Plantations are mainly found in the southern and central provinces. For a long time they were managed on a regional level by an exclusive central body, which was responsible for selling the whole region's production. When Deng Xiao Ping came to power, there was a liberalisation of trade and consequently many private companies were born bringing the plantations and the importers into direct contact with each other.
Strengthened by its centralised past China does not, as does India or Sri Lanka, offer us the products of specific plantations but rather proposes large, well-defined "denominations" for each type of tea, relating to different qualities.
The tea-producing regions of China have a moderate wet climate in which the rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year. On the other hand, many plantations are situated on the hillsides with very constant low clouds, giving the leaves a high moisture content, a very important factor to the quality of green teas. The main harvest, which is both the best and the most important, takes place from mid April to mid May.
Offering the best
Quality standards apply mainly to black teas, essentially reserved for export and produced on a very large scale, making it even easier to have a consistent quality, by blending many batches. As for green teas, especially the most prestigious ones, these are often produced in much smaller quantities, which makes them rare. It is sometimes not an easy task to reach the same quality from one year to the next.
Chinese tea plucker
In order to appreciate all their delicacy and freshness, these green teas should be drunk while they are still "new season", in other words in the eight to ten months following the harvest. This is why Palais des Thés has decided to adopt the same buying policy for these green teas denominations as the ones we use for spring Darjeelings. So every year our experts visit plantations in Anhui, Fujian, Zhejiang, Yunnan, Jiangsu or Sichuan to select the best teas of the moment and send them to France as quickly as possible.
This selection, renewed every year, is usually available from June onwards, with the exception of air freighted teas that are sold from May, just a few weeks after the leaves were plucked.
Although rare nowadays, these teas were greatly appreciated during the Song dynasty. We can however still get some of it in small quantities in the Fujian province. The leaves have not undergone any process: they have simply been allowed to dry for almost three days. These teas have a very low tannin content and they need to be brewed for a long time. One of them, Aiguilles d'Argent, made up entirely of buds, is plucked once a year over a two to three days period. This explains why it is one of the most expensive teas in the world.
Green tea, the daily drink of the Chinese people, accounts for 80% of the total production with a large part reserved for home consumption. It is mainly grown in the mountainous, humid regions of Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian and Guanxi. The leaves can be folded, twisted, rolled lengthwise (needles), or made into balls or other shapes. These teas are known by their freshness, their greenness and their long lasting flavour in the mouth. As a general rule, they should be infused for three minutes.
Palais des Thés offers:
- about ten very prestigious teas yearly, chosen from amongst hundreds of exclusive teas produced in China in small quantities. Extremely fresh and of an exceptional delicacy they are replaced from year to year in line with new recommendations and should, for maximum enjoyment, be consumed early season, within eight to ten months of plucking.
- the best-known teas in China year round.
These also include teas which the Chinese call blue-green. These teas, which have long, pale leaves before treatment and a low caffeine content, are processed using three types of oxidation:
- light oxidation (12-15%), which the Chinese call "Wu-Yi" from the name of the mountains in Fujian Province where the teas grow,
- intermediate oxidation (40%), which provides Tie Guan Yin teas, among others,
- stronger oxidation (50-60%), with a resemblance to Taiwan‘s Wu Long (oolong) teas.
These are low caffeine teas, perfect in the late afternoon or in the evening. They are highly regarded by traditional Chinese medicine: they are thirst quenching, calming and help the digestion of fatty foods. Wu Long (oolong) teas can be prepared in a traditional teapot, using 15 to 20 g of tea per litre of water and allowing it to infuse for 5 to 6 minutes. They can also be enjoyed using the Gong Fu Cha method in tiny teapots that are filled with leaves and allowed to infuse for 30 to 50 seconds. Very high quality semi oxidised teas can be infused several times without spoiling the taste.
The birth of black tea in China is very mysterious. No one knows exactly what lead the Chinese to start oxidising tea after having produced only green tea for centuries. One legend says that black tea was the accidental result of a cargo of green tea having oxidised during an overly long sea crossing. Having arrived at its destination the tea was greatly appreciated by its recipients, who then went on to order some more… Whatever the case, black teas are essentially produced for export. They come from the Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian, Jianxi and Sichuan regions.
These teas come from Yunnan province and have being oxidised in heaps under a damp cover, in order to maintain a degree of hygrometry greater than 85%. Pu-Erh teas are usually put through this process several times.
Produced in the Fujian province, these teas are obtained from Souchong leaves (low, large sized leaves), which are smoked with spruce tree roots. Very low in caffeine, they are suitable for any time of day and can be drunk with meals or savoury breakfasts.
Produced very irregularly, these are extremely rare teas which Palais des Thés is able to buy some years. When this happens the teas are presented under our Grands Crus heading.