A crash course in 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.

Frantically taking notes on Fuding White Tea

  1. The biological structure of the tea leaf
    1. Water 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 mace ration process, or yaoqing, or bruising in oolong and red teas, then the tea leaf keeps its integrity and can be dried while preserving its flavor
      1. Left, not a tea leaf
      2. Right, a white tea leaf
  2. White tea varietals
    1. There are two main varietals that can officially be used to make Fuding white tea: 白毫 baihao #1 and baihao #2
      1. I’ve heard these two varietals referred to by different names, including, 大白 dabai 1 and dabai 2, as well as 华茶 huacha 1 and huacha 2
  1. The Fuding government has been very strict about the use of specific varietals to make Fuding white tea
  1. Recent government legislations
    1. In April of 2018, the Fuding government declared that only white tea made from the 小茶 varietal or the 福银 fuyin #6 can be referred to as gongmei.
      1. This means that what used to be classified as gongmei (later harvests of baimudan, I.e. late April and May) must now just be called baimudan or even shoumei (shoumei is usually reserved to refer to autumn harvests)
    2. With the same reforms came a prohibition in summer harvests of white tea in the Taimushan area
      1. Qiu said that they only harvest from mid-March until May 1st, then wait for the autumn harvest in September and October. Although it comes from the government down, Qiu sees two good benefits to this
        1. 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
        2. 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.
      2. Grades of white tea
        1. 银针silver needle
          1. Grade A - day-old buds
          2. Grade B - two-day-old buds
  • Grade C - three-day-old buds
  1. Grade D - four-day-old buds
    1. Usually four days is the oldest, largest buds they will harvest for silver needle. After four days, second leaves grow larger, and thus lands the tea into the baimudan category
  2. 白牡丹 baimudan (white Peony)
    1. 白牡丹王 king baimudan
      1. This grade of baimudan almost looks like silver needle, but is identical accompanied with small to midsized leaves
      2. Baimudan wang is also fairly synonymous with mingqian
    2. 极品白牡丹 jipin (exceptional grade) baimudan
      1. This grade usually refers to baimudan with one bud and two leaves
  • 白牡丹 Baimudan
    1. This is the catch all classification for all spring tea harvested with two or more larger leaves and one bud
    2. 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
  1. 寿眉 shoumei
    1. Used to refer to all autumn harvests of the baihao varietal (and according to Qiu also refers to any tea harvested after May 1st) however there are still grades within shoumei, usually referring to leaf size and harvest dates
    2. 寒露 cold dew
      1. This is the highest grade of Shoumei, usually with the smallest leaves and harvested in late August to mid-September
  • 白露 white dew
    1. These leaves are larger and issued to refer to mid to lower grade shoumei. Usually harvested from mid-September to mid-October
  1. Qiu also mentioned the differences in the drying process affecting the grades of all these teas
    1. 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
    2. 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
  2. A another distinction with regards to silver needle is tea that has been charcoal roasted 炭焙 versus tea that has been finished in a gas over 电烤, charcoal roasting is superior, but takes a masters 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
  3. Qiu also 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
    1. One characteristic useful in telling the difference between wild and cultivated teas is the picking method
      1. 采 Cai
        1. Cai revere to a regular pluck which is seed in most tea gardens, this leaves a clean cut where the bud or leaf was connected to its stem
      2. 扒 ba (or bai)
        1. Bai 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.
      3. One key way to see this difference is to look at where the bud or leaf was picked from the plant
        1. Wild tea will have evidence of being town in the form of a 马蹄子 or a horse hoof
        2. Cultivated tea will often have a clean cut

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