1568: Tongmu Guan, Wu Yi Mountains - China
Soldiers march an unusual route through the Wuyi mountains with hopes of surprising their enemies on the other side in Jiang Xi. The mountain pass chosen is full of tea farmers, who gain word of the soldiers with enough time to flee. Heavy hearted, they leave behind their freshly picked tea leaves for safety.
Several days later the battalion has passed and the farmers return to their land. Their harvest is spoiling, in an attempt to save the tea, and remove the stench of passing soldiers, they smoke the tea over a pine fire. This is the birth of the first Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, the first ever red tea.
This was the first tea that the Chinese government authorized for international trade, yielding the Zheng Shan name, which translates to “Proper Mountain.” Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is frequently called Lapsang Souchong in the US and is very often heavily smoked, tasting like a campfire. In China it’s much more commonly sipped un-smoked.
The steep mountains of Wuyishan forced early settlers into bamboo and tea production. It is in this Wu Yi mountain range that both Red and Wulong teas were developed, making it famous for these styles of tea. This fame makes the teas from this region more sought after and thus more costly.
This style of tea is often called “Black Tea” in the West after Dutch Traders called it by the color of its leaf rather than the color of its finished brew, which is the way tea is named in the East. Red tea is one of the earliest types of tea, developed after Green Tea, and is characterized by its fully oxidized leaves.