Confucius is the most important educator in Chinese history. His educational ideas are still popular throughout the entire world. He believed that students should be taught in accordance with their aptitudes. Later, his student founded Ruijia, a school that broadcasted Confucius’ thoughts, which was the ruling ideology for many dynasties.
Confucius was born in the Lu area of the Shandong Province. Historically, Shandong contributed a lot to many great dynasties politically, agriculturally, economically, and culturally. The tea industry began in the 1950’s in Shandong. To overcome unbeneficial climatic conditions, the tea farmers and workers applied modern technology to tea planting. For example, if the annual temperature average is too low, the tea trees are planted at the end of winter and harvested before the mid spring.
After years of trying and exploring, researchers accomplished the challenge with their knowledge and persistence. They found an ideal place in Shandong with enough sunshine and rain–Rizhao. This was a colossal scientific undertaking known as the, “south to north tea” project.
Rizhao is the biggest tea growing district in Shandong. Rizhao means “sunshine” in Chinese. The city is known for its abundant solar power, which is a decisive factor that accelerated the devolvement of tea industry in Shandong. Xueqing green tea, Jibei Yunxiu and Fulaiqing are the three most representative brands in Rizhao.
Xueqing tea, also called Rizhaolu, is the first local tea brand invented in Shandong Province. Different from the farms in the southern China, tea trees here are planted in greenhouses with stable temperatures, which helps prevent the plants from being damaged by the frost and snow.
In Rizhao, the trees are planted in the winter and leaves are processed between January to February. This is the biggest shopping season in China because of the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). Using a lot modern techniques, such as soilless and pollution-free cultivation, Xueqing green tea is announced to be the most environmentally friendly brand.
In Chinese, Yunxiu is a term to describe the fairyland or heaven. The area that Xiuqing grows in is cloudy and misty all year round. Yunxiu is famous for its special aroma – the chestnut scent. Rich in selenium and amino acids, Yunxiu tea help improve digestion and avoid cardiovascular diseases.
Compared to other green tea from the southern farms, the processing procedures of Rizhao teas are simplified. First, new leaves are stirred in high heat woks to remove odors and neutralize enzymes. During this process, leaves are softened and the aroma starts to release. This step is normally conducted in stirring machines, which helps cut the cost and improve the efficiency. Secondly, the half-manufactured products will be rolled. There are two types of rolling methods: hot rolling and cool rolling. Hot rolling is conducted right after fixating while the leaves are still hot—with cool rolling being the opposite. Traditionally, less tender leaves are panned in a wok and rolled by hand, which needs to be done as soon as possible or the leaves may become crispy. When it comes to the tender leaves, cool rolling helps preserve the fresh flavor and avoid breakage in the leaves. Thirdly, drying is the last step before selling. In tea factories, baking is the most common. Great care must be taken in order to not overcook the leaves or it can ruin the flavor.
Additionally, Linyi area is another tea producing base near Rizhao, which is famous for Fulaiqing tea. Established in 1978, the Fulaiqing tea factory was the only tea institute along the Changjiang River, focusing on improving tea tree seedlings. In 1993, the local government decided to transform it into a modern tea processing factory. Two years later, Fulaiqing tea was invented.
The Tashan Mountains, located in northern Shandong Province, is the northernmost tea producing area. The tea tree farms are spread over a 3.48 square mile area, and its annual productivity is around 350 tons. The Taishan teas are mainly processed in the city of Taian.
The Taishan area is humid and sunny in the spring and autumn. The temperatures vary greatly between the day and night, which helps the leaves to accumulate nutrients.
There are lots popular brands of Taishan teas – Jingkou and Taohuayu. Jingkou teas are long thin strips presenting a dark green color. When soaked, the leaves turn light green and the tea water presents a bluish yellow color. With a light aroma and a mild taste, Jingkou is more popular amongst to the older people. But Taohuayu is the opposite. It tastes mellow, with a hint of chestnut. Many young people appreciate Taohuayu tea because of its unique tang.
Taishan tea follows a normal processing method as other green teas, including stirring, rolling and drying.
When you look at teas from the south, Shandong tea has very unique features. First, the aroma is milder than that of southern teas. The aroma of Shandong tea doesn’t appear strong until it’s fully steeped. Therefore, the multi-brewing method for the southern teas is inefficient for Shandong teas. To get the best flavor, you should steep the leaves for at least one hour.
Secondly, most northern teas are machine-made products. Therefore, they are cheaper and are more abundant. Debates on whether modern techniques should replace the traditional techniques are often sparked–different experts hold different opinions. Some believe only the classic methods can produce the best green tea. Some think machines and modern technique can improve the efficiency and aren’t against the traditions.
Both paths have proven to be successful. The tea industry is both modern and traditional. The small workshops coexist with the big factories. According to marketing rules, different products target on different consumers. A various supplies help to keep a healthy tea market.