Fu Shou Mei red sugar fired black tea
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Canton Tea Club Week 40: Fu Shou Mei (Red Sugar Fired Black Tea)
This week we have one of the more unusual teas that Jen and I encountered on our trip: Fu Shou Mei, a black tea which is processed with Yunnan red cane sugar.
We were introduced to this tea by our good friend Scott whilst visiting his home in Kunming; when he put the tea in front of me and explained what it was I was dubious. A black tea processed with sugar sounded rather gimmicky, like those sachets of sweet latte mix that you might have sitting ignored in the back of a kitchen cupboard. But the infused tea was a pleasant surprise; when brewed in a teapot the unprocessed cane sugar gives subtle sweetness (in my opinion it was overly sweet on the first infusion in a gaiwan) which still allows the natural tea flavours to come through. I highly recommend doing a very short first infusion (or wash) for about 5 seconds or so and pouring off the liquor, as the first infusion can still be a little too sweet.
The tea is made by the Zhou family in Feng Qing, one of the most famous tea producing areas in Yunnan. It is made from the Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong varietal, which is famously the varietal used to create Lapsang Souchong in Wu Yi. The varietal lends itself very well to flavouring, and has the robustness to stand up well to both smoke and sugar, the fruit and cocoa characters of the tea are still present in both the Lapsang Souchong you had last week and the Fu Shou Mei. It is also drunk on its own in the form of the famous Jing Jun Mei and the less well known Yin Jun Mei and Tong Jun Mei.
The freshly picked tea is wilted and then briefly fried in tropical Yunnan muscovado style (unprocessed) red sugar. The sugar is mixed with water, and used sparingly in the frying process of the leaves; this technique was learnt by Mr Zhou from a tea master in Wu Yi. The Cane sugar grows all over Yunnan and we would often see precarious truck-loads of it on the region’s winding mountain passes.
This is a very obscure tea and I doubt many people in the UK will have tried it. Usually when I come across a tea, I try to read up on it or ask my contacts in China for more details, but I found very little information about Fu Shou Mei at all; the name in fact is made up, literally translating as ‘fortune life beautiful’. I think the reason being is that this tea is often sold as a Dian Hong (Yunnan Black) in China, with no mention of the processing; the sweetness of the sugar is passed off as the natural sweetness of the tea. I think this is a great shame, as Fu Shou Mei is an interesting tea in itself. But often producers will pass off their unusual teas as more popular types to reap higher prices for their product.