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Origin of Golden Flower Fu Tea

Golden Flower Fu Tea: The resplendent pearl on the Ancient Silk Road

Tea enthusiasts are familiar with the six main types of tea: black, green, white, oolong, yellow, and dark. However, few know about Fu Tea, which belongs to the dark tea category.

Fu Tea was once a shining gem along the ancient Silk Road. However, its light dimmed with time.

Silk Road-orientaleaf

In recent years, over 40 research institutions in China have been dedicated to studying Fu Tea, and over 800 scientific research papers have been published [The Story of Fu Tea: Chapter One, P2, ISBN: 978-7-5192-7934-9]. As the functional components and health benefits of Fu Tea continue to attract attention from the scientific community, it has regained popularity among people.

As Fu Tea reemerges on the historical stage, more and more people share its cultural significance. We aim to provide a popular and understandable interpretation of the certainty and contingency of its historical development.

What is Fu Tea?

Fu Tea, also known as Fu Brick Tea, Golden Flower Fu Tea, or Fuzhuan Tea, is a type of tea.

Fu Tea is a fermented tea, specifically a post-fermented tea, mainly made from dark tea leaves and classified as dark tea.

It is commonly pressed into brick shapes under normal pressure, hence the name "Fu Brick Tea." 

Fu Brick Tea-orientaleaf

It is called "Fu Tea" because it is mainly produced during the hottest days of summer ("sān tiān" in Chinese Pinyin).

Fu Tea originates mainly from "Hunan" and "Hubei" provinces (though nowadays, it is also made from tea leaves purchased from various tea-producing regions nationwide). Due to the yellow granules resembling "golden flowers" in the tea brick, it is also known as "Golden Flower Fu Tea." 

Fu Brick Tea-orientaleaf

Fu Tea was once favored by minority ethnic groups in border areas, primarily consuming meat; hence, it was also called "Border Sales Tea."

Fu Tea is a type of microbial fermented tea. Its yellow granules comprise a precious microbial fungus known as "golden flower fungus," scientifically named "Eurotium cristatum."

Fu Brick Tea-orientaleaf

Due to its significant functions of "grease digestion" and "gastrointestinal regulation," Fu Tea is particularly popular among people in the western nomadic regions. In Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and other border areas, it is revered as the "tea of life" and was once an indispensable beverage in residents' daily lives. A local saying goes, "Better to go without meat for three days than without tea for one."

Mongolian milk tea.

Where did Fu Tea originate?

"Tea has never been grown in the north of the Qinling Mountains. Except in Jingyang."

This means there has been no history of tea cultivation north of the Qinling Mountains since ancient times. Still, Jingyang County, on the north side of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, has produced a mysterious tea—Fu Tea.

Tea has never been grown in the north of the Qinling Mountains. Except in Jingyang.

Fu Tea, silk, and porcelain were known as the three treasures of the ancient Silk Road, highly favored by the Western countries and regions of the Middle Ages, the Middle East, and Europe.

In ancient times, tea was transported by boat to Chang'an (now Xi'an, Shaanxi Province) through the Wei River water transportation system, unloaded and stored on the north bank of the Jing River (now within the jurisdiction of Jingyang County, Shaanxi Province). The distribution and transportation of tea in Jingyang began in the Qin (221 BC to 207 BC) and Han (202 BC to 220 AD) dynasties flourished in the Tang (618 AD to 907 AD) and Song (960 AD to 1279 AD) dynasties, and peaked in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1636-1912) dynasties.

For the convenience of transportation, loose tea leaves were pressed into brick tea, and mules and camels were then transported to ethnic minority areas in western China (Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet) and other Western countries (Central Asia, the Middle East, and West Asia).

According to historical records, some brick tea processed in Jingyang showed yellow "bloom changes" due to moisture. Still, these changes not only did not affect the quality of the tea but also improved its taste. Later generations vividly referred to these yellow specks as "golden flowers."

Subsequently, tea merchants in Jingyang simulated the "bloom changes" process of tea leaves. They developed a mature technique, creating a unique Jingyang tea product called "Golden Flower Fu Tea." Due to its unique production technique, it is also called "Jingyang Fu Brick Tea."

The clips of the Chinese TV drama Nothing Gold Can Stay present the historical story of the discovery of the "golden flower" Fu Brick Tea.

In what era did Fu Tea originate?

Chang'an (Now Xi'an) has been the capital of 13 dynasties in China, a gathering place for merchants, and a land of plenty.

Since the Han Dynasty, it has been the starting point of the Silk Road, where goods were transferred through the Wei River water transportation system and distributed along the Jing River before being transported to the Western Regions by mules and camels. According to records, the appearance of "golden flowers" in some tea processed and transported in Jingyang coincidentally occurred in 1068, during the Xining period of the Northern Song Dynasty, nearly a thousand years ago.

Tea Ticket of Shaanxi Official

However, the formal name "Fu Brick Tea" was established in 1368, at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, and has a history of over 600 years. It was named "Fu Tea" because during the early Ming Dynasty, the court established a "Tea and Horse Bureau" in Shaanxi, and official documents needed a unified language. Thus, tea made during the hottest days of summer was named "Fu Tea," tea brewed in large iron pots was named "Hu Tea," and tea sourced from Hunan and Hubei was called "Hu Tea." Several homophones and near-homophones were unified as "Fu Tea."

The reason for using the character "茯" (fu) to unify them all was mainly because this tea has medicinal effects and tastes like the medicinal herb "茯苓" (Fuling), so "Fu Tea" was chosen as the official name, which was more elegant. 1068 can be called the first year of "Jingyang Brick Tea," while 1368 can be called the first year of "Jingyang Fu Brick Tea."

Why was Fu Tea moved to Hunan?

Move Out

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), there were over 10,000 workers in Jingyang County, Shaanxi Province, engaged in the production of Fu Tea. Until 1958, the Fu Tea industry in Jingyang was relatively prosperous. However, transportation costs were high since the raw materials for processing Fu Brick Tea in Shaanxi mainly came from places like Anhua in Hunan. The government decided to close the state-owned Xianyang People's Fu Tea Factory gradually and progressively shift the focus of the Fu Tea processing industry to Anhua, Hunan.

Since then, the Fu Tea processing industry in Jingyang, Shaanxi, has temporarily withdrawn from the historical stage.

Since 1978, more than 40 universities and research institutions in China have conducted extensive research on Fu Tea tea and the fungus of golden flower (Eurotium cristatum) and found that Fu Tea tea has undeniable health care value, namely, lowering blood lipids, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, regulating the intestines and stomach, and inhibiting the growth of tumor cells.

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Around 2008, the scale of the Fu Tea tea industry in Hunan had grown and greatly benefited the local economic development in Hunan. The Shaanxi provincial government, the Jingyang county government, and entrepreneurs recognized that encouraging the development of health-related industries would have excellent market potential when China entered an aging society. Therefore, the government and enterprises worked together to restore the Jingyang Fu Tea tea industry, which had been interrupted for many years.

The Shaanxi provincial and local governments have introduced policies and invested a lot of funds to support reviving the Shaanxi Fu Tea tea industry. Nowadays, a new Fu Tea tea industry structure with Jingyang as the core area has been formed. From 1958 to 2008, the Fu Tea tea industry in Jingyang was interrupted for 50 years.

A little elf in heaven and earth was cultivated into the soul of Fu Tea tea in the world

A mysterious microorganism exists in the Fu Tea tea in Jingyang, the "soul of Fu Tea tea" - "the fungus of the golden flower." The fungus of the golden flower is originally an ordinary microorganism on the earth and is widespread in the subtropical regions of the planet. However, it has received people's attention in Jingyang because it grows in the Fu Tea tea and creates the unique taste and health care function value of the Fu Tea tea, and has only received significant attention from the scientific community in recent years.

The fungus of the golden flower mainly attaches to the branches and leaves of dead plants to grow. When tea is processed into brick tea, the moisture content in the brick tea, the air humidity, and the temperature in the workshop and other environments meet the growth conditions of the fungus of the golden flower. Hence, the golden flower "settles down" in the tea, thus producing the Fu Tea tea, and the fungus of the golden flower becomes the "soul of Fu Tea tea."

Fu Brick Tea-orientaleaf

Due to the unique climate environment in the Jingyang area, the "soul of Fu Tea tea" floats with the wind and flows with the water, spreading and multiplying everywhere. The fungus of the golden flower has spread and multiplied in the Fu Tea tea for thousands of years. It has gradually been domesticated by the invisible hand of nature, evolving into a mysterious strain with regional characteristics.

Our Golden Flower Fu Tea Collection


Author: Cary Woo

Cary Woo has been working in the tea industry for over 10 years and has run a tea house for over 6 years, serving thousands of tea enthusiasts each year. He has a deep passion for various types of Chinese tea and is also the operator of Orientaleaf. He advocates for Orientaleaf's business philosophy: "We only sell tea that we have personally enjoyed and believe to be of high quality." He hopes to make the beauty of Chinese tea accessible to tea enthusiasts worldwide through simple means.

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