Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get to know Phoenix Tea (2) - Modern day and grading

Phoenix Shui Xian is the official name for teas grown on the Phoenix mountain ranges. 1956 was the birth year of the name Phoenix Shui Xian, grouping all varietals on the Phoenix mountain ranges. In 1985, the government certified Phoenix Shui Xian as national premium tea varietal.

Phoenix Shui Xian is not the same or related to Wuyi Shui Xian. Wuyi SX is a varietal with its own specific flavor. Phoenix Shui Xian on the other hand consist many varietals and flavors. The more appropriate comparison of the two would be Phoenix Shui Xian to Wuyi Rock, Honey Orchid to Wuyi Shui Xian.

Phoenix Shui Xian in the old days were spread out amount the ranges of Phoenix mountain between 700 to 1100 meter above sea level. In modern days, tea plantations are everywhere including lower altitude hills. Here resides some of the oldest wild tea tree varietals, Hong Yin for example. It's hearty and rough in taste, not suitable for drinking when young. Locals store them for 30 years as medicine. Believe to have cooling property.

Phoenix Shui Xian are small arbor trees, require intense and slow labor for harvesting. Phoenix Shui Xian traditionally were propagated by seeds, hence each tree is different from another due to mutation. Flavor is different, aroma is different, shapes and colors are different. Not wanting to mix the flavors together, the locals collect and process one tree at a time. Years of separation and experimentation, Dan Cong bushes are identified by its outstanding properties.

There are 3 sub divisions from the main category Phoenix Shui Xian: Dan Cong, Lang Cai and Shui Xian by grade. Within each sub division, there are 4 more grades of each. Special grade, first grade, second grade and third grade. Each grade has 3 ranks. Total of 36 grade/rankings. For example, Lang Cai 3rd grade 3rd rank is better than Shui Xian special grade 1st rank. Dan cong 3rd grade 3rd rank is better than Lang Cai special grade 1st rank.

Shui Xian being the lowest due to the low grade of fresh leaves being used and processing of Shui Xian is also less cared for. The final taste determines what grade they belong to within the sub division.

Lang Cai is better than Shui Xian by the same theory, better grade of fresh leaves were used, and processing is slightly more complicated during the fermentation step.

Dan Cong being the highest grade due to careful selection from the vest number of Phoenix Shui Xian tea trees. Most of us already know Dan Cong means single bush. In the past, these single bushes were harvested and processed one tree at a time. Today, single bush processing is still very much practicing and strong, averaging 3 lbs production per tree. They just don't get to travel out of the country across the sea much if at all. Most of them don't even get out of Chao Zhou.

You may wonder why there are so many DC out there for cheap. No, they are not fake, at least not from the ethical sellers. In modern days, cloning technology is widely used by tea plantations. The advantages of cloning is more than economical. The most important is preserving DNA of the single bushes, the aroma, the shape, the flavor of mother trees. But do not expect these new trees will taste exactly the same as the mother trees. Age of the trees also dictates the maturity and richness of the flavor. Older the wiser for human! Older the tastier for tea! Cloning does speed up propagation, and by doing so plantations can multiply its size at lightening speed, producing a lot of teas for commercial trading. Because the clones are coming from DC trees, they are marketed as DC as commercial products. It's a commercial product name, just like commercial Da Hong Pao. For defense of the name Dan Cong, there are true single processed bushes today. It's not a myth of the past. You just have to find it!

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