This article is part of a series covering all of the major historic terroirs in China for tea. This time, we’re headed to Lu An! You can read the Top Terroir Harvest Guide here too.
History and Significance of Lu An
Lu An, a city located in the province of An Hui in China, boasts over 1000 years of tea-making history. The region is home to some of the most ancient and prestigious terroirs in the country, and its heritage farmers have mastered sophisticated tea-making techniques, producing diverse styles of tea.
Lu An is situated in the Da Bie Mountain Range, a mighty mountain that spans two provinces and peaks at 5,800 feet. This heavily forested mountain is deep green with an impressive 85% coverage of wood and bustling bamboo; one wouldn’t be surprised that some of the boldest green and yellow teas are from this lush land.
Since Tang Dynasty (618-907), teas from Lu An have been noted by tea connoisseurs and have appeared in numerous poems and novels. Huo Shan Huang Ya, which was probably still a green tea then, reached its height as a tribute tea in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Lu An Gua Pian became a tribute tea to the royal court, marking its legendary position in the history of tea. Historic teas from Lu An have been praised for generations, and their processing technique and terroir hierarchy have been feverishly discussed and well documented.
The Terroirs Of Lu An
One of the characteristics of historic terroir is that the hierarchy often expands in rings, picture a target, with the most precious village at the center, and with each round outward, the ranking goes down. This also means that a terroir defined at the city level is regarded as less than a terroir defined at the county level, which is less than a terroir defined at the township level, which is less than a terroir defined at the jurisdiction village level, which is less than a terroir defined at the natural village level. The pinnacle of historic terroir can always be pinpointed to a natural village, which is smaller than a jurisdiction village or even a specific lot within the natural village.
In the case of Lu An, the bare minimum for Gua Pian to bear the name of Lu An Gua Pian is defined at the larger region as all Gua Pian produced within the limit of the city of Lu An can legitimately be called Lu An Gua Pian. In comparison, Huang Ya is more restrictive, for its historic origin Huo Shan is a county-level city within Lu An; therefore, the authentic terroir for Huo Shan Huang Ya is significantly smaller.
The most basic hierarchy of historic terroir throughout China is divided into Inner Mountain and Outer Mountain areas; together, they make up the authentic terroir for a given tea. Consider this as almost the Grand Cru and the Premier Cru for wine.
This article will focus on the two most important inner mountain terroir for Gua Pian and Huang Ya.
The Terroir of Lu An Gua Pian
The most notable terroir for Gua Pian within Lu An is Qi Shan. Qi Shan is the name of a jurisdiction village comprising a group of smaller island natural villages. Among these island natural villages, the most famous one is also named Qi Shan. Therefore while Qi Shan Gua Pian is the most desired, one should still inquire which natural village the tea is actually from.
Qi Shan was once part of a larger trading hub, Ma Bu, but the area was flooded to create a reservoir. As a result, Qi Shan is now one of the most beautiful but challenging tea regions to reach. One can take a very traditional ferry that runs once daily from the landing of the famed Outer Mountain terroir, the town of Xian Hua Ling (Flower Height).
The Terroir of Huo Shan Huang Ya
The Inner Mountain terroir for Huo Shan Huang Ya is defined at the township level of Da Hua Ping. From there, we ascend to the famous Jin Ji Shan (Golden Rooster Mountain). There are a few jurisdiction villages nested in Jin Ji Shan, and surprise, surprise, the most well-known village of them all is called the village of Jin Ji Shan. But even within the village of Jin Jin Shan, connoisseurs have ranked the terroir further. The most prized of them all is a natural village called Shang Zhi Peng, home to the Divine Tea Garden. Therefore, when encountering a precious Jin Ji Shan Huang Ya, inquire further about which natural village the tea is from.
What Is The Characteristic Taste in Tea of Lu An?
Tea is a product of the land. And for Lu An teas, the land is lushly green with primitive forest and lots of bamboos. There’s a common belief in China that where there is bamboo, the water is better, and where there’s better water, there is better tea. The teas of Lu An, though varied in style, all have a recognizable bolder and buttery body compared to their peers from other regions. They are also known for a signature sugary undertone that provides immense depth to the profile. Lu An teas are substantial and deep, just like the heavily forested Da Bie Mountain, they are home to.
When Is Harvest Season in Lu An?
Because Lu An is a more northern terroir with a relatively high elevation (~2000 feet), it is colder, and spring starts later. Given the more tender picking of a bud and one to two leaves, the yellow tea Huang Ya starts a few days earlier than Gua Pian. This year (2023), we estimate the harvesting time in Shang Zhi Peng to begin around April 8th.
For Gua Pian, the farmers wait a few days longer to begin picking because of the unique picking grade of a single leaf. While this year we don’t have an estimated date of harvest just yet, it usually begins a few days before Gu Yu.
Just like the price of raw leaves go up as we move from the Outer Mountain to the Inner Mountain to its most precious natural village in the core, the harvesting season also starts from the warmer non-authentic terroir (plantation tea) to the Outer Mountain, then the Inner Mountain, with Qi Shan and Jin Ji Shan being the last to harvest for their respective tea.
Furthermore, clone cultivars also harvest earlier than heirloom cultivars native to the region. For Gua Pian, the most common clone cultivar is Wu Niu Zao, and it can harvest 10-15 days earlier than the local heirloom cultivar, which is called Ben Cha by the locals.
To understand the interlacing relationship of location, cultivar, and processing and how collectively they impact the harvest time check out this Harvest Guide to build a solid foundation to understand each unique terroir.
Fun Fact About Lu An
Lu An is written as “六安” in Chinese, where the first character means six, which is pronounced as Liu in Mandarin. However, when referring to this historic city, the character is pronounced as Lu, as in 陸. Even many Chinese not familiar with the region mispronounce the name of this city as Liu An instead of Lu An. But, as tea lovers, we take pride in correctly pronouncing it as Lu An. A fun New York reference would be when another American comes to visit and mispronounces Houston Street.