Red Circle Tea

Wu Dong San, Feng Huang

We met our friend Mr An for tea and the following morning, he took us up to Feng Huang to see the famous Phoenix teas. Yulan, Mutlan, Hun Yeung Heung, Wong Tze Heung Geurt Mo Heung, which, if you’re in the market for it this year is going for a staggering 60 thousand RMB per half kilo. That’s 10k for 1.1 pounds of intoxicating delightfulness. It’s probably worth it, but it’s too rich for my taste.

We saw the lush fields and countryside of Chu Zhou and I have to say the banana leaves, the pines, and especially the stark contrast of red rust colored soil reminded me of Vietnam. Not to mention everything was slick from the rain. But as we went higher and higher the sun gods were with us and the afternoon turned out to be bright and clear.

We headed up and up and up, until finally the road turned to dirt, and I knew we were headed in the right direction. Off-roading is always a good sign you’re on the right track to high mountain tea.  Here's the view from half way up Wu Dong mountain.

We arrived at Mr An’s friends house a tea farmer named Mr Lam. I think it was his hair style, but I’m pretty sure he looked like a Chinese Lou Diamond Philips playing Richie Valens in La Bamba. I expected him to whip out a guitar the entire time.  He and his wife and 15 migrant women from Fujian were picking tea. My travel companion asked Mrs Lam if they had guest quarters and they said no, but we were welcome to stay in the dorm with the other women that night for free if we wanted to. Who knew it would be so helpful to be a woman traveling in rural China? Sure! We’d love to stay with the workers. There was only one condition (it was a joke): would we pick tea that afternoon? Well, that’s what we came for – so we headed down the slippery mud and dirt path - straight down, in fact, about 300 feet to where the women were picking tea.

We learned how to pick Feng Huang tea, which is quite different in size from Long Jing, and contrary to Long Jing’s two leaves and a bud, Feng Huang’s first 4 leaves can be picked, and the buds are not preferred (they give a bitter taste in the cup later, so a few are ok for a balanced taste, but not too many). Uniformity of leaf even when picking is important. Moderately mature leaves are best and if they can all be pretty close to the same size, all the better.

We picked tea for 3 hours that afternoon, learning as we went. Picking tea leaves a black oil residue on your fingers and nails that does not wash off, it wears off after a few days. That evening we headed up back to the house for dinner and caught a great view of the mountain range at sunset. Here’s the view from Mr Lam’s front door.

It feels like you’re on top of the world. And that’s not far from the truth, this is the second highest peak in Guangdong, and it’s a staggering 4200 feet up. This is the highest growing tea producing area I’ve visited, and hands down the most breathtakingly beautiful.

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