After 2 years, I am finally back to Fu Ding! Last time I came here was in 2018 and just had a very short stay before heading to Phoenix Mountain. This time, I spent 4 days in Fu Ding thoroughly to visit the Dian Tou raw leaf wholesale market, spent a day in Tai Mu Shan, and met and visited my new white tea producer — Farmer Wen and his charcoal roast only white tea production facility!
First of all, to understand white tea, you need to know where it comes from. Fu Ding in southern coastal province Fu Jian, China is the world’s birthplace for white tea. In Fu Ding, the most famous mountain for producing the best quality white tea is called Tai Mu Shan.
Historically, white tea was heavily produced only for exportation purpose since Chinese were primarily drinking green tea, yellow tea and some oolong tea. White tea has always been considered the most exotic teas because of its simple processing, which ultimately preserves the most original natural state of a tea leaf and gives a unique refreshing delicate floral and sweet mouthfeel.
Bai Mu Dan
Dian Tou Town
After my arrival, I spent the first day visiting Dian Tou Town, which is another town famous for white tea that is about 20 mins away from Fu Ding town. Even though both towns are close to Tai Mu Shan and close to each other, Dian Tou is more of a white tea wholesale center both for already made white teas and raw leaves.
You probably wonder the same question that I wondered, whether stuffing the tea leaves in big bags like these for several hours before it is sold would potentially damage tea leaves, and the answer it’s yes, to a certain degree. Farmer Wen later told me that this is not considered a very healthy practice, but because white tea is very demanded in China, farmers or tea pickers will do it anyways in order to make extra money. This is also why it’s always better to work directly with farmers who own a tea field instead of just producers or businessmen who buy raw leaves at a cheap price and process the leaves later in a facility.
Farmer Wen’s farm, warehouse and production facility
Farmer Wen’s farm is located at Tai Mu Shan, but not the touristic area (keep in mind that mountains have a big range with different peaks). His farm is located at elevation about 620 meters. There are three different varietals planted here: heirloom Cai Cha, which is the ancestor of modern white tea varietals: Fu Ding Da Bai and Fu Ding Da Hao.
Cai Cha, traditionally Cai Cha is used for producing Gong Mei, which has slightly more buds than Shou Mei
On the right is Da Bai and on the left is Da Hao. Da Bai has more production yield than Da Hao.
Farmer Wen's wife, Qiu
Since weather is typically very warm in Fu Jian, white teas are harvested very early and very fast. Silver Needle is typically harvested at the end of March for just a few days. The very first sprout of buds are considered the top quality Silver Needle, and farmers will pick the second sprout sometimes or move on with picking Bai Mu Dan, which has one bud with one or two leaves. Bai Mu Dan’s harvesting time is a bit longer, typically about one to two weeks. After Bai Mu Dan, farmers will let tea leaves and buds grow a bit more and start picking Shou Mei, which usually has very few long skinny buds with two to three leaves and big twigs. When I arrived, they have almost finished harvesting Bai Mu Dan already since the weather is warmer this year.
Bai Mu Dan leaf
From left to right: Silver Needle, Bai Mu Dan, Shou Mei
In the afternoon, we came to his facility to see how Farmer Wen processes his teas. White tea’s processing is relatively simpler compare to other teas. First step is to sun dry or air dry, then wither and final step is to dry the teas. Let’s break it down.
Step 1. Sun dry or air dry
When the weather permits, farmers will lay teas outdoor and let them to be sun dried.
Outdoor sun dry when weather permits
When the weather doesn’t permit, farmers will use indoor air dry for up to 48 hours at temperature about 20-30C.
Indoor drying with the asistance of machine when weather doesn't permit
Step 2. Withering
Withering is for reducing water content, and letting water in the leaves flows through leaf veins and “vaporizes”.
Withering in progress
Almost done with withering
Step 3. Drying
Drying can be done in two ways: electronic or charcoal roast
Electronic is the modern way for saving time and increasing production yield.
Charcoal roast is the traditional way, however it’s time and energy consuming.
But this is what makes us so exciting! Farmer Wen bought this new machine that allows him to do charcoal roast 20 times as much as he could do with the traditional charcoal roast method.
Quote farmer Wen “No charcoal roast, no white tea!”
We also visited one of his “small” warehouse and he showed us how there are two ways of storing white teas: wet storing and dry storing. Wet storing speeds up aging process through hot air and humidity, which is an unnatural way for producing aged White tea. Dry storing on the other hand, requires a careful control of of humidity and temperature level. The right humidity range should be in the 40 and the right temperature range should be in the 20. Southern China has naturally humid throughout the year, farmers need to put extra effort by installing air conditioning and dehumidifier in order to do dry storing properly.
Tai Mu Shan
This is my first time visiting the tourist area of Tai Mu Shan. This mountain in Chinese is known as “Hai Shang Xian Du”, meaning “the heavenly land on sea”. The highest peak in the Tai Mu Shan mountain range is about 650 to 700 meters. “Tai Mu” means “Granny Goddess”, and it is probably one of the prettiest mountains in China I have visited. I wouldn’t call it spectacular, but it’s very pretty and gorgeous. It looks like a Chinese traditional ink painting that comes alive.