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Overview of Minnan Oolong

By Dchew78 @peonyts

Minnan is Southern Fujian or as the literal translation goes- south of the Min River. Its importance to oolong production can’t be overstated as its produces approximately 1/3 of all Chinese oolongs and has an integral role to play in the origins and development of oolong.

Main Production areas of Minnan Oolong

Overview of Minnan Oolong

Any discussion about Minnan Oolong will begin and end with Anxi, home of the incomparable Tieguanyin or Iron Goddess. Indeed, Anxi is even referred to as the ‘Tea Capital of China’ and most than half of the 106,000 population of Anxi is closely tied with tea production.

It is not the only tea producing area in Minnan though. In second place- albeit a distant one- in terms of fame and production volume would be Yongchun. Yongchun is separated from Anxi by a mountain and has a similar climate to Anxi. It has a lush tropical rainforest region that earns it the moniker of ‘Xishuangbanna of Minnan’. Main varieties grown in Yongchun are the Yongchun Foshou, Shuixian and Rougui.

Another distinct tea producing region in Minnan is Zhangping which is in southwest Fujian which is famous for the Zhangping Shuixian.

Famous Minnan Oolongs

Anxi Oolongs

The 4 Famous Teas of Anxi are

i)   Tieguanyin (铁观音) or Iron Goddess

ii)   Huangjingui (黄金桂) or Golden Cassia

iii)   Benshan (本山) or ‘Original Mountain’ or ‘From the Mountain’ (it’s a tricky translation)

iv)   Maoxie (毛蟹) or Hairy Crab

Of these, Tieguanyin is of course far and away the best known variety with the most highly prized versions originating from the Tieguanyin or Weiyinzhong cultivar.

For these 4 varieties, it is quite difficult to distinguish from appearances alone. Anxi oolongs are made in the style of rolled beads and look largely similar to the naked eye. One problem that arises is many unscrupulous merchants try to pass off Benshan as Tieguanyin as the former commands approximately 1/5 to 1/10 of the value of Tieguanyin and in the hands of a seasoned producer, the differences may elude all but the most experienced of buyers.

Overview of Minnan Oolong
There are several styles of Tieguanyin (and its brethren) production but we can simplify them as ‘green style’ (清香) and traditional style commonly referred to as nongxiang (浓香) or ‘deep aroma’.

The ‘green style’ oolong follows the Taiwanese production methods which is very light oxidation and light roasted. In terms of nature and appearance, it is very similar to green tea. However like green tea it has a very short shelf life and should be vacuum packed and stored at about 5°C to lengthen its shelf life. Fortunately its bead shape lends itself to vacuum packing very well and this is one of the most commonly seen versions, especially among novice drinkers. It is favored for its refreshing taste and distinct aroma.

The ‘nongxiang’ style Tieguanyin and other Anxi oolongs are generally more heavily oxidized and heavily roasted although the degree varies. It remains the favorite of connoisseurs and experienced tea drinkers for its deeper more complex taste but its stronger flavor may not be for everyone.

Huang Jin Gui is also another intriguing oolong of Anxi, with many similar characteristics to Tieguanyin. Its cultivar and maocha is commonly referred to as Huang Dan while Huang Jin Gui generally refers to the finished product.

Overview of Minnan Oolong

Yongchun Oolongs

Not to be mistaken with Ip Man’s style of gongfu, Yongchun’s most famous variety of tea is Yongchun Foshou (永春佛手) or literally translated as Yongchun Buddha’s Hand.

Don’t go looking for myths and legends though it got this curious name not from deity association but because of the similarity of the shapes of its leaves with the Foshou gan (佛手柑) or bergamot.

Zhangping Shuixian

Overview of Minnan Oolong
Seldom do teas pique my interest based on its appearance alone. Of course seldom do teas look like the Zhangping Shuixian.

It is also known as ‘paper wrapped tea’ and is produced in this quaint square shape and -as its name suggest- wrapped in paper.

Minnan Oolong

So do explore the wonderful world of Minnan Oolong, it expands beyond Tieguanyin.

Especially if your only experience is with ‘green style’ Tieguanyin, I do encourage you to explore at least other versions of Tieguanyin.

Tieguanyin and Huangjingui of the traditional variety are available in our stores 

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