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Huangshan Maofeng- a Case of Not Resting on Your Laurels

By Dchew78 @peonyts

From the 700 hundred or so varieties on green tea in China, very few have the same inherent advantages of Huangshan and Huangshan Maofeng has.

From history, geography, natural habitat and cultivar, Huangshan Maofeng have virtually unparalleled advantages- which we will look at in a while- but over the centuries, it was nearly squandered, not just once but twice.

The Historical Advantages and the First Decline

Close to the Origin

Well it’s not the birthplace of tea- that would be modern day Yunnan and Sichuan- but Huangshan is just north of Xiuning County, home of Xiuning Songluo, an influential historical tea. In fact, Xiuning today is part of Huangshan City, in addition to Laozhu, the hometown of Laozhu Dafang, possibly the first wok-roasted green tea.

In the 16th century, these techniques were groundbreaking and influenced much of modern day green tea- as well as oolong tea- production.

The Longjing production technique for example owes much to Dafang tea, even the appearances and aroma bears much resemblance- flat leaves with a nutty aroma.

In the early days, Huangshan tea was largely roasted as well, with the influences of the early forerunners but as we will see later, that is no longer the case.

Natural endowment

Huangshan Maofeng- a case of not resting on your laurels
In terms of a natural habitat for tea, few places come close to what Huangshan has to offer.

High elevations with peaks in excess of 1,000 meters, perpetually shrouded in mist, coupled with ample rainfall and natural vegetation. As though that wasn’t enough, Huangshan spring enjoys the reputation of being one of the best sources of water in China.

In a nutshell, Huangshan is one of the best natural habitats for the tea plant.

Cultivar

Though here are a number of cultivars in the Huangshan region, most of the best regarded Huangshan Maofeng are made from the Huangshan Dayezhong cultivar.

Here is a comparison of it against a popular green tea cultivar in Jiangnan area based on spring picked 1 bud to 2 leaves picking requirements.

Cultivar Amino acid Polyphenol

Huangshan Dayezhong 5.20% 24.50%

Yingshuang 2.50% 30.50%

The high amino acid coupled with the lower polyphenol content gives it a more brisk taste, especially considered it is a baked tea.

To accentuate its superiority, it is a resilient crop, resistant to pest and cold. Compared with the Tieguanyin cultivar which is excellent in nutrient content but notoriously hard to cultivate, the Huangshan dayezhong is even more attractive.

First Decline and Rebirth

In the early years, Huangshan teas were wok-roasted, leaning on its Songluo and Dafang influence.

However by the mid-19th century, it was pretty much overshadowed by Longjing and Lushan Yunwu in the bigger markets like Shanghai.

The story of how one man’s (Xie Zheng An) effort and entrepreneurship brought his hometown back from the brink of desolation is told here.

In a nutshell, after 1875, Huangshan Maofeng was born and from the turn of the 20th century, it started to enjoy widespread fame and recognition.

Modern Day Advantages

UNESCO Heritage Site

Huangshan Maofeng- a case of not resting on your laurels
While there are more than 30-40 sites in China that are UNESCO heritage sites, only 5 are renowned tea producing areas:

i)   Huangshan- Huangshan Maofeng

ii)   Lushan- Lushan Yunwu

iii)   Emeishan- Emei Zhuyeqing

iv)   Wuyishan- Wuyi Yancha

v)   Xihu- Xihu Longjing

This provides a natural draw for tourists, trying the famous Huangshan Maofeng as they explores the scenic sights of Huangshan.

According to the almighty Wikipedia, in 2007 15 million people visited Huangshan, even a conversion rate of 0.1% would have been a hefty amount.

Top 10 Famous Chinese Teas

According to the 1959 iteration of Top 10 Famous Chinese Tea (中国十大名茶) which is generally the best regarded list- Huangshan Maofeng is one of the 10 listed.

For completeness sake, here’s the entire list:

Xihu Longjing (西湖龍井)

Dongting Biluochun (洞庭碧螺春)

Huangshan Maofeng (黃山毛峰)

Lu Shan Yun Wu (廬山云雾)

Liuan Guapian (六安瓜片)

Junshan Yinzhen (君山銀針)

Xinyang Maojian (信陽毛尖)

Wuyi Yancha (武夷岩茶)

Anxi Tieguanyin (安溪鐵觀音)

Qimen Black Tea (祁門紅茶)

2nd Decline

Unfortunately in spite of the advantages afforded to Huangshan Maofeng, in the 80’s to 90’s, Huangshan Maofeng ran into another round of decline.

One of the biggest reasons was complacency. Due to the fame and status of Huangshan Maofeng, there was widespread growth but lack of a corresponding enhancement of quality controls.

There was a decline in the standard of tea produced and non-traditional producers started coming up with their own iteration of Huangshan Maofeng, undoing much of the good work of predecessors.

Much of the Huangshan Maofeng no longer adhered to the strict production standards and even the distinct “downy fur” and blade like appearance that gave it its name was not present in many of them.

Optimism

Happily for tea lovers, it is not all doom and gloom for this famous tea. Reforms have been underway to give this beloved tea a new lease of life.

Xie Yi Ping, a descendant of Xie ZhengAn was among the new generation of factory managers committed to restoring the name of this tea his ancestor worked so hard to establish.

Among other initiatives, appellation was applied to protect the name of Huangshan Maofeng.

The latest edition of the official document GB/T 19460-2008 outlined the growing environment, cultivar, picking environment, soil etc of teas that can be called Huangshan Maofeng.

Despite the misadventures, there is hope that Huangshan Maofeng may regain the fame it once enjoyed.

But this tale hopefully serves as a reminder of not resting on their laurels.

See Pre Qing Ming Huangshan Maofeng in our stores

See other articles related to different varieties of green tea here


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