Feb 3, 2012

Song Luo (松萝茶)

I got this tea from a green tea group purchase last year. In the group purchase, there were quite a few high end teas and rare teas. But producer of this tea proudly announced that he was delighted to learn that all other teas cost a lot more than his in the market. In fact, that's a big difference I often see between tea producers (and probably direct traders as well) and business people. Business people are often proud of how expensive their products could be, while tea producers are often proud of how much more quality they could offer under the same price tag.

This tea is not widely available in market, for various reasons. But according to the producer, considering the fresh leaves and processing costs, this tea could be sold well under 110 rmb per jin, that would be approximately $15 per pound. It's not a prestigious tea, its leaves neither the youngest of the season nor from the highest elevation. But I would say this is a sincerely made tea, and it tastes better than some of the not so sincerely made tea under a famous tea label.

I was enthusiastic to obtain this tea because it's said to be made with the traditional Song Luo Tea processing method, which is a tradition almost lost.

Although far from popular in Chinese market or international market nowadays, Song Luo was probably the earliest pan fried green tea. One of the best representatives of Song Luo, Tun Xi Green (from Tun Xi, Anhui), was one of the earliest Chinese green tea imported by the United States, the most popular green in the international market, and the most exported green tea from China. Due to the profit it brought from the international market, Tun Xi Green was once upon a time called "green gold" by tea dealers of Anhui.

Why is Song Luo less popular nowadays? Probably many factors contribute to it. Song Luo is one of the oldest green teas existing nowadays. It has a history of more than 400 years. Most green teas of today (more than 80%, as I estimate) are from the past 200 years. This doesn't include teas with same names as in ancient records but no longer follow the same processing methods or are actually entirely different teas.

As one of the earliest "modern" green teas, Song Luo enjoyed great reputation. Meantime, tea techniques have progressed all the time. Inevitably, Song Luo would be surpassed by a lot of new comers. Personally I think Huang Shan Mao Feng is one of the better new comers. But I'm sure I haven't tasted the best Song Long. So there hasn't been fair comparison yet.

Other factors contributing to Song Long's recession may include market choices and change of people's taste. In my experience with this tea and my previous experience with a Tun Xi Green (which was not yet made with exactly the traditional method), Song Luo tea's taste is relatively bold. This is consistent with historical record of this tea. In the past a few hundred years, Chinese people's appreciation on green tea was more or less dominated by subtle and implicit tastes. This is probably partially why Song Luo is no longer seen as a high end tea. But just because of this, I could see its potential of reviving as a high end tea in international market, as western people seem to generally have heavier taste on tea than Chinese. Even contemporary Chinese, due to the dietary changes, may have heavier and heavier tastes.


Alex Zorach said...

This observation about the different perception of price is fascinating to me; I think it highlights a deep problem with the economic philosophy that dominates much of America and many other countries nowadays. I also think that the "business" perspective that you highlight, in which a higher price is always seen as better, is, in many cases, an anti-capitalist and anti-free-market sentiment which is destructive to economies.

Perhaps I can write about this more in the future.

I think I personally side more with the producer mentality here. And my own experiences with sampling tea certainly reinforce that there are amazing teas out there available at amazingly low prices.

I would like to try this one, I tend to like bold tasting Chinese green teas.

minrivertea said...

Cool, thanks for writing about this tea - lots of information. I'm hoping to visit Huang Shan again this year, so I'll try to look out for it.

Regarding prices - it's interesting. I guess we're always looking for something extra-special (youngest leaves, most special location, oldest tea master). I've had two types of price-experience here in China though - one is what you call the 'producers' response: people telling me they have the same product, but cheaper. The other response is the other end - people who think any tea under 800 RMB isn't worth touching. Strange...

Gingko said...

Yeah interestingly, this is not only a business mentality, but also some sort of consumer's mentality! I heard from quite a few people in China that they only drink tea over 800, or 1000, or 2000 per jin. But you would rarely hear this kind of comments in gatherings or online forums of tea enthusiasts.

For both business and consumers, I think it largely has to do with what's the source of satisfaction. Some consumer get the biggest satisfaction by the feeling of being able to afford something. A TGY producer once said he feels making good tea more satisfying than selling a lot of tea. I guess a lot of tea people are like him. But usually the most profitable businesses are not run by this kind of people. You can't have it at both ends.

Iced said...

Looks good. I also like your teacup is is so raw ;)