Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nine Winter Monkey Oolong

A Chinese friend recently gave me a small sample of a very rare and delicious oolong tea. This tea, from Anhui province, is called Nine Winter Monkey Oolong (九冬猴烏龍) . It is grown at about 2400 meters elevation on the often-snowy cliffs of Anhui's scenic Qing Wa Mountains (青蛙山), and a nearby town called Anwa village (安蛙村) is considered to be the birthplace of this intriguing tea. While doing some research for this blog post, I was lucky enough to find a tea merchant from Anwa who was willing to give me some information about this rare tea. His name is Li Haha (李蛤蛤) and his English is quite good.

The following is from an email Mr. Li sent me last week:

"Most tea professionals agree that trained monkeys do not pick tea... but they may not know that some monkeys train people to pick tea! That is the case with local speciality, we call Nine Winter Monkey tea. It grows on Qingwa mountain and in winter has fat green leaves. Sadly, only 20 true bushes are left on the mountain, all of which are 300 years old. The plants at very high elevation so tea picker needs to climb tree and walk and hang on branches like a monkey. After the leaves are carried back to Anwa village we ferment them for 14 hours outside and indoors. It is then rolled and lightly baked in small baskets. After the bake, the Nine Winter Monkey tea must be sealed tightly in clay pots. Each pot holds about 15 kilograms of tea. Then we bury the pots underground in Anwa village garden and wait for nine winters. This gives the tea its famous potato and starfruit aroma! After nine winters we dig up and drink our special tea. That is why we call it Nine Winter Monkey tea!"

This is what the dry leaf looks like:

In his email, Mr. Li recommends brewing Nine Winter Monkey tea in the traditional "Qingwa Gongfu style." This unconventional brewing method was devised in Anwa and is generally considered the best way to prepare Nine Winter Monkey Tea.

Here again is Mr. Li to explain:

"Please brew tea with Qingwa Gongfu style like local Anwa persons. It will have superior taste and more health benefits such as clearness of fluid and relieving fleshy lung! We use a very large bowl called a "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Bowl" (九冬猴茶碗). Rinse the bowl with boiling water. Water from Qingwa mountain is best! Next add 2 grams of tea leaves. Pour in about 500 ml of boiling hot water. Stir for nine minutes using a special wooden spoon we call "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Spoon" (九冬猴茶匙). At this point the tea soup will have a milky white color and sweet fragrance! Use the "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Spoon" to pour the tea soup into small tea bowls. Repeat 8 or 9 times."

Mixing the tea for nine minutes:

After nine minutes:

Although I had to improvise using a regular bowl and spoon, I found the results to be quite good. This is an amazing tea with a very unique flavor. I think I can even detect a little of that "potato-starfruit" taste!

This is a monkey that I saw while driving on a
mountain highway in Nantou (南投) county Taiwan:


Mel!ssa said...

I'm trying to think of a more nuanced way to say what I'm thinking which is, "oooh, weird!" :D

Trent said...

does the tea actually come out milky white? or does that color come from the spoon?

Stephane said...

Excellent find Bret! May I send you a sample of '12 Virgin Princess picked Oolong' for a tea swap? Or would you rather have some 'Groundhog Bi Luo Chun', a very early green tea, picked specifically on Groundhog day. It is quite peculiar, because no matter how you brew it, it always tastes the same!

Terry said...

That's some funky tea. Do you have any for sale at Teacup? T

Nicole said...

Alright, but I wanna know... how much does it cost?

Brett said...

April Fools~! I made this tea up. The first photo is of a roasted Tie Guanyin and the spoon is filled with soy milk.

(Stephane your comment made me laugh out loud. Xiexie!)

Nicole said...

Oh man!! I was telling Justice about this tea! You really got me good!

Anonymous said...

LOL - I began to wonder when you brought Anhui into the mix - especially since the characters you gave only came up with mokey picked tea (generally that from Guangdong and Fujian areas) and then one 9 Winters special blend - which I am fairly certain was a recipe...
However, I as COMPLETELY sold anyway and thought "oh no! This post was so long ago... I suppose I will just have to go to Anhui and find the tea that way instead" *lol* I'm glad you posted that it was an April Fools gag before I asked every tea seller in Anhui!!