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World famous origin teas: protected Geographical Indication (PGI) teas are the way of the future. Special teas, from designated areas, with standards of classification. The Fujian Province in China is leading the way with PGI teas and the industry is taking notice.

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With an almost 20% share of the total Chinese tea production Fujian ranks number one amongst the 20 tea producing provinces. Tea has been grown for more than 2,000 years in these hilly lands and can be traced back to the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC). The former huge harbor near Quanzhou, in the middle of Fujian's long maritime front was a major hub for the silk road trade. It is also from there that Ming Emperor Yongle dispatched the seven trips of the treasure ship fleet under admiral Zheng He, from 1405 onwards with the view to expand the empire and to open trade with the West. The later decline of the Ming empire and the end of it's sea faring and trade was because of the war with the Mongolian invaders in the North, which saw many thousands of emigrants leave the country and move to other trade ports in Southeast Asia. A second wave of emigration occurred in the 1920s when bad harvests made whole village populations walk to the coast and sail to Taiwan to escape starvation, taking their tea seeds, tea knowledge and traditions with them to their new home.

Fujian has indeed a long cultural and trading history and a very rich past concerning tea; lets also remember that the seeds and cuttings carried away by botanist Robert Fortune to India were collected in the plains and hills of Fujian!

The features which make Fujian province so "tea specific" are firstly the huge output of mainstream teas in the plains and the low hills near the coastal area, where soil and climate allow green tea and jasmine bushes to prosper. In addition to the mainstream tea output, Fujian is also home to many famous origin teas:

There are first the celebrated authentic white teas. The medium range around Anxi and the ridges of the Wuyi Shan, a mountain range in the Northwest, are home to several distinctive and world famous oolong tea varieties. It is in the highest mountain valley that the famous Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is picked, which we call Lapsang Souchong in the West. In 2010 the total tea output of Fujian amounted to 272,600t, up by more than 100% since 2001.

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My first trip to Fujian was in December 2002, to attend the "First International Conference about Tea," the venue was Anxi prefecture, Fengcheng town. Were also attending Kaison Chang from the "FAO IGG for Tea" and Manuja Peiris from the ITC. The event was sponsored by UNDP, to help the Chinese government promote their tea industry. We travelled on very rough roads, a four-hour drive from Xiamen airport, which takes less than one hour today. It was a memorable happening and our first encounter was with premium oolong teas, which at that time were hardly known and not easily available in Europe. In January 2005 I was taken to visit Wuyi Shan and the Da Hong Pao and other famous rock teas of this area and also up hills in the forest area to visit the Lapsang Souchong manufacturing and production places.

In November 2007 together with tea experts from France and the U.S. we attended the "First Cross Strait Tea Conference" where Fujian teas met up with Taiwan teas and we were taken to see some Oolong tea factories and the Anxi Tea Research Institute.

In October 2011 we saw Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian, and the big jasmine tea industry before going to Wuyi Shan on a brand new highway.

In these 10 years of time the Fujian tea scene has undergone a huge industrial development, resulting in more than doubling the province's tea output. The mainstream green and jasmine teas are now coming out of big and brand new factories. During the same laps of time the famous origin teas have been largely promoted, not only in China but also in the West and it seems that prices will soon be above our spending power.

These very famous origin teas allow to brew cups of fabulous quality and which you can infuse many times. All of them are hand picked and hand processed in fully defined, delimited and specific "terroirs." Hence output can not be expanded significantly which generates great appeal and attracts the craving tea lovers and makes prices soar.

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Fujian boasts an impressive number of these "top state heritage teas" which each have their registered specificities concerning: area of production, plant variety, picking period and processing methods.

Indeed in China the PGI (protected geographical indication) concept has been applied to tea for many centuries and remains fully enforced within the national market. Most tea buyers will therefore visit these areas themselves to choose their suppliers and their buys. All these, often very small, gardens will regularly participate in official quality competitions thus allowing the governmental quality control bodies to enforce GMP (good manufacturing practice) and GAP (good agricultural practice) schemes and to push for constant improvement.

Now let's have a closer look at these famous "terroir teas" from Fujian province:

There are firstly the many famous Oolong teas, specific to this province, where most of them originate from; just a few are also growing in neighboring Guangdong province and there are of course also those oolongs which have been taken along by the emigrants to the island of Taiwan, just across the strait of Formosa (some traditional ones and also new cultivars).

Today one can still visit the ancestor bushes of Anxi Tie Guan Yin, near Anxi and of the Wuyi Da Hong Pao up on a cliff in Wuyi Shan; these tea bush varieties have been recognized for their plant specifications such as bush growth and leaf size and for their specific flavors and cup qualities. The name Oolong is reported to derive from the nick name of the tea farmer who first discovered the Tie Guan Yin bushes near Anxi and extracted their unique flavor with the semi fermentation process.

Also belonging to this list is the Wuyi Rou Gui, with very big leaves and a medium degree of oxidation as one can see that from the color of the wet leave.

In 2004 the Wuyi Shan area was listed as an UNESCO heritage site because of its wonderful scenic landscape with huge rocks and rocky cliffs cut through by twisting rivers and tea bushes growing in these midst of shrouded rocky scenery: their name is indeed "rock tea" and all of the top Wuyi oolongs belong to this rare category.

Fujian is furthermore home to the authentic white teas, the Fuding Bai Hao Yin Zhen, grown in the Fuding area and the Bai Mudan, a more coarse picking in a slightly wider geographical area around Fuding. These are again special tea bush varieties with very downy buds; the spring pickings are simply sundried, yielding the famous mellow and light-colored cups that have been sought after for several centuries.

Today one can source "white tea" from India or Indonesia or Rwanda, but here the denomination only refers to a production process. The authentic PGI white teas belong to the Fujian province tea heritage.

Lastly, high up in the Wuyi mountains grows the famous Zheng Shah Xiao Zhong, or Lapsang Souchong, picked only once a year in the spring and growing in the well defined area of Tongmu village. These "one bud one leaf" pickings, full of golden tips, have for many years been a gift from China to some European Royal families.

In order to preserve and to protect it's own and other producing countries' "heritage teas," China has initiated a global "PGI teas" debate within the FAO IGG on tea. The objective is to define an appropriate set of criteria and then to list these teas with a detailed description on order to guarantee their authenticity and thus their protection.

Fujian has quite a long list of heritage teas on stake in this ongoing discussion.
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Title Annotation:Fujuan province
Comment:World famous origin teas: protected Geographical Indication (PGI) teas are the way of the future.
Author:Dufrene, Barbara
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2012
Words:1323
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