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A Deeper Look Into Hei Cha

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

A Song Dynasty poem about hei cha:

 

In the wilderness of Cangwu area
There is the luxuriant Liubao Mountain
With a scenic landscape
A famous tea comes from there
Mists and clouds pass it their charm
Morning dew moistens the tips of its leaves
When I drink this tea
The aroma lingers in my mouth
My mind clears, and my spirit is at ease.

 hei cha

What is Hei Cha?

Hei Cha is a post-fermented tea, just like shou pu-erh. Essentially, we can look at this tea as the forefather and, at the same time, sister of pu-erh. But it's not as simple as that. 
Hei Cha translates as "Black Tea." We also sometimes refer to it as "Dark Tea" to not confuse it with "Black Tea" in the West. That's right, China's authentic Black Tea. The history of this tea goes back over 1000 years. Although, with time, the processing methods of Dark Tea have evolved. Nevertheless, people still highly revere this tea throughout China as a regional specialty and a historical attribute.    

Farmers first process Hei Cha to produce a loose-leaf Mao Cha; then ferment it using wet piling (渥堆 – Wo Dui). However, the intrinsic processing techniques vary depending on the Dark Tea type and production area.  

This post-fermented tea category includes teas like Shou Pu-erhLiu Bao, and Lu An. Hunan province is a major producer of Hei Cha. Some of its most well-known Dark Teas are Fu Zhuan, Hei Zhuan, Hua Zhuan, and the iconic Qian Liang Cha.


Hei Cha Tea History 

Originally tea farmers produced Dark Tea for export on the Silk Road to territories along China's borders. They always compressed the tea into cakes for ease of transportation and freshness.
  
Hei Cha is an ancient tea with a rich tea history. For example, the processing techniques of Liu Bao Hei Cha served as the basis for modern-day Ripe Pu-erh preparation. In the 1960s, farmers experimenting with Liu Bao tea processing came up with the wet-piling method to encourage fermentation. Soon enough, tea producers began using the wet-piling method for Shou Pu-erh production. One of the differences is that for Pu-erh, farmers employ more water and bigger tea piles to get a deeper level of fermentation.
 
Hei Cha has a dark color paired with a sweet and woodsy taste. You'll notice it has zero astringency. This tea is best when aged for several years, although young Hei Cha is also an enjoyable treat. 
 
We recommend trying it both ways. Perhaps purchase some young Hei Cha, try it, and leave it to age. Note how the taste transforms.  Read more: How To Age Tea At Home.

 

Those trying dark tea for the first time will indeed be surprised by its sweet and mellow taste — a very unexpected trait, considering its dark and rustic appearance and intense aroma. 
 

Where Is Hei Cha Produced?

Unlike Pu-erh, Dark Tea is not regionally-specific. It can be produced anywhere, as long as the climate and terroir allow it. However, each variety of this tea is particular to its origin. For example, tea craftsmen will not likely produce Liu Bao, which originates in Guangxi province, in any other region.  
 
Every type of Hei Cha is associated with a particular place of origin in China and are not produced anywhere else in China. The local standards the production of this tea make each one unique and like no other.
 
Farmers produce most dark tea in China's southern and central provinces. Familiar places for production are Hunan, Anhui, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Hubei provinces.

 

Dark Tea And Traditional Chinese Medicine

From a medicinal standpoint, Hei Cha is much valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices. It can hold both cooling and warming qualities depending on its fermentation level. Hei Cha can remove excess heat and clear blood. At the same time, it warms the body by eliminating excess dampness.

 

Dark tea is an essential drink in Northwest China and other cold, mountainous regions along China's borders. Since the diet of the people inhabiting these regions contains a lot of meat and fat, this tea is essential to cut the grease and balance the body. It plays a vital role in easing digestion.  

 

Furthermore, Dark Tea can improve the microbiome in our digestive system. 

 

brew hei cha 

How To Brew Hei Cha

Similarly to Shou Pu-erh, you should aim for a deep cognac color liquor when brewing Hei Cha. We suggest you experiment with the tea leaf ratio and brewing time when making this tea. For instance, a quality Liu Bao won't be phased by a bit of extra tea leaf, using boiling water, or even over-steeping. On the contrary, it might make it even more robust and delicious. Try adding a bit more leaf than you are used to, or steep the tea a bit longer.

Try to follow the brewing instructions of the particular tea variety you are making. Generally, we use a 212℉ / 100℃ water temperature for Dark Tea.
Another standard preparation method is bringing the tea leaves up to a boil in a pot then letting them steep while cooling. The boiling water doesn't harm the tea or extract any bitterness; instead, it only enhances the tea's nutritional value. Dark Tea is straightforward to brew, and we can both cook it and steep it as usual.

Read more: Boiling tea. Which tea is good for boiling.