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Golden Monkey Black Tea

by Lydia Kung

Introduction

As temperatures fall, we turn to black teas, and one classic is Golden Monkey.

This is not an instance where the apocryphal monkeys picking tea come into the picture, but rather an allusion to the legendary Monkey King in popular short stories.

Golden Monkey is one variety of Panyang Congou, which refers to Tanyang in Fujian, a historical center of tea in the 19th and 20th centuries. Golden Monkey Black tea history goes back 200 years and was selected as a White House banquet tea in 2011. (One account gives 2013 as the year.)

The tea comes from the area near Fu An city in eastern Fujian, where the gardens are situated at an elevation of approximately 500 m. The cultivars are Fu An Dai Bai (Fu An Big White) and ZhengHe Da Bai. (You may recognize the latter as the cultivar sometimes used to make white teas.)

The prominent showy gold tips mark this Jin Mao Hou (Golden Hair Monkey) as a costly tea from spring. The plucking material comprises a bud and one leaf, or one bud and two leaves yielding a fragrant cup with a honey-like finish.

Withering

There are two steps in withering:

Indoor withering on trays: the layering and spacing of the fresh leaves are done according to certain specifications, with frequent checking, since the temperature of the leaves at the upper layers will be different from those at the bottom. Air circulation is adjusted according to ambient weather conditions. On sunny days, fresh leaves can be withered within 15-20 hours; on rainy days, the time may be extended to 25-30 hours.

Trough withering: fresh leaves are placed in a cylindrical container and heated air is introduced to accelerate the withering process. This container is about 6 meters long with a mesh frame inside to hold the leaves. Leaves are layered to about 15 cm in thickness.

With the temperature set at 28-30°C, the withering time is 6-8 hours, with rotation of the leaves periodically. At the end of this stage, the moisture content of the leaves is at about 60%. The leaves are now soft; the stems are pliable or broken, and the leaf color is dark green, giving off heavy fragrance.

Rolling

The duration is not over long since the budsets are quite tender. Over 60-70 minutes, rolling begins with minimal pressure, then gradually stronger pressure, and finishing with light pressure again. This light – heavy – light exertion makes the leaves tight and ensures that the leaves are coated with the inherent juices. At this stage, the rate of cell “damage” is about 80%.

Oxidation

A specially designed room or chamber is equipped with air conditioners and humidifiers to maintain a certain temperature and humidity levels, and to keep the air flowing. The temperature in the chamber is 30°C with high humidity (90-95%). The leaves are layered on racks, and as oxidation becomes more complete, there is the aroma of ripe apples, and no notes of any green grassiness remaining in the leaves.

Drying

The first round is done at a setting of 115°C for 12-15 minutes, with the leaves spread in thin layers (1.5 – 2 cm). There follows a resting period of half an hour.

During the 2nd drying step, known as that of “elevating aroma,” (photo at left) the temperature is set at 95°C, and after 12-16 minutes, the moisture content has gone down to 5%-6%. Immediately after, the leaves are spread out to cool, and the bright golden tips are very evident.

Few consumers are likely to be intrigued by the technique behind this signature Black tea, but there is little doubt that Golden Monkey is an eye-catching one, even for the novice drinker.

In summary, the key points about this historic Black tea are:

  • Picked in the spring, budsets being the raw material;
  • Correct thickness of layering the leaves is important throughout processing, as is monitoring humidity;
  • Handling a tea with many tips requires experienced workers; and
  • The final step of heightening aroma is a crucial one in finishing this traditional Black.

The tippier grade brews a bright amber cup. The standard comprising of a bud with two leaves yields a deeper colored brew, offering mellow, honeyed sips. The fragrance is immediate once the lid is lifted, and the finish is distinctively memorable, and long lasting.

Looking ahead, about a month from now, we will see autumnal oolongs, something of a high point for those drawn to this category, as cooler temperatures make for more aromatic teas.

September 7, 2018