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Xinhui Puerh (Ganpu Cha): Mandarin Tea

by Katrina Wild


Art by Marta Motta and Alessandra Di Fini.

Xinhui Mandarins have a lineage that spans centuries, their significance deeply embedded in the fabric of Guangdong's history, particularly in Ming Dynasty times because of its remarkable medicinal properties and citrusy perfume. The skins of these mandarins, renowned for their use in traditional Chinese medicine (to cure scratchy throat, stomach problems, or to aid digestion and to reduce internal body heat) and Cantonese cooking, are a prized commodity. The connection between these citrus treasures and puerh tea from Yunnan emerged as a wonderful fusion, the aged citrus rind of Xinhui Mandarins, known as Chenpi (陈皮), becoming a coveted counterpart to the beloved puerh tea.

ABOUT

- English name: Mandarin Post-Fermented Tea; Xinhui Mandarin Puerh
- Chinese name: Xinhui Puerh; Xiao Qing Gan (小青柑); Ganpu Cha (柑普茶)
- Origin: Xinhui District, Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, China
- Type of tea: Dark (post-fermented)
- Other countries that also produce Ganpu style tea: Vietnam, Taiwan (Pomelo Puerh, You Zi Cha) South Korea (black tea suffed in a yuzu fruit)
- Aroma profile: oak, moss, mandarin, pine, perfume
- Flavour profile: velvety and smooth texture, earthy, nutty, sweet and citrusy acidity

Also known as Ganpu Cha (柑普茶) and Xiao Qing Gan (小青柑), which in Chinese stands for:
小 (xiǎo): small - 青 (qīng): green/young - 柑 (gān): mandarin orange. Xinhui District is the place of origin of Xiao Qing Gan, located in the city of Jiangmen in Guangdong province, and only Xinhui mandarines can be called “Xiao Qing Gan”, which are stuffed with puerh from Yunnan province. Chakeng (茶坑), Tianma (天马), Meijiang (梅江), Dongjia (东甲) and Xijia (西甲) are the main Xinhui tea areas producing the highest quality Xiao Qing Gan.

Mandarin puerh at the Tea Research Institute in Phu Tho, Vietnam (Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute). Photo: Katrina Wild. (December 2022)

CHENPI: AGED MANDARIN RIND

Xinhui's Chenpi, the aged rind of Xinhui Mandarins, known for its high cost, has seen a surge in demand, paralleling the rise in puerh appreciation. Its rarity and labor-intensive production have inflated prices, leading to counterfeits like jupu made from tangerines and other similar fruits, as well as Xinhui fakes with dubious ages or with tangerine rinds from other areas. A thirty-year-old Chenpi can cost more by weight than a thirty-year-old puerh tea, and perhaps as difficult to find.

Worth mentioning that the enigmatic 'white frost,' known as (nǎo)”, on the dried mandarin peel is not mildew but rather the crystallization of citrus oil, primarily limonene. Revered for its nutritional value and health benefits, this 'frost' is considered the essence of quality dried citrus rinds, signifying the richness and care in processing.

PROCESSING

The meticulous process of artisanship ensures a unique balance between the earthy notes of ripe puerh and the citrusy essence of the mandarin peel. Here's a detailed breakdown of how Ganpu tea is made:

- Mandarin picking: In March, the mandarin trees bloom, and by April, the fruit begins to grow, reaching optimal picking standards around July or August. Workers meticulously select mandarin oranges meeting the quality criteria for tea production, ensuring they are processed within two days to maintain freshness and flavor.
- Cleaning: After harvesting, the mandarins undergo a thorough cleaning process to remove any impurities or residues.
- Classification: Using a sieving machine, the mandarins are sorted and classified based on their size to standardize the production process.
- Cutting holes: Special tools are employed to carefully create small round openings at the top of each mandarin, preparing them for the subsequent steps.
- Extracting the orange pulp: The inner pulp of the mandarin is skillfully removed, leaving the peel intact and ready for the tea stuffing.
- Refining the peels: Post-extraction, the peels are cleaned and refined, ensuring they are devoid of any remaining pulp or impurities.
- Filling in tea leaves: Tea leaves are delicately inserted into the prepared mandarin peels, ensuring an optimal balance between tea and citrus flavours.
- Drying and airing: Finally, the stuffed mandarins undergo a meticulous drying process. Various techniques, from natural sun-air-drying (considered to be the best quality) to low or high-temperature roasting in an oven to a heated room called hongfang, are employed to achieve different flavour profiles, carefully balancing the earthy tones of ripe puerh with the citrus essence of the mandarin peel. Incorrect processing can impart an unpleasant taste or sharp feeling in the mouth, rather than smoothness.
- Oxidation: The stuffed tangerines are left to undergo oxidation, enabling a fusion and maturation of the tea leaves and mandarin peel flavors, resulting in Xiao Qing Gan's distinctive and harmoniously balanced blend.
- Packing and storing: The dried tea stuffed mandarins are wrapped in either paper or plastic, or both, as well as in  golden foil or cloth.


SCIENCE BEHIND THE PEEL

In 2021, there was a scientific study that investigated the chemical changes in puerh tea after being cofermented with citrus peel (Citrus reticulata “Chachi”). The analysis identified 171 compounds, including findings like 7 phenolic acids, 11 flavan-3-ols, 27 flavonoids and flavonoid glycosides that were identified in puerh tea for the first time. Comparing raw puerh with Ganpu tea revealed significant disparities: a decrease in phenolic acids and flavan-3-ols, while quercetin glycosides, myricetin glycosides, vitexin, and hesperidin substantially increased in Ganpu tea. In addition, hesperidin, a flavonoid glycoside, which was believed to only exist in citrus, was first found in puerh tea also after the cofermentation. This research sheds light on how citrus cofermentation accelerates puerh fermentation and enriches its distinctive flavor.

TEA SOMMELIER PREPARATION TIPS

The art of steeping Xiao Qing Gan spans various methods, each one unlocking distinct taste dimensions, allowing customization to suit individual preferences. However, the consistent recommendation is to use boiling water to extract the essence from aged mandarin peel and ripe pu-erh.

Brewing
- Grandpa style: For a simple yet flavoursome infusion, immerse the entire ganpu in a pot with very hot water, allowing it to steep. 
- Puncture holes in the Ganpu: To enhance infusion, puncture holes in the mandarin skin, enabling better water penetration into the peel and tea. This method retains the grandpa style but can also involve removing the ganpu after a specific steeping time.
- Neck Glass Teapot: This popular Xiao Qing Gan brewing style, favored for its simplicity and visual appeal, has gained widespread popularity in China these days. While it may not yield the deepest tea liquor like decoction due to the water flowing through the Xiao Qing Gan into the glass teapot, it offers a customizable balance. Placing the Ganpu (with one or several pierced holes) on the teapot's neck (or a long glass) and adjusting the water flow determines the richness: targeting the upper hole produces a deeper puerh tea liquor, while targeting the citrus rind enhances the citrusy flavour. 
- Gong Fu style: Another approach involves breaking off pieces of the peel and steeping them alongside the puerh tea. While this method works well, using a gaiwan or teapot in the gong fu style is preferred for a more controlled and nuanced infusion.
- Decoction: To decoct, rinse the Xiao Qing Gan initially to awaken the tea leaves (醒茶: xǐngchá). Boil water on a stove and add it to a heat-resistant teapot with the tea at any point before or after boiling. Refill the pot with water repeatedly until the tea is fully extracted.

Pairing
- Xiao Qing Gan harmonizes excellently with dishes like orange duck or Peking duck, Vichy carrots, cantal entre deux cheese, and desserts like citrus zest cake or chocolate marble, and even applesauce.

 Culinary use
- Beyond tea preparation, this blend finds its place in culinary practices. It can be incorporated into sauces by deglazing, imparting a unique blend of tea and mandarin flavours to meats, particularly complementing dishes like duck.


STORAGE

Proper storage is crucial to preserve the essence of this tea. Sealing tea in air-tight containers, away from moisture, sunlight, and odors, ensures its longevity and flavour integrity. Sun-air-drying and occasional exposure to sunlight aid in the aging process, enriching the tea's profile over time.

REFERENCES

1. Angel Chen, Teavivre. How to brew mandarin orange pu-erh tea with a Gaiwan (2018). YouTube. Available HERE.
2. Enrique Jose Padial Calvo. Xinhui Ripe Pu’er Stuffed Mandarins or Xiao Qing Gan: The Ultimate Guide. Amoyteas. Available HERE.
3. How do They Stuff Tea into Fruit? Puer Tea Xinhui Mandarin Oranges. white2tea. Available HERE.
4. How to Make Xinhui Orange Ripened Pu-erh Tea. Teavivre. Available HERE.
5. Lydia Gautier. (2018). Portraits de thés.
6. Path of Cha. Easy Way to Brew Mandarin Stuffed Pu-erh (Chen Pi Pu-erh) (2022). Teavivre. YouTube. Available HERE.
7. Gautier, Lydia & Danies, Joelle. (2018). Portraits de thés:  Voyage dans 40 pays producteurs.
8. Storage Tips on Xinhui Mandarin Pu-erh Tea. Teavivre. Available HERE.
9. Xu Y, Liang P-L, Chen X-L, Gong M-J, Zhang L, Qiu X-H, Zhang J, Huang Z-H, and Xu W (2021) The Impact of Citrus-Tea Cofermentation Process on Chemical Composition and Contents of Pu-Erh Tea: An Integrated Metabolomics Study. Front. Nutr. 8:737539. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.737539. Available HERE.

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