The final video of the 2020 tea season. I traveled to Hou Gu the site of a very popular Mao Feng from last year.
Hou Gu is located in the core region of Huang Shan next to a monkey sanctuary. Outsiders, even chinese, are forbidden go see the fields as they are located in the sanctuary grounds. The tea last year had a chestnut note that I hadn't tasted before. This year I may have learned why.
The night I was there I walked up to the tea making room and saw smoke coming out. As I walked in I saw the maker using the common semi-hand made style, a large machine that turns like a clothes drier. Next to it I saw a large metal box that I had seen before but never really knew what it was, this night I learned it was the baking machine. Both of these machines were operated by a woodfire, hence the smoke. It's this smoke that gives some of the Hou Gu flavor.
I had previous negetive feelings against this baking machine as it seemed to disconnect the maker from the tea a little much. That being said I already knew that the tea this man made was good so I kept an open mind. As the machine turned in the kill green machine he kept his flashlight shined on it. Other makers will take the tea out and feel it to judge readiness, he did it based on look and sound. He said the tea leaves should start to take on a yellowish look and as they dried the sound of them turning would change too.
From there he shook the tea to get rid of loose bits and put it on the top level of the baker. He said he liked this baking machine because basket baking was very hot and he would sweat in the tea. He also said that since the machine was flat the heat distrabution was even, while the cone shape of the basket had some areas hotter than others. This was an interesting insight as to this was an obvious fact but it made me wonder how makers used the different levels of heat. It must have some benefit or else they would have flattened the baskets. After the tea was dried we tried it. I was in Hou Gu basically the day of Qing Ming, give or take a day. That being said the tea wasnt a good size yet. The theme of this years tea content has been earlier tea isnt better, and this supports that mantra. The weather had been a little cold and the leaves where not yet the optimal size. When we tried the tea it was like a lovely person who was too shy to come out. It teased of all the flavor notes I remembered from last year, but they always seemed one steep away and never came.
That day I went back empty handed. The good news is that afew days later I bought some Hou Gu and it was exactly as I expected. The second I opened the back the familar aroma came back to me. Sweet with that Mao Feng savoriness with just a little bit of a nuttiness, admittedly probably from the smoky room, to set it apart. This was a very popular tea last year and I dont have a lot, so get it while you can.