A trip to Fu'an and Golden Monkey Tea
Canton Tea Club Week 43: Jin Mao Hou (Golden Monkey)
Whilst in Fu’an (Fujian) on the quest for flowering tea, Jen and I came across this week’s tea – Golden Monkey. We tried it in its unfinished ‘mao cha’ form before it had undergone its final baking and were blown away by its intense cocoa flavours and deep fruity aroma.
During our trip we visited the farm where this tea is grown, accompanied by Xiao Yen, our Chinese partner and serious tea expert, and Phil Mumby, speciality tea aficionado who has kindly helped with this blog. The farm is owned by Li Zhangwei, who grows the local Xiao Cai Cha varietal leaves and runs the factory where the tea is processed.
The fields are located up in the mountains about an hour’s drive from Fu’an, and contain carefully maintained low growing bushes of many different varietals, set in neat rows hugging a small hill – a far cry from the wild and overgrown tea mountains of Yunnan which we visited earlier in our trip. The fields are much more like those seen on plantations, and indeed some of the land has been replanted with vines, reflecting the growing demand for wine in China. But here in this village the economy is centred around growing tea – and each day the villagers bring their tea leaves to Mr Li’s warehouse to sell.
Xiao Yen and Mr Li spent a good half an hour showing us the difference between the different varietals, which all had minute variances in leaf size and shape that certainly would have been missed by the untrained eye. We were shown at least eight different varieties of bush, planted in groups and recognisable by the size, shape and colour of their leaves. Each is picked separately and used for specific types of green, white or black tea.
Another drive took us to Mr Li’s factory where the highly skilled ‘Gong Fu’ making process is carried out. The most important step in the process is steam fermentation, which is quite unusual in black tea processing. There was a small room in the factory lined with baskets of tea which were fermenting in very dense steam created by a pot of boiling water in the middle of the room. Steaming is the key process used for developing the distinctive caramel/burnt sugar character, and was first developed in Keemun. It is quite unlike anything we had seen anywhere else, and the aroma of the fermenting tea was remarkable.
Golden Monkey is made from the same varietal and processed in the same manner as Tan Yang Gong Fu, a very important Chinese black tea and one of the three famous Gong Fu teas from Fujian, the others being Bai Lin Gong Fu and Zheng He Gong Fu. The term Gong Fu means ‘highly skilled process’ – a name used for teas in other regions in the same way (interestingly, Gong Fu is actually the same as Kung Fu).
Golden Monkey is one grade down from Tan Yang Gong Fu, which has more gold tips than Golden Monkey. Both are made from the same variety of tea bush, called Fuyun No.6. Tan Yang Gong Fu was invented in 1851, it is said to have been the second type of black tea invented after Lapsang Souchong. Not so popular in China itself, it was highly sought after in the UK and the Netherlands in the late Qing Dynasty – and especially popular with Royalty, it is claimed.