Oolong "Zhang Ping Shui Xian" or "Zhangping Shuixian" (from China Tea Book)

Zhangping Shuixian Tea Cake originated in Zhangping City, Fujian Province. Zhangping City is located in the southwest of Fujian Province, upstream of the Jiulong River, between 24°54' to 25°47' north latitude and 117°11' to 117°44' east longitude. It was established as a county in 1470 and is now a city under the jurisdiction of Sanming. The total area of the city is 2975 square kilometers, with 12,100 hectares of arable land and 230,000 hectares of forest land, making it a mountainous area with "nine mountains, half water, and half fields." Zhangping's geographical location is unique, serving as the confluence of the Daiyunshan and Bopingling mountain ranges. The main geographical features of Zhangping City are narrow from east to west and long from north to south, with higher elevations in the north and south and lower elevations in the east and west. The terrain is undulating, with numerous peaks and mountains. The Jiulong River flows through the central part, cutting through the Daiyunshan-Bopingling mountain belt, resulting in a terrain that slopes from north to south towards the river valley. The central part is a hilly area of the Jiulong River valley, mostly consisting of hills and low mountains, rising in steps from the river valley to both sides. In addition to some hilly areas in the northern part, most of the northern part consists of middle and low mountains, with low mountains being predominant. The city is located in the subtropical mountainous agricultural climate zone of South Asia, with excellent natural conditions and abundant light, heat, and water resources. The climate is mild, with abundant sunshine, plentiful rainfall, no severe cold in winter, and no extreme heat in summer. The average annual temperature ranges from 16.9°C to 20.7°C, and the effective accumulated temperature above 10°C ranges from 4854°C to 6481°C per year. The annual sunshine hours range from 1513.2 to 2569.2 hours, the annual rainfall ranges from 1450 to 2100 millimeters, and the average relative humidity ranges from 78% to 81%. There are 286 to 306 frost-free days per year. The soil is deep, with a pH of 4.5 to 6.5, and an organic matter content of 2%, making it suitable for the growth of tea trees and fostering the development of a characteristic agricultural industry of coordinated cultivation of wood, bamboo, flowers, and tea.

The main production areas of Zhangping Shuixian Tea Cake are in Nanyang Township, Shuangyang Town, and Xinqiao Township. It was formerly known as "paper-wrapped tea" and originated from Shen Village in Shuangyang Town, with a history of sixty to seventy years. The Shuixian variety of tea trees planted in Zhongcun and other places was introduced from Jianyang in northern Fujian. Its processing method is similar to that of Shuixian tea in northern Fujian. However, due to the loose and inconvenient nature of Shuixian tea leaves, which are prone to moisture absorption and deterioration, an additional step of "pinching into balls" was added after the initial rolling process in the early stage of production. The rolled leaves are pinched into small round balls and fixed with paper to form tea cakes. However, the sizes and shapes of the pinched balls vary, making them inconvenient for sale. Later, wooden molds of certain specifications were gradually used to press them into square tea cakes.

Before 1949, Shuixian Tea Cakes were only produced in small quantities in Zhongcun, Shuangyang, and Nanyang, with an annual output of over 500 kilograms, mainly sold in various parts of western Fujian and areas around Guangdong and Xiamen, often used as gifts for relatives and friends. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, with the continuous increase in consumer demand, the area of Shuixian tea cultivation expanded, and the production of Shuixian Tea Cakes continued to develop, with improved quality. Shuixian Tea Cakes entered markets in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, and other places and were favored by consumers. Since 1981, Zhangping Shuixian Tea Cakes have won the Fujian Provincial Quality Tea Award multiple times. In 1995, it was named a famous tea by the Fujian Provincial Department of Agriculture and was selected to participate in the second China Agricultural Expo, winning the gold medal. From 1999 to 2007, it won the Fujian Provincial Famous Tea Award, which is evaluated once every two years by the Fujian Provincial Department of Agriculture. In 2007, it won the gold medal in the Oolong Tea category of the Second Kaijie Cup China International Tea Expo under the theme of "Humanistic Olympics, Fragrance of Tea, World".

The unique processing technology of Zhangping Shuixian Tea Cakes involves the following steps: sunning, cooling, shaking, frying, rolling, molding, and baking, which differ from the production of strip oolong tea.

Fresh leaves of the Shuixian variety are used as raw materials, and it is advisable to pick tender shoots with small to medium-sized open faces, maintaining the freshness and integrity of the fresh leaves. The water extract content of fresh leaves ranges from 45.22% to 48.50%, the total amount of tea polyphenols ranges from 26.86% to 31.99%, the total amount of free amino acids ranges from 1.96% to 2.43%, the total amount of soluble sugars ranges from 5.96% to 6.80%, and the total amount of flavonoids ranges from 7.78 to 8.21 milligrams per gram. The contents of these substances in fresh leaves are important chemical basis for the formation of Shuixian Tea Cakes.

Sunning, shaking, and frying-rolling: Spread the fresh leaves evenly on a water sieve with a diameter of 80 to 100 centimeters, using the method of two sunnings and two coolings. Transfer the adequately sunned leaves to the cooling area until the leaves "recover vitality" to a suitable degree, then transfer them to the shaking area. Shaking is the key process for forming the aroma and color of Shuixian Tea Cakes. The shaking method is based on the production method in northern Fujian and combined with the method in southern Fujian. Generally, the shaking is performed four to five times, gently shaking each time, gradually increasing the number of rotations and cooling times. The leaves in the shaking area should be soft, the leaf surface should be bright yellow, the leaf edges should curl backward, red edges should appear, and a pleasant floral aroma should be emitted. At this point, the leaves can be fried, followed by rolling, and the leaves are rolled tightly into strips, then molded into shape.

Molding: This is a unique process in the production of Shuixian Tea Cakes. The tools for molding include specially made wooden molds and wooden hammers. The inner diameter of the wooden mold is 4.2 centimeters × 4.2 centimeters. During molding, clean white paper with a size of 15.5 centimeters × 15.5 centimeters is placed on the table, and the wooden mold is placed on it. Then, about 20 grams to 25 grams of well-rolled tea leaves are placed into the wooden mold, and pressure is applied with a wooden hammer to mold it. The paper is then wrapped tightly around the tea cake, and it is pasted to fix its shape. After this, the tea cakes are baked for drying.

Baking: This is an important process for forming the quality of Shuixian Tea Cakes. Once the tea cakes are wrapped, they are transferred to baking. The process includes initial baking and subsequent baking. Traditional baking uses a baking cage as a tool. During the initial baking, when the paste at the seal of the paper wrapping is dry, the tea cakes are flipped over and baked again. Both sides need to be dried evenly. Then, the temperature is lowered to 60°C to 70°C for continued baking. During the baking process, the tea cakes are flipped every 0.5 hours on average. When the initial baking is about 70% dry, and the tea cakes feel prickly when held, they can be removed from baking and cooled for 3 to 4 hours, allowing the moisture inside the tea cakes to spread outward, facilitating subsequent baking. During subsequent baking, three baking cages are combined into two, and the temperature is maintained at 40°C to 50°C. The tea cakes are slowly baked to develop aroma, flipping them every 1 to 1.5 hours to ensure even drying and avoid scorching. When the tea cakes make a rustling sound when held, and the leaves can be easily crumbled into powder, or if small bamboo sticks can penetrate the tea cakes, it indicates that they are sufficiently dried. The entire baking process takes about a day. The tea cakes should be stored in airtight iron cans or ceramic jars in a timely manner to maintain their quality. The current drying methods use a combination of box-type electric drying and baking cage baking.

The quality characteristics of Dazhangping Shuixian Tea Cake are as follows: the appearance is square-shaped, with a side length of approximately 4 centimeters and a thickness of about 1 centimeter, resembling a square cake. The dry color is bluish-brown with reddish spots, displaying a glossy appearance, and has a pure and authentic dry aroma. The inner quality has a refreshing aroma, with a floral fragrance and elegant aroma, reminiscent of orchid fragrance with a clear and elegant charm, or a rich and long-lasting osmanthus fragrance. The taste is mellow, sweet, and aromatic, with a lingering fragrance. The soup color is golden yellow or orange-yellow, clear and bright, and the bottom of the leaves is thick, soft, shiny, and bright yellow, with a distinct red edge.

A local standard, DB/35/787-2007 Zhangping Shuixian Tea, has been established in Fujian Province, classifying the quality of Shuixian Tea Cakes into special grade, first to fourth grade, totaling five grades.


(Source: China Tea Book. Author: Guo Yaling)

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