Like Dong-Ding (and unlike high-mountain tea) Baozhong has a long, history in Taiwan. Baozhong (or Pouchong) literally means “wrapped kind” and refers to the way the tea was traditionally packaged in paper. Grown at a measly 400-800 meters elevation in Northern Taiwan, Baozhong is a low-elevation tea (typically from Wenshan or Pinglin). It is also not rolled, an important distinction from the majority of Taiwanese oolongs. Even though it is marketed and consumed to the western market as a Taiwanese tea, Baozhong is originally a mainland tea and is still produced in Fujian, China. The history of Baozhong is very similar to Tieguanyin and Fo Shou; All three are originally from China and were brought over to Taiwan in the late 19th century. Each of these teas has evolved and changed separately in Taiwan and are now very different from their Chinese cousins.
A Brief History & Historical/Current Growing Regions
Baozhong was originally grown in Nangang (a Southeastern district in Taipei) primarily for export to the Chinese market (Fuzhou) in the late 19th century. The original Taiwanese Baozhong was scented for added fragrance, similar to Jasmine tea. This lasted until the Japanese occupation when Wei Jing-shi (under Japanese appointment) developed processing methods for a naturally floral and un-scented Baozhong. Baozhong tea became extremely popular amongst the Japanese and farming quickly expanded to neighboring areas (Wenshan and Pinglin). To this day Taiwanese Baozhong is nearly exclusively grown in Northern Taiwan in the greater Taipei area.
Nangang Baozhong? Never heard of it? Nangang Baozhong is one of those old flannel sweaters that used to be popular, grew out of fashion, and has recently experienced a mild resurgence in popularity. Nangang is Baozhong’s original Taiwanese capitol and the centerpiece for Baozhong growth during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). Tea grown during the occupation was primarily exported and had to be stamped as “Nangang Baozhong” to be approved for exportation. After the Japanese occupation, Nangang’s farmers moved to other industries as tea-growing grew out of fashion. Because of Baozhong’s history as an export crop to Japan, Nangang is a popular location for Japanese tourists. Nangang Baozhong has also had a bit of a resurgence as the Taiwanese tea industry and appreciation has grown and prospered.
Wenshan and Pinglin are the two names most commonly associated with Baozhong today. As Baozhong’s popularity and production declined in Nangang, Pinglin became the centerpiece of Baozhong production (his remains true to this day). Pinglin is also a primarily agricultural/rural district and is located just outside of Taipei in New Taipei City. Pinglin is also home to the world’s largest tea museum, the Pinglin Tea Museum.
Wenshan is the southernmost district in Taipei, neighboring Nangang and very close to Pinglin. It also includes Muzha, an old Taiwanese district famous for producing Taiwanese Tieguanyin. Before its current formation in 1990, Wenshan referred to a much larger area that included Pinglin (this is the source of some confusion). While Pinglin never stopped producing Baozhong, production of Baozhong tea spread into other areas within Wenshan. Before being overtaken by Dong Ding & co. in the late 70s and 80s, Wenshan Baozhong was extremely sought after, sitting at the throne of Taiwanese tea.
Processing, Oxidation Levels, Cultivars & Competition Baozhong
Today, Baozhong is one of the least oxidized oolongs, featuring oxidation levels between 5-20% (often lower than minimally processed Taiwanese gaoshan). This was not always the case. Baozhong has evolved considerably over the years and has most recently followed the trend of greener oolongs. The modern Baozhong has taken over the competition so strongly, that it’s extremely rare to find traditional Baozhong with a stronger oxidation and roast.
The oxidation and roasting are used to help ensure freshness when exported. Decreased travel times, better storage technology, and more domestic consumption have helped to mitigate these problems and allow a greener Baozhong (to the lament of some).
A number of different cultivars are regularly used for Baozhong. Most often the oolong cultivar is used (Chin-hsin, Chin-hsin Da Mou, etc.). This is the most traditional Taiwanese Baozhong cultivar and it is still commonplace amongst premium and competition Baozhong. For more commercial usage, the three growth cultivars are used (Si-ji, Jin Xuan #12, Cui Yu, #13). These cultivars grow faster and get a higher yield but don’t have the complexity of other oolong cultivars. If you purchase any of these cultivars, make sure you are paying a reasonable price for it. Another buzzword to watch out for is high-mountain Baozhong as nearly all Baozhong is grown in Northern Taiwan, well below the 1,000 meter mark!
There are competitions held for Baozhong tea. The most notable of these are the Spring and Winter competitions for Baozhong. These competitions have already been outlined in detail by a few other sources (Tea Geek, Floating Leaves). Competition tea is used as a way to sell premium tea for top dollar. Award-winning tea will usually be purchased for ridiculous prices. These teas are judged by a number of different components (aroma, leaf quality, etc.) and are brewed using competition style (3g/6minutes/boiling water).
Aged Baozhong is one of the most common Taiwanese teas to be found aged (primarily because of its longer history). Even though modern-day Baozhong ages exceedingly poorly, older/traditional Baozhong was more oxidized/roasted and can make for an extremely pleasant aged oolong. Aged oolongs (& Baozhongs) were often the leftover roasted stock of the previous season. These teas will either have one high-fired roast or be be re-roasted every few years to keep out excess humidity. Taiwan is more humid than most of North America/Europe and Stephane Erler of Teamasters has speculated that the drier climates of the west might even be more ideal for aging oolong. Teas that are roasted throughout the years will often be too roasted, eliminating the tea’s original character to create a roasty and drinkable but uninteresting tea (roasting itself is a craft!).