Tea plant leaves are harvested and then processed, usually in a tea factory. No, it’s not one of those big buildings with lots of big, loud machines, smokestacks billowing who knows what, and hot, tired workers. Tea factories are different. Here’s a look at another one in China.
The Xiaguan Tea Factory, founded in 1941, is one of several major tea factories in China. (Another is the Menghai Tea Factory we posted about recently on this blog.) The Xiaguan Tea Factory is located in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Leaves from those gardens are mixed according to recipes (a typical practice for producing pu-erh cakes), indicated by a four-digit number included on cake wrappers since 2005 where the first two digits are the year the recipe was produced, the third is the grade of leaves used, and the last is the factory (3 for Xiaguan Tea Factory). For example, 8613 means a recipe from 1986 (the year the factory started making tea cakes) using first-grade tea leaf made by the Xiaguan Tea Factory. There might be a letter in front of the number, most frequently T to signify tight machine compression. (You’ll need a sharp pu-erh knife to break off pieces from these cakes or you can use this loosening method.) Tighter tea cakes age more slowly, so these will have a fresher flavor but also last longer.
|Xiaguan “Big G” factory logo|
This factory specializes in both raw and cooked varieties of pu-erh tea and is famous for tuocha (“Bowl-shaped Tea”) and bingcha (“Disc Tea”). Aged tuocha and bingcha, especially ones produced in the 1970s thru 1980s, are highly valued by collectors. However, the factory has begun using higher production temperatures for their tuocha, causing concern over the ability of new Xiaguan tuocha to age well.
Xiaguan is rivals with other tea factories. Sometimes those other factories have been known to flood the market in China with fake tea cakes so that tea buyers will only go to their official dealers and be sure to get genuine cakes. This cuts into sales of Xiaguan tea cakes, which can be seen as possibly fake, too, even though they are not. However, in the U.S. you can buy from specialist dealers to get authentic Xiaguan pu-erhs. Some Xiaguan Tea Factory pu-erhs to try (availability varies, some may be sold out):
2002 Xiaguan Bao Yan Mushroom Tuo
Currently sold out. This is being shown only as an example of one of the classic shapes used.
|2002 Xiaguan Bao Yan Mushroom Tuo|
A brick tea with a long history. It has been produced for about 50 years and is a staple tea in Yunnan and Tibet. If you’ve heard of Yak butter tea, this is the tea used to make it. A bit of churned yak butter, some salt, and a bit of raw sugar go into that hot water with the tea leaves. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but you can steep some up and try it your way. The Bao Yan (“Holy flame”) brand is one of two produced at this factory. It was used primarily in the border regions of China, but now it is commonly consumed by many tea lovers.
|2005 Xiaguan Bao Yan Tibetan Flame Raw Pu-erh Brick|
The classic premium grade tuocha from Xiaguan Tea Factory produced exclusively for the FT brand (Fei Tai Co.) for export to Taiwan and made of high-grade leaves. They steep up a golden-yellow liquor that is full of thickness and aroma. You can let it age long-term or enjoy it now. A great raw sheng tea.
|2008 Xiaguan FT “Jia Ji” Raw Pu-erh tea tuo|
More info about the Xiaguan Tea Factory can be found on our store site.
Xiaguan from space courtesy of Google:
|Image courtesy of Yahoo! Images|
See a wide selection of teas from Xiaguan Tea Factory here: http://www.jas-etea.com/brands/Xiaguan-Tea-Factory.html