Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three Indigenous Types of Tea in Hunan Province China: A Tasting of 1990 Kum Cheom Cha

“These three teas are to Hunan what Puerh is to Yunnan”

This phrase came from a Korean tea master while discussing tea from Hunan Province China, of which he was quite found of.

The three teas he is referring to are Chan Yang Cha, Bok Jeun Cha, and Kum Cheom Cha (these are Korean pronunciations not Chinese, if anyone knows the Chinese transliterations please share). These teas are some of the oldest types of tea produced in the Northern slopes of Hunan, an area where tea production has been taking place for over 2000 years.

Chan Yang Cha is perhaps the most interesting of the group mainly because of its production and resulting storage. It stands like an enormous tree, a pillar- from top to bottom- it was almost as tall as the teamaster and the diameter was almost as thick as his waist! This is NOT the shape of the tea tree but the actual formed shape of the tea leaves! To see it in the forest you would be convinced that it is a tree trunk. It is like a trunk of tea leaves-Really strange.

It looks this way because of its production. One is not quite sure of the exact production methods but it seems like sheets of tea leaves are either rolled over and over into a giant cylinder shape or they are stuffed into a hollowed out tree. Then the giant solid tree trunk of tea is wrapped in rice paper for storage.

Bok Jeun Cha is some kind of brick tea and Kum Cheom Cha is a chunk tea similar to a cake. The shapes of these three teas seem to suggest that they are border tea used or traded to the minority people of China.

All three of these teas are made seemingly with the same quality of tea- large paper thin leaves with lots of thick tea branches. The teamaster would always drink this tea in the extreme heat of the summer, he said that these teas have a medicinal value for the treatment and prevention of heat stroke. All three definitely have a thirst quenching, light, replenishing feel to them.

Today as the first cherry blossoms of the year bloom abnormally early, one pulls out the last of a sample of Kum Cheom Cha while water boils.
The large paper-thin dry leaf is a straw brown colour with the slightest tint of red notes there is an abundance of large wood twigs protruding from the sample. The smell is earthy soil with light, sweet hay notes. The earthy smell is much different than shu puerh- this sample is much lighter, dryer, and sweeter. Almost just as much straw smells as dirt smells.

This unique sample is carefully separated into the pot, rinsed with hot water, and the first sample is prepared with just off boiling water.

The first infusion is sweet dirt, the mouthfeel is very thin, a characteristic of all three of these Hunan teas. Very subtle plum notes hide amongst the dirt. The aftertaste is just a touch dry on the tongue but in the back of the throat there remains a soft, sweet dirt taste.
The next infusion is prepared. A bit more of the earthy taste drops off and this infusion tastes more like sweet hay than earthy dirt.

The golden brown liquor of the thrid infusion is much the same. The plum notes are noticed between the initial primarily earthy dirt tastes and the straw finish.

Really this simple, sweet, light, plumy tea doesn't move that much from infusion to infusion. Although simple, it feels complete not lacking or deficient in some aspect or another. Its watery, fresh, profile seems about right. Its chaqi is just as subtle and relaxing as the mouthfeel, flavour, and smell of this tea- all three of these types of tea share these qualities.

Gradually this tea turns more woody in taste later into the session but retains its light, fresh, earthy-hay sweetness. After many pots, one feels rejuvenated on this cloudy spring day.

The wet leaves reveal many thick wood branches mixed with large to mid-sized paper thin leaves. The wet leaves (as well as the earthy notes and redish tint of the dry leaves) suggest some element of shu puerh-like production.



Lew Perin said...

Sounds as if Chan Yang Cha is what the Chinese call Qian Liang Cha.

Wojciech Bońkowski said...

This is very informative. Great many thanks for sharing your experience. I much hope to come across this tea one day.

nuwex said...

Hi, I was curious from reading your article and since I know a bit of Korean and am fluent in Chinese. I realized Bok Jeun Cha (복즌차) is as you suggested, a brick tea. In Chinese characters, its茯砖茶 (Fu Zhuan Cha) and it refers to one of 3 types of Chinese ‘black’ tea produced in Hunan with the earliest record dating to 1860, and is distinctive for containing Aspergillus (similar to that of Pu’er). It’s a fully fermented tea if I am not wrong.

nuwex said...

I believe the first tea you referred to as Chan Yang Cha (천양차Romanized as Cheon Yang Tea), is as Lew Perin above said, 千两茶 (Qian Liang Cha), literally meaning “thousand liang tea”. Liang is a unit of measurement for weight, around 31.25g by then standards.
Kum Cheom Cha is most likely one of the classifications of 湘尖茶which in Korean, it would become Sang Cheom Cha (상첨차 ). The description that you gave fits the tea too.

Matt said...


Thanks for identifying the Korean Chan Yang Cha as the Chinese Qian Liang Cha.

One knows a bit of Chinese and the translation is the same for each language. It translates to "1000" "(measurement unit)" "tea".


This tea is very interesting much like puerh. Hope you get a chance to try it somewhere. One tracked down these links on dealers that sell the enormous Qian Liang Cha:

Golden Tea House:

The write-up on this Qian Liang Cha also says Qian Liang Cha has a medicinal use of aiding in digestion and lowering high blood pressure... very interesting!

The web page also claims that this tea has another Chinese name Qian Liang Hei Cha.

Yishan Tea Shop:

Here is also a link on Tea Chat regarding this interesting tea:


Thanks so much for your comments and identifying the Korean Bok Jeun Cha as the Chinese Fu Zhuan Cha.

You readers are wonderfully smart!

Check out this link to Imen's photos from Tea Obsession Blog of Qian Liang Cha and Fu Zhuan Cha:

Can anyone complete the trilogy and give the Chinese name for the tea featured in this post the "Kum Cheom Cha"???


Matt said...


Yes "Chan" is most definately "Cheon"=1000

But one doesn't understand the "sang" instead of the "kum"???


nuwex said...

I think I found it.
Geum Cheom Cha (금첨차) in Korean
Jin Jian Cha (金尖茶) in Chinese, literally meaning Golden Tips. Its also a black tea, but its more well known as Tibetan Black Tea or so I read. Its one of the 尖茶 I mentioned.

Matt said...


Yeah, thats the hangul (Korean Charaters) "Geum" = "Kum"

It is most definitely the Tibetan Black Tea not the tippy one.

Thanks so much for your valuable comments!


Unknown said...

I have an unrelated question and was wondering if anyone can help. I have a small chawan (Japanese tea bowl) collection and a couple of the newer bowls have a chemical taste, perhaps from the glaze? Any ideas on how to eliminate this? It absolutely destroys the taste of the tea and may be unhealthy too.

Petr Novák said...

“Your” cherry blossoms are wonderful. Enjoy it- We have to wait for while here (with all the snow around…)

Kim : If I can say my opinion, you have only few possible solutions. First (You will not probably like it) is not to use it for drinking. From my potters view there can be something wrong in the glaze. Second possible solution is boiling them (try it on the worst one) in some green tea with leaves for a while and than leave it there for couple of days. Than dry it and you will see if it helps. But be careful: if bowls are too fragile the boiling could be dangerous. If you are interested you can sand me a pictures of the bowls and may be I can say something more responsibly.

The best

Matt said...


Thanks for fielding this question. One has never came across one of those 'bad glazes' before.

The cherry blossoms are beautiful.