NOTES — PINE SMOKE | DATE | COATING
ZI RAN SMOKE is a zhengshan xiaozhong—or, lapsang souchong—production from Tongmu, Fujian province, China. This lot comes to us from Zi Ran Hong, a centuries-old smokehouse about 4 hours from Wuyi national park. Zi Ran—"natural"—is a name with dual meanings: first, that the tea is naturally smoked-to-dry (as opposed to large scale lapsang production, where huge batches of finished tea are dry-smoked). More deeply, and absolutely Chinese, this tea’s namesake describes its fully-integrated self. Lapsang is, first, black tea (in Zi Ran Hong, “hong” = “red”. Red tea is what we understand as black tea in the west). The tea is then smoked with a type of pine (Tongmu) endemic to the mountain, making this zhengshan xiaozhong a complete product of its namesake. ZI RAN SMOKE is the embodiment of this self-contained tea making philosophy, and represents a very old tea making tradition.
Distinguished from commodity lapsang by this smoke-to-dry process, ZI RAN SMOKE is first hand-plucked from wild-growing xingcun xiaozhong cultivar tea trees, withered, hand-rolled in cloth, and left to oxidize fully in bamboo baskets with no yaoxing ("shaking"—a process that accelerates oxidation). The tea is lastly dried in a dedicated smoking room (qing lou—"green house") using tongmu wood burned under the floor.
Tongmuguan has been a protected UNESCO site since 1979. The pine forests are nationally protected, with imposed limits on how much can be harvested. All the land in Tongmu is accounted for by long-time residents—Zi Ran Hong is in its third generation of tea making. Without sponsorship from a resident, tourists are not permitted in the preserve. Our ongoing partnership with Zhao Cong at Zi Ran Hong grants us rare access to one of Fujian’s best-protected treasures.
ZI RAN SMOKE is tea first; the base material presents vividly through the smoke, skillfully applied by Zhao to uplift and accent rather than conceal the tea. The harsh weather and alpine terrain of the Wuyi region make for stressed teas with distinct high-mountain character and strong yan yun (“rock quality”)—this hongcha is no exception. Steep hot and fast for the intended experience. Expect rock sugar, date, and of course, pine.