A few years ago, I chanced upon a hidden village deep inside the Phoenix mountain in Guangdong, China in my many years of exploring this mountain. The valley was filled with two things: intense mist and fog, and some very old tea bushes. Upon closer look, they were not bushes, but miniature tea trees. The arbor type called Single Grove (dancong) grows only in the Phoenix Mountain- huge bonsai trees who branch out from the root. They grow very very slowly, but are also incredibly difficult to harvest. Thick milky white lichen grow on the wet branches, and the phoenix bird beak-like leaves are sparse and few at the ends of these branches. In the hidden village, over 1000 years ago, the legend was that the She tribal people of the village were graced with a heavenly warrior. After defeating a Mongol king, the warrior was granted a limitless gift…
Stepped into a watery day at Phoenix Mountain, probably the oldest oolong culture in the world. The trees are the oldest anyway. Incessant rains after the snow is delaying the harvesting. Blinding fog makes the 70 degree slopes, on moss filled rocky soil, impossibly dangerous. Slippery slope, indeed.
80% of the population depends on tea for a livelihood in one way or another here in Anxi, the birthplace of Tieguanyin, world renown oolong. To be sure fads come and go every year and a Tieguanyin is not always the most fashionable tea every year. Since the mountain range is so huge, all this raw material has to go someplace. They can get sold to Wuyi to be made into Dahongpao, or Phoenix Mountain to make ‘Phoenix tea’, or even green teas. For most people, they are not going to taste the terroir difference. For Americans, forget terroir- there’s just green tea or black tea in a teabag. Actually, the best example ever- once I was in a restaurant in SOHO, NYC, billing itself as a tea house restaurant. On the menu was: Hot Tea. That’s it. The wine list was a book and coffees were a dozen choices, but this ‘tea house’ had only one option for tea. Phew, glad it was hot. Now, why did I just spend my whole life getting terroir specific tea from the indigenous varietals picked on the perfect day made by the best artisans in the villages, again?
Quick update: it survived. The Song Zong mother tree that is now 700 years old survived a mad man’s random hacking, but seems to have regained its 15 or so feet in height, and there was even an opening ceremony a few days ago to pray to the tea gods to bless the harvest and protect the tree. The yield from the tree this year: 3 jins (3.5 lbs), consecrated to the earthly gods the Communist government officials.
The tea gods are once again blessing me with undeserved grace. I arrive atop Phoenix Mountain, Wudong Peak at 1400 meters, in one of the best days of harvest, in one of the best years’ crops ever. Hot sun and cool breeze sway the brilliant green beak like leaf sprouts. The tea I am here for: Duck Poop Oolong,made by the best of the best, Mr. Wei.