Let me tell you a secret. When I first came to China in 2017 Huang Shan was my least favorite place. I found the teas to be the least exciting and the area to be a bit touristy, but without the benefits of English speakers that you find in other touristy areas. Now, four and a half years later as I prepare to leave, I am reflecting on Huang Shan and its teas. With each cup I drink I begin to see the full picture of Huang Shan.
For all of its beauty, Huang Shan isn't flashy, and the teas are the same. While Huang Shan does have the mountain it is named after, Huang Shan (yellow mountain), the beauty of Huang Shan is better found in the mountain ranges sprawling around the famous peak. In these mountain ranges, you find hidden gems of natural wildlife, quiet villages, and scenic spots that you can't find on any map. The beauty of Huang Shan is best appreciated by driving through the countryside and stopping to appreciate the rivers and valleys that you pass. It's not so much a single point as it is the whole landscape together. Huang Shan tea, whether it is given, mao Feng or hou kui, is the same.
Huang Shan teas aren't unique for a single aroma or flavor that makes them stand out, but instead for the combined aspects of the tea that come together for a beautiful experience. Mao Feng does have a unique savory body, but it is only part of what makes a good mao feng good. Hou Kui is stronger in flavor than Mao Feng but is still by no means a strong green tea. Its flavor profile must also be balanced by a fresh and subtle complexity. My time drinking Qimens has shown me that a good qimen has much intricacies as a green tea. A good Qimen should be soft and complex, more complex I think than other black teas, with a rose-like aroma along with other strong but subtle traits.
Talking to a tea friend online, discussed whether or not it was necessary for people to go to China to understand Chinese tea. I don't think you need to go anywhere to appreciate a tea, but personal experiences that connect to a specific tea will add so much to your cha dao.
When I drink Mao Feng, part of me is sitting in the front yard of the Cha Shan farmer watching fog drift through the mountains.
Drinking Hou Kui brings me back to standing in a single-floor house in Hou Keng tasting the teas we just charcoal baked.
Qimens bring me to those tea houses with a simple tea table, a knowledgable host, and oil paintings of Huang Shan on the walls.
My experiences in Huang Shan has done so much to help me understand and appreciate the flavor profile of its teas.
I don’t think I have even begun to fully understand Huang Shan or her teas. That being said, the way I understand Huang Shan today and the way I understood it spring 2017 are not the same. The same goes for the teas. Mao Feng has gone from a tea I didn't particularly care for to my favorite green tea. As I prepare to live in other tea regions and dive into their teas I look forward to being able to introduce teas to people from a personal place that I have gained by living in its area and getting to know the people and places along with the tea.