Last week, after a trip to visit the producers of our Dragon Well green tea, I went across to Mo Gan Shan, in search of new additions to our range.
Mo Gan Shan is listed as one of the famous tea areas of Zhejiang Province, with its produce Mo Gan Huang Ya (yellow buds). It’s ‘fame’ is mainly known by tea experts and it is more of a best kept secret, paling into insignificance alongside Zhejiang’s West Lake and the Dragon Well produced there. However, that’s not to say the tea from Mo Gan can’t be outstanding; it certainly can.
Actually, the green tea produced in a small beautiful farm, bordered by mountains, lakes and bamboo forests was the best I have tasted this year. The yellow tea produced in the region, and at the same farm, is one of the few yellow teas of China (you may also know Jun Shan Silver Needle, Men Ding Huang Ya). It is made yellow by following firing with rolling and wrapping in muslin. After that, the wrapped tea is placed inside a bamboo drum and gently warmed for an hour or so until it turns from green to gentle yellow, transforming the vibrant spring-freshness into mellower, softer flavours.
The farm we visited produces both green and yellow varieties of the tea, depending on customer orders. The owner of the farm told me that as the green variety is now more popular in the local market it takes up the majority of his annual production. Mo Gan tea is mainly consumed by local people but it finds its way to tea houses across the province and to specialist tea shops of the big cities.
The tea trees behind this fantastic tea are of the Jiu Keng strain, the same used to produce much Dragon Well. However, the flavour and aroma is very different because of the location, soil, aspect and production methods.
Seeing the yellow version of the tea being produced was a delight. When I visited the farm, it was so early in the season that only a tiny quantity of tea had been picked from the tea bushes which were only just sprouting their first fat buds of the season.
With this tiny quantity, I watched the entire production process; from hand firing in a wok with quick pinching movements, so different to the movements used with Dragon Well production to hand rolling on a wooden table, to wrapping with muslin and warming in a warm bamboo drum to finally drying very gently on the top of the same drum.
The tea was beautiful, tiny bud with two small leaves; mellow and gentle. I also tasted the farmers production of green tea which he had made the day before. I had the same velvety thick quality of the yellow but with vibrant spring-flower freshness, characteristic of the freshest, early spring greens. A real delight!
I also loved the fact that the farmer was taking time over the renovations of the factory and out buildings; instead of using concrete, he preferred traditional stone walls and paths. The houses were simple and white, with dark wood.
While the tea was mellowing in its muslin, I took a walk thought the gardens and up to the bamboo forest which bordered the gardens. It reminded a little of the bamboo forest scenes in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, which were filmed a short drive away in Anji. There are so soft and inviting. It was a tranquil and enervating place to be.
The farmer prefers to use no pesticides or artificial fertilisers, and looking at the fat buds on the trees, it has been a good decision; it echoed the same things I have so often observed when this strain of tea (Jiu Keng) is grown on nutrient rich soils.
I hope you enjoy the tea as much as I do!