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Qi Zhong Tea Cake

From the late part of Tang dynasty to the Song and Yuan dynasties, Wuyi Shan teas were called Bei Yuan Cha. One of the most popular teas at that time was a delicately compressed green tea cake called “Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea”.

The tea cake got its name because a dragon image was pressed on one side of the cake and a phoenix image was pressed on the other side of the cake.

Processing of the “Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea” was carefully regulated—a standard for plucking tea leaves required the leaves to be as fine as the claws of eagle. Broken leaves and unwanted parts were removed. After cleaning, the leaves were steamed, pressed and ground into a paste and put into the round mold for baking or drying at low temperatures.

The Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea required a tea artisan’s painstaking skill to create. The authors, scholars and poets of the time praised the Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea in their writings, prose and poems for its delicate appearance and meticulous features. As such, this tea cake was frequently used to pay tribute to the Emperors and their imperial court.

It was also during this period that many scholars visited Wuyi Shan and tea tasting and tea competitions gained popularity. The great writer, artist, calligrapher, poet and statesman, Su Dong Po (1037 A.D. – 1101 A.D.) wrote "The Story of Yejia" during the Song Dynasty in which he personified Bei Yuan Cha as Yejia and highly praised its history, function, quality and production. In "Cha Lu" (Record on Teas), Cai Xiang (1012 A.D.-1067 A.D.) of the Song dynasty highly recommended one of the Bei Yuan Cha “Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea.”

During this period most of the “Dragon and Phoenix Cake Tea” of Wuyi Shan continued to be used to pay tribute to Emperors and their Imperial Court and the small amount remaining was given to Wuyi Shan visitors by the monks that lived in the mountains.

In the 6th year of the Yuan Dynasty (A.D.1302), an Imperial Tea Garden was built at Wuyi Shan along the side of the JiuQu stream for the purpose of producing Dragon and Phoenix Cake tribute tea.  At the end of Yuan Dynasty loose steaming green tea started appearing by washing the leaves, putting them into a steam box and then drying them into a sword shape.  

Wuyi Teas in loose shape became popular during the Ming Dynasty as a result of the first Ming Dynasty Emperor Zhu Yuan Zhang’s edict during the 24th year of the Hongwu period that only loose buds teas, as opposed to the labor intensive compressed delicate tea cakes, would be received as tribute tea.