Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Origin of Fenghuang Oolong Tea (ii)

Red Fungus Tea (红菌茶)
  During the Song Dynasty1, the people of Fenghuang mountain found the 'red fungus' tea teas, made tea and drank it. They thought the the flavour very good, and so began digging up young plants and transplanting them around their houses. From this time, the cultivation of tea by the people of Fenghuang started.
  Even today on the ancient Fenghuang mountains, in areas not yet opened for agricultural productions as well as slopes and cliffs, 'red fungus' tea trees still grow.
'Red fungus' is the wild fore bearer of the cultivated 'bird's beak'2 (also called Fenghuang shuixian.3) It is because the gorgeous light red color which appears on the edges of the tender new leaves that this tea gets its name.
  Over many years through the process of growth and natural propagation, there developed 'hong xin' and 'baixin' varieties of 'red fungus' (These are terms used by the locals, the actual leaves are green, and not white.4)
  This variety grows at 450 Meters or more above sea level in barren hills and wild peaks, or in clifftop or amidst brushwood. Sunlight and mist are beneficial, but shade and rain are harmful. They have high resistance to insects, cold and drought, and are a very hardy variety. This variety exhibits strong growth year after year in places like Fenghuangji Mountain's Weiyan cliffs which are 1,498 Meter above sea level, below the sheer rock face of Wanfeng mountain, or the gravelly soil on the slopes of Daxinkuyundu Mountain.
 The appearance of these bushes are almost exactly the same as the 'bird's mouth' tea bush, but there are some differences between them. The first difference is the new tea shoots, one is dark green, the other light, one has hairs, the other none.5 'Red fungus' young leaves not only have hairs, they have lots of them. The second difference is on the back of the 'red fungus' mature leaf, there is hair. The 'bird's beak' has very little or no hair at all.

1 Northern Song 960-1127 Southern Song 1127-1270
2 鸟嘴 niaozui
3 水仙 The same shuixian characters as one of the 4 famous bushes of Wuyishan.
4 红心, hongxin, red center: refers to the reddish color of the leaves of one variety, 白心, baixin, white center: are the plants with normal green color leaves. It seems like they are called white because of a lack of [unusual] color. The book is not why 'xin' (heart or center) is used. It seemed to suggest that the red coloring was on the edges of new leaves.
5 At this point, the text is not explicit about which has hairs and which none, but it can be inferred from the order which they are referred to and the hair of the mature leaves that the 'red fungus' or hongjun is the hairy one at all stages .

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