Friday, January 04, 2008

Is Dan Cong Related to Wuyi?

Lew asked me a couple of weeks ago about the relationship between Wuyi and Dan Cong. As I mentioned in the last Dan Cong article , Phoenix Shui Xian and Wuyi Shui Xian are not related, not even the same concept. Phoenix Shui Xian is an over all group name of all local tea varietals on Phoenix Mountain range. Wuyi Shui Xian on the other hand is a single varietal among hundreds Wuyi rock teas.

The question remained is Phoenix tea related to Wuyi rock tea? The answer is no as in direct relation, however as we all know all teas are descendants of pu-erh tea in Yunnan Province. So all teas are related, depending on how closely related they are.

Yunnan large leaf arbor tea tree is mother of all Camellia Sinensis trees existing in the entire world. There is no doubt about that. Tea trees spreading out side of Yunnan like any plants are carried out by 3 carriers: humans, animals, and water/soil flow. Humans take plants with them when migrating, birds and animals consumed seeds from one place and dropped off at another, water and soil flows seeds and plants out of the region naturally. By any of the 3 means, tea plants travel closer to the original area would be closer related. Distance, climate change, local soils and condition all play major roles in how tea trees are transformed genetically. Yunnan large leaf arbor trees are closely related to arbor trees in Si Chuan, Guang Xi, and Guang Dong (phoenix teas). These are some of the oldest original tea trees on the planet.

Chao Zhou being closed to Northern Fu Jian geographically, one must wonder if they come from the same mother trees. A few thousand years ago, this might be true, however after such long period time of mutation, they are now distinctive from each other. Phoenix teas are large leaf arbor trees. Wuyi rock teas are small to mid size shrubs. Out of all teas, Wuyi and Phoenix are the most alike by processing method and shape. Wuyi method was adopted by Chao Zhou locals in the last couple hundred years. Hence they are similar in shape, but not in flavor. Oolong method is a relatively new player in Chinese tea history.

One of the oldest tea varietals grown wildly in Phoenix mountains is Hong Yin 红茵, believed to be the ancestor of Phoenix Shui Xian. Hong Yin are still wildly grown among the area, locals collect the leaves to age, aged Hong Yin is drinkable and mainly used for medicinal purpose. That's in line with the initial usage of tea a few thousand years ago. Articles from Tang's dynasty mentioned about tea in Chao Zhou region, hence it's fair to say Phoenix mountain has been producing tea for more than 1000 years.

The mutation of tea trees takes upwards of hundreds years. A single varietal can mutate into many different flavor teas over time when propagate with seeds. Tea trees on Phoenix mountain are grown in natural habitats, among other trees and shrubs. Inter-pollination changes genetics of tea trees, over time, tea trees takes on aromas of natural flowers. The location, long term mutation and local climate made Phoenix tea unique as one varietal family, different from any other regions, including Wuyi Rock tea.

Whether Hong Yin is mother of both Phoenix teas and Wuyi rock teas or they are just cousins, no one can verify at this time. Comparing old trees of similar age from both regions, I would think they are cousins. It takes lengthier time to transform an arbor tree into a shrub than where as phoenix teas stay as arbor trees. If they were from the same mother tree, both of them should either be arbor trees or both be shrubs.

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