Hair peak is the literal translation of Mao Feng. Admittedly, it's not a marketer's dream name. But what does it mean? Hair refers to the down on the bud of the tea leaf meaning the tea is fresh and new and delicate and precious. I think a better translation of the hair part of hair peak is probably down. It evokes the down of a baby goose, or the downy hair on the head of a new born baby, impossibly soft and thin, silk to the touch. The peak, or feng part of Mao Feng, is true, for long ago it would have been unusual to find tea at elevations of 800 - 1400 meters and that is high indeed. Whatever you call this tea, the good harvests are a privilege to drink.
We were lucky enough to have one more day to see picking of Mao Feng Tea and to learn about processing it, and I wanted to share with you some of what I learned about the processing of this tea.
There are three ways to process Mao Feng tea.
The first is to process it the same way to process Dragonwell green tea. You can read about that here on this post. Basically, the tea is pan fried in a wok, and the moisture is steamed out of the leaf, moving the tea regularly by using hand movements that keep the tea moving so it doesn't burn, and also shaping the leaf by pressing the leaf flat, and make the leaves point in one direction. This is not traditional for Mao Feng tea, and results in a modern looking tea that I think is less distinctive, and less interesting. (This is Dragonwell tea, but this is for reference).
The second way is to also process the tea in a wok but this time the hand gestures pull the tea towards the tea processor and crunch and curl the leaves, steaming them as he goes, and while the tea processor is using modern technology, he is also giving it it's distinctive curled leaf look. This tea tastes both sweet and has a high aroma of high mountain tea. It is the best of both worlds. It has a juicy green and fresh taste, but it also has what I can only describe as a yellow taste too, a little nutty, and low hanging aroma in the back of your throat. Not quite, but almost like an oolong throat feel, a green tea throat feel. This is a rare quality in a high grade green tea.
Finally, the most traditional way to process the leaves it to sun dry them for a few hours under gentle spring heat, then to tumble them in a wood fired kill-green dryer (see in the far back of this picture, that's the tumble dryer). Then, to bake them in on a mesh screen (located just behind the processor's head in the picture) in a short wood box (to the tea processor's left) stacked over a low burning wood fire of mountain pine. Here, the tea processor is just starting the fire with kindling. He'll add wood, then let it burn to coals. The tea is then smoked for several hours.
The tea processing part of Mao Feng tea starts at 7 pm and goes until about 7 am. This is often the case with tea picking and processing, the tea is picked in the morning, and processed overnight. It is a grueling unending kind of work that lasts for 2 - 3 months. It's a labor of love and very special. It has a smoky aroma and smoky top notes that linger through the first two steepings. This taste dissipates through the last few steepings. I like this taste in particular because while it is more rustic, I think it is also more elegant and a hallmark of a traditionally processed tea. The smoky flavor compliments the green tea taste and balances the sweetness. This tea also has a sweet throat feel but it's lighter and juicer in the lingering taste.
I'll have both wok processed and baked Mao Feng teas for sale, and you can choose some of both and see for your self.
This was it, the end of the tea buying part of my trip, and yes, of course there was more to see, to do, to learn. But that will have to wait for another season. Tomorrow, I have a majestic mountain to climb and it's time to go rest and appreciate the gift of tea we have with us now.