December 23, 2012 by bethanjthomas
I’ve been to many a beautiful tea mountain since arriving in Fujian, but this week I went to a town that took the biscuit.
Zhenghe is not a name that many people outside of China, or perhaps Fujian, would recognise, but it is the home of many famous teas. Alongside Fuding, it produces outstanding silver need and baimudan (white peony) white tea as well as a range of gongfu black teas.
The town itself is more of a winding road than a large settlement, with meat, fruit and vegetables sold at the roadside. Every other building is a tea house or bamboo shop, representing the two major income drivers for the area.
An hour from this relative metropolis lies the most wonderfully preserved village of Jinping. The buildings here mainly date from the Qing or Ming dynasty and have managed to escape the mass demolition that has altered the faces of many Chinese towns. Low rise houses dot the bamboo covered hills, with enormous tea bushes growing wild amongst the bright green landscape.
The tea producer that I visited owns hundreds of kilometres of hilly land, but no plantations or tea gardens. All the teas he picks come from bushes that have sprouted from wild seeds and some are now over 200 years old. Once a year, before the Qing Ming festival, the buds from these bushes are picked to exclusively make gongfu black tea. No pesticides are used, so insect bites cover the older leaves on the bushes but they don’t have time to reach the buds before plucking.
The tea itself is representative of the area – refreshing, traditional and clean. It’s a breath of fresh air from the ‘health blends’ and novelty teas that seem to be flooding the export market. And Zhenghe itself is a taste of unspoilt China, more authentic than the rebuilt hutongs of Beijing, modern sky scrapers of Shanghai and concrete structures of almost every second tier city…