Chinese tea names, though exotic to the native English speaker, are often simple descriptors of the region and leaf style (though not all follow this pattern). Huang Shan Mao Feng is an example of this “where/what” title. Its direct translation is “Yellow Mountain Hair Point.” Huang Shan or “Yellow Mountain” is where the tea is grown and processed – the Mao Feng or “Hair Point” refers to the visual of the finished leaf. Call it poetic or purely observational, but the buds on this tea are coated with fur and the tips resemble a mountain peak.
Huang Shan Mao Feng is the quintessential green tea profile – a pristine clean and soft character, sweet floral aroma, and a mellow, savory, vegetal flavor that isn’t bitter or musty.
Huang Shan is located in Anhui province where centuries ago monks perfected a technique now known as “pan-firing”. This is the step used to “kill green”, which means to stop or prevent oxidation (and, oddly enough, keep the tea green). Prior to pan-firing, Chinese tea was steamed, a technique similar to what is still used in Japan. By switching from steaming (which retains moisture) to pan-firing (which decreases moisture) they changed the craft of Chinese tea – a trajectory that modern tea-making is still following today.
The original pan-fired green tea from Huang Shan was called Song Luo, invented by a monk there named Da Fang during the Ming dynasty.
The loss of moisture from pan-firing facilitates the kind of chemical changes that can improve aroma and bring out new characteristics in the leaf. Most importantly, it changed the approach to tea processing. In 1650, the mayor of Wuyi invited a Huang Shan monk to teach pan-firing to local tea makers. These efforts were the foundation of what we now know as oolong tea. The shaking, rolling, and baking of the oolong process requires the steady loss of moisture at each step to bring about the added characteristics. This expanded the tea experience with aromatic and visual appeals (and made it super fun and interesting - Wuyi is the home of rock oolong.)
In 1875, a merchant named Xie Yu Tai further refined the original Song Luo tea by changing two steps.
But this story is not about oolong. In 1875, a merchant named Xie Yu Tai further refined the original Song Luo tea by changing two steps. First, he applied a light (as opposed to heavy) rolling after pan-firing so the leaf could retain more of its original shape and preserve the down on the bud. He also split up the final drying into multiple stages – first with a high heat to quickly lose moisture (and bad smells), then with a second, longer, lower-temperature firing (sometimes covered) to bring forth desirable characteristics and stabilize the tea. These changes greatly improved the final product and became the style now famously known as Huang Shan Mao Feng.