Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Warren Peltier on gongfu hong cha

[from an email to corax. posted by permission.]

There is a Chinese tradition of gongfu hong cha, but you can't really call it longstanding. I mean, hong cha wasn't invented or well-established until maybe the mid-1700s -- historical records are not that clear. But by the 1800s hong cha production was well established. By the 1800s there appeared many types of tea that are classified as gong fu hong cha. They are:

Qimen gongfu
Dianhong gongfu
Ninghong gongfu
Yihong gongfu
Chuanhong gongfu
Minhong gongfu
Huhong gongfu
Yuehong gongfu

There are also others that could be added to this list.

Qimen, Dian, Ning, Yi, Chuan, Min, Hu, Yue - these all refer to the place in China where the tea is made. But it's pretty generic. For instance, Min is an alternative name for Fujian. Yue is an alternative name for Zhejiang, etc.

Gongfu hong cha has 2 varieties: small leaf and big leaf. So, if you were to prepare this kind of tea gongfu style, then, you should choose a yixing teapot that is suitable for the type of leaf. Choose a bigger pot, with a wider opening for the big leaf variety. Choose a smaller pot with a smaller opening for the smaller leaf variety.

The gongfu hong cha can be prepared gongfu style, and many people do. But it is called gongfu hong cha, precisely because of the skill in making the tea. So maybe in English you would call it "skillfully produced red tea". So you actually have to make that distinction too. There is the hong cha that is skilfully made, then, there is hong cha that is skilfully prepared. So there is gong fu hong cha, and gong fu hong cha. I know, it’s weird, but that’s the way it is.

To prepare hong cha gongfu style, it’s basically the same method as with oolong tea. One thing you have to know about gongfu tea -- it originated in Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan. So it’s the tea custom of those places. But of course, later, it spread to other parts of China. But still, it’s not as common in many parts of China. In different areas of China, there are different tea drinking customs. And actually, gongfu tea ceremony itself is not that old. It first originated in the Qing dynasty -- which is relatively recent -- say 1800s.

Among other red tea varieties, there is also xiao zhong hong cha, what is referred in English as pouchong. Then, there is also the broken leaf variety used for tea bags, etc.

3 comments:

Stephane said...

My old tea shop in Taipei (from the year 1880 approx) writes pouchong on their bags of ... baozhong! So this may also be another explanation...

Warren said...

Oh, sorry, I have to make a correction on this post. I was wrong. Xiaozhong is not referred to in English as pouchong. Xiaozhong is referred to as souchong in English. And in Chinese it literally means, "the small sort".

Sorry for the confusion.

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