value of all white tea.
- King (白牡丹王 ). This grade of baimudan almost looks like silver needle, but is identical accompanied with small to midsized leaves. It is also fairly synonymous with mingqian.
- Jipin /exceptional / special grade (极品). White Peony. This grade usually refers to baimudan with one bud and two leaves.
- 白牡丹 Baimudan. This is the catch all classification for all spring tea harvested with two or more larger leaves and one bud. This used to be further classified into grades of gongmei, but as of 2018, gongmei can no longer be used to refer to tea made from this varietal
3. Shoumei (寿眉).
- Cold Dew(寒露). This is the highest grade of Shoumei, usually with the smallest leaves and harvested in late August to mid-september.
- White Dew (白露). These leaves are larger and issued to refer to mid to lower grade shoumei. Usually harvested from mid-September to mid-October.
- Shoumei (寿眉). Used to refer to all autumn harvests of the baihao varietal. According to Qiu, it also refers to any tea harvested after May 1st.
Picking & Processing Notes
- Pick. Qiu mentioned the difference between 荒野 wild and 茶园 cultivated white tea, wild tea (referring to tall unpruned bushes) is considered superior to tea grown as a shrub. Wild farmers can cultivate all the main types of white tea: silver needle, baimudan, and shoumei. One characteristic useful in telling the difference between wild and cultivated teas is the picking method. 采 "Cai" refers to a regular pluck which is done in most tea gardens, this leaves a clean cut where the bud or leaf was connected to its stem. 扒 ba refers to tearing the leaf or bud from the stem. This occurs when the tea trees are too tall and the picker must first pull down long stalks and pick the leaves or buds from below. Wild tea will most likely have a 马蹄子 or a horse hoofed stem due to being torn from trees, whereas garden-grown tea should have a clean cut.
- Withering. Qiu mentioned the differences in the drying process affecting the grades of all these teas. 晒阳 sun dried, is superior to 风干 air dried tea, meaning tea that has been fully withered and green has been killed under the sun is better than tea that has been dried in a drying room. True sun drying takes up to two days, and each section of a drying of a drying tray can only hold up to one pound of tea.
- Roasting. Another distinction which matters especially for silver needle is how the tea is roasted. It can be charcoal roasted 炭焙 or finished in a gas over 电烤. According to Qiu, charcoal roasting is superior, but takes a master's hand as it is easy to ruin expensive tea, and the tea must rest for three months for the roast aroma to diffuse and the flavors to settle before it is truly fit to drink.