It was at the time of the Song dynasty, when in 1107 the then Chinese emperor Huizhong published his “Da Guan Cha Lun” (“A Treatise of Tea”), which today – along with Lu Yu’s “The Classic of Tea” – is considered as one of the two most monumental known historical publications on tea. The book’s alleged author, emperor Huizhong, was known as a passionate, if not obsessed, tea scholar himself, who pursued the ambition of driving his own tea ceremonial skill to ever new levels and gained a reputation not only as an organizer of high-profile tea competitions and events, but also as a skilled poet, painter, calligrapher, musician and a generous sponsor of art. However, historians are in doubt, whether the “Da Guan Lun Cha” really has been written by the emperor himself, or whether in fact not rather another person, most probably from amongst his closer circle, might be the actual author.
“Treatise of Tea” here means a detailed description of all stages and aspects of the whole cycle of the tea leaf, from the bush or tree to the gum and beyond, with chapters covering topics such as climate, picking, steaming and pressing, processing, assessment, grinding, tea preparation tools and vessels, aspects of the tea ceremony, water, palate, aroma, color, storage and more. Further, the “Da Guan Cha Lun” establishes a philosophic concept of tea and embeds the same both into the social structure and the “greater” philosophic context (here mainly: Taoism) of Huizhong’s time. The following is an excerpt of the Da Guan Cha Lun’s Preface chapter that illustrates both the poetic style this book is written in and his author’s passion for tea and view of the world:
“Now, tea is a plant that monopolizes the elegant vapors of Ou and Min, and embodies the divine endowment of mountains and rivers. It cleanses the heart and purges impediments, delivering one to purity and guiding one to harmony. It is not something that a commoner or child could ever understand. Tea is mild and subdued, simple, and clean; its nature is lofty and serene. It is not something that people living in times of duress and strain could ever appreciate.” *
What initially drew my attention to emperor Huizhong and his “Treatise of Tea” was when I first tried Anji Bai Cha, which translates to “Anji White Tea” and started some research aiming at finding out more about this green tea called “white tea”. Why “white tea”, if it really is a green tea? Today, when we speak of “white tea”, we will usually either refer to a Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) or a Silver Needle white tea. However, Anji Bai Cha is clearly none of these. It is produced properly as a green tea that is harvested once a year around the time of the Chinese Qingming Festival (Chinese “Ancestor’s Day”) held on April 4 from the Anji Bai Cha tea cultivar. Apart from its delicate, outstanding fresh citrus/asparagus taste, it is known for its unusual high content in amino acids, in particular theanine, while being rather low in polyphenols compared to other green teas. The former is a main contributing factor to this tea’s unique taste, while the latter is responsible for low chlorophyll-levels, thereby causing the white color of the Anji Bai Cha tea buds in early spring.
When trying to find out how Anji Bai Cha got its name, “Anji White Tea”, this is where inevitably you will soon encounter the “Legend of Anji Bai Cha”, having its roots nowhere else than in Huizhong’s Da Guan Cha Lun, where a dedicated chapter with the same name refers to “Bai Cha” (white tea) as the author’s favorite tea and describes the same as a (green) tea coming from a tea plant with white spring buds that won’t turn green before the end of April. Remember, it was the time at the beginning of the 2nd millennium, when the tea plant, originally a large-leaf tree native to the Chinese province of Yunnan, had started spreading within China in northern and eastern directions, producing new “cultivars” with smaller stature (bushes) and leaves and individual properties in adjustment to the geology and climate conditions of new places. However, this particular tea cultivar mentioned and described in detail in Huizhong’s “Treatise of Tea” apparently disappeared from screen completely after the Song empire had been temporarily overthrown by the Jin Dynasty (established by the Jurchen of Mandshuria), with emperor Huizhong spending the last 10 years of his life in Jurchen captivity. This is when Anji Bai Cha became a legend, as the tea plant referred to in the book was in fact not known to the world other than from the book, thereby positioned somewhere between traded history and mere fairytale.
It wasn’t before 1982, when a single tea bush was discovered in Anji county of Zhejiang province that matches the old description in the Da Guan Cha Lun and is believed by tea researchers to be a living specimen of the “lost” cultivar. With the original description provided in Huizhong’s “Teatise of Tea” being amazingly detailed and only one tea cultivar being known that by geography and properties matches this description, the probability for the legend having become truth is in fact very high. It’s a bit (though not exactly) like meeting a dragon, who tells you about his fight with a guy named Siegfried, and it comes to you that you actually remember a quite similar story that you’d read as a child in a book about the Nibelungen myth.
Now, ok, dragons might not exist and might never have so, but tea plants – most fortunately – do exist and have existed for thousands of years. Nevertheless, isn’t it amazing, how this particular tea plant, the Anji Bai Cha or “Anji White Tea” plant has been known once, but then disappeared (in oblivion?) for a period of full 900 years, before resurfacing again in the form of a single specimen being found? Of course,the modern world – or maybe better: economy – doesn’t take chances if it comes to the question of having or missing such jewel of a tea – and such economic opportunity. Consequently, the found specimen has been bred and cultivated ever since its discovery in 1982, so today Anji Bai Cha Green Tea has become quite available. However, the tea cultivar has not yet been ‘dislocated’ (see our article The Globalization of Tea Cultivars ), and the name Anji Bai Cha has meanwhile been protected for teas from this particular cultivar and geographic location. As a result, Anji Bai Cha picked with proper picking standard (1 bud to 1-2 leaves) and within the short proper picking season (first half of April) is still a relative rarity, which always comes at a price.
While the price of “rare” things’ often seems to be derived from and justified by mainly or even exclusively their rarity, this does not apply to Anji Bai Cha green tea. If the classic Chinese list of the Top Ten Teas of China or “Great Teas of China”, originally published by the Agriculture Department of China in1959, would be rewritten today, Anji Bai Cha Green Tea would certainly be a candidate. Every green tea lover first trying Anji Bai Cha will immediately understand that the unique taste and features of the green tea produced from the Anji Bai Cha tea plant make this tea a luxury “per se”. At SiamTeas, at least, we came to just that conclusion and have applied the full scale of our demanding selection principles identifying an Anji Bai Cha Green Tea that is cultivated organically in a semi-wild (biodiverse) high mountain tea garden in Anji county and displays all the unique characteristics and benefits of this tea in a prominent manner. The result is a tea that we believe is – rarity or not – is fully worth its money. Well, if it comes to finding best quality teas, whether rare or not, at still affordable prices, then we know where to look! So you might find the price of our
being not THAT high, after all! For more information about and illustrations of Anji Bai Cha Green Tea and our offer to buy Semi-Wild High Mountain Anji Bai Cha Green Tea online at Siam Tea Shop, please click on the link above.
* Source: “Huizong’s Tea Manual – A Discourse on Tea from the Daguan Reign Period“, by Ronald Egan, University of California, Santa Barbara