Mr. Lin preparing tea for indoor withering
Red Dawn is a black tea from Anxi county, Fujian province, China. It gets its name because in China, black teas are called “hong cha” which translates as “red tea” and because it is made from the Huang Dan cultivar (more commonly known as Huang Jin Gui), which translates as “yellow morning/dawn.”
This tea was the idea of our friend Daniel Hong with the help of his partner Mr. Lin Rui Fu.
Plucking Huang Dan fields (also known as Huang Jin Gui)
Huang Dan is most commonly made into oolong (see Golden Dawn), but Red Dawn is more interesting than our simple description. Daniel got the idea from the Taiwanese “Red Oolong” (making black teas with oolong cultivar and processes) and from his attempt at bread-making during the Covid-19 lockdown (more on that later).
He and Mr. Lin had been experimenting with this process of Red Oolong over the last three years. The Huang Dan cultivar, known for its aroma, gave the best results.
Indoor withering in Mr. Lin’s factory
Traditionally, black tea starts at the indoor withering racks where it loses moisture and becomes limp to avoid being broken during the rolling process. It is then rolled to break the cell walls of the leaf and begin oxidation (and become black tea).
By contrast, Red Dawn starts with outdoor withering, but then goes through two rounds of tumbling (like oolong) before withering again overnight indoors. This helps move moisture from the stem to the leaf to facilitate chemical changes and improve aroma.
Oolong is traditionally tumbled/shaken many times, but this gentle approach of only two rounds preserves more energy for the oxidation stage.
Now regarding bread-making (allow us to digress). During lockdown, Daniel attempted homemade bread as a way to keep him and his young daughter busy. He heard of these bread-fermenting machines and it occurred to him this may be a useful way to control the fermentation process during tea-making (it is worth noting that the Chinese often do not make much distinction between oxidation and fermentation, only that there are different degrees or ways of accomplishing it).
He bought a bread-fermenting machine at the time when China had just loosened the stay-home rule, but it wouldn’t fit in his car and he needed to get it to from Xiamen to Anxi (approximately 60 miles).
He went to the bus station in hopes they could help him, but they switched to running smaller buses due to Covid and couldn’t transport it. He talked to a driver of a bigger bus outside the station who promised he could transfer the bread machine to another bus, and it eventually arrived at Mr. Lin’s factory (though he could have bought another one for same price as the transport fees).
Daniel and Mr. Lin ran parallel experiments putting some tea in the bread-fermenter (that he had to haul up the side of a mountain) and some tea wrapped in cloth bundles in the sun. His conclusion is that all he needed was a cloth.
Lesson learned. After the overnight withering indoors, the tea is then rolled, but rather than just laid out to oxidize, it is portioned into 15kg bundles, wrapped in wet cloth, and put in the sun for approximately four hours. This blurs the line between typical black tea oxidation and shu puer post-fermentation. Since water is not applied to the tea leaves it preserves its freshness (unlike shu puer), but the enclosed moisture and heat provide it a micro-climate to ferment in (like shu puer).
The result is clearly recognizable black tea, but a greatly improved aroma and an intensity to the cup that is clear, unique, and universally desirable.
Leaves after rolling
Bundled leaves fermenting in the sun
This tea was made in Luo Yan village, which is home to the mother bush of Huang Dan. It is also the home and factory of Mr. Lin Rui Fu.
The town discovered this tea bush back in 1860 and it is now widely planted in the area. Luo Yan translates to “Buddha Rock.” The local language is Min Nan language, an ancient language from central China a thousand years ago.
The story of this village backs up this claim - a long time ago criminals were exiled under armed guard from the center of China. When they arrived at this location the road was blocked with a big Buddha-shaped rock. The guards took the inspiration, freed the criminals, and decided to stay. To this day there is a temple for the guards.
The temple for the guards in Luo Yan village