中国茶经: 六安瓜片 Lù’ān Guāpiàn

Part of a series of original translations made of articles from 中国茶经, or “The Chinese Tea Bible,” edited by 陈宗懋, 1992.

It was fresh when I started this article....

It was fresh when I started this article….

How to translate 瓜片 (guāpiàn)?  This tea is named after a melon seed, but 瓜片 doesn’t quite mean “melon seed.” It’s a contraction from the original, 瓜子片.  瓜子 is “melon seed.”  片 meanwhile, means “a thin piece.”  It’s a frequently used classifier to refer to a “slice” of something: food, a tract of land or expanse of water, a scene in a movie–a CD box set might contain 4 片.  So this has led some tea drinkers to believe 瓜片 refers to a “slice of melon,” which may in fact be a second accurate sense of 瓜片.  But I don’t want to obscure the primary reference to seeds, so I’m splitting the difference and translating 片 as “flake.”  I think “chip” would actually be better: some etymologies of 片 indicate it’s the right half of 木, the character for “tree/wood.”  And melon slices in some Chinese dishes look more like “chipped beef” than the wedges we call to mind.  But “melon chip” sounds like an ice cream flavor.

On the other side of the name, most tea drinkers (and Anhui residents) are well aware that the county of 六安 is pronounced Lù’ān.  Other Mandarin speakers assume that it is pronounced liù, as in the character for “six.”

I’ve compiled a Google map of all the locations mentioned in this article.  Markers are color-coded by county, while dotted markers indicate “in-mountain” Melon Flake locations and plain markers are “out-mountain” locations.  There are some places I wasn’t able to find, and some that seem wrong.  As a Chinese tea vendor recently joked, “Chinese people don’t use maps; they use directions passed down from previous generations.”

The original Chinese is on the left; my translation is on the right.

六安瓜片 Lù’ān Melon Flake

“唐、宋史志, 皆云寿州产茶, 盖以其时盛唐、霍山隶寿州、隶安丰军也。 “The annals of Táng and Sòng [dynasty] history all say that Shòu Prefecture produced tea, at that time covering Shèngtáng and Huòshān [Counties] which were subordinate to Shòu Prefecture, and also to Ānfēngjūn [an archaic division of Ānhuī Province].
今土人云: 寿州向亦产茶, 名云雾者最佳, Current locals say Shòu Prefecture always produced tea, one of the best famous “clouds and mist” teas,
可以消融积滞, 蠲除沉疴….” (清道光《寿州志》) which could melt indigestion and cure chronic disease….” (Qīng [dynasty Emperor] Dàoguāng, “Shòu Prefecture Record”)
盛唐县为今六安县。 Shèngtáng County is today’s Lù’ān County.1
可见六安茶是唐代以来就为人所知的名茶之一。 So Lù’ān tea dates from the Táng dynasty and has since been a well-known famous tea.
六安瓜片的历史渊源, 史料尚无考证。 Lù’ān Melon Flake’s historical origin has still not been confirmed by historical data.
多年来许多茶叶工作者寻根溯源, 略有所获。 In the last several years many tea workers have sought to trace back to its origin, obtaining something of an outline.
较为可信的传说有两。 一是说, 1905 年前后, There are two relatively credible legends. One says that around 1905,
六安茶行一评茶师, 从收购的绿大茶中拣取嫩叶, the tea master of Lù’ān tea firm “First Mark” purchased large green tea that was picked out of young leaves,
剔除梗朴, 作为新产品应市, 获得成功。 removing the bare stalks, formulating a novelty for the market, gaining success.
信息不胫而走, 金寨麻埠的茶行, 闻风而动, 雇用茶工, The news spread like wildfire, and a tea firm in Jīnzhài County’s Mábù “smelled the wind and acted”, hired tea workers,
如法采制, 并起名 “峰翅” (意为蜂翅)。 made tea according to the method, and called it “Summit Wing” (a pun on “bee’s wing”).
此举又启发了当地一家茶行, 在齐头山的后冲, This spawned another inspiration by one local tea firm, at Qítóushān’s Hòuchōng,
把采回的鲜叶剔除梗芽, 并将嫩叶、老叶分开炒制, gathering a batch of fresh leaves and removing the stem points, and giving the young and old leaves separate pan-frying,
结果成茶的色、香、味、形均使“峰翅”相形见绌。 and the resulting tea’s color, fragrance, taste, and appearance all made “Summit Wing” pale in comparison.
于是附近茶农竞相学习, 纷纷仿制。 Thereupon nearby farmers studiously competed to produce fake after fake.
这种片状茶叶形似葵花子, 逐称 “瓜子片”。 This “flake” type of tea leaves resembled sunflower seeds, which led to the name “Melon Seed Flake.”
以后即叫成了 “瓜片”。 Immediately afterwards it became “Melon Flake.”
二是说, 麻埠附近的祝家楼财主, 与袁世凯是亲戚。 The second story says: the Zhù family from the Mábù area were wealthy, and were relatives of Yuán Shìkǎi.
祝家常以土产孝敬。 袁饮茶成癖, The Zhù family often gave local products as gifts. Yuán was addicted to drinking tea,
茶叶自是不可缺少的礼物。 so naturally tea leaves were the quintessential present.
但其时当地所产的大茶、菊花茶 毛尖等, 均不能使袁满意。 However, at that time the locally produced big tea [i.e., brick tea], chrysanthemum tea, máojiān etc. couldn’t make Yuán satisfied.
1905 年前后, 祝家为取悦于袁, 不惜工本, Around 1905, the Zhù family tried to cater to Yuán, not stinting on production costs,
在后冲雇用当地有经验的茶工, hired local, experienced tea workers at Hòuchōng,
专拣春茶的第1~2片嫩叶, 用小帚精心炒制, 炭火烘焙, gathering the first one or two tender leaves of spring tea, using a small broom to carefully pan-fry them, charcoal-fire roasting,
所制新茶形质俱丽, 获得袁的赞赏。 thereby making a new tea with both magnificent quality and appearance, winning Yuán’s admiration.
当地茶行也悬高价收买, 以促茶农仿制。 The local tea firm was also willing to set a high purchase price, thus compelling tea farmers to counterfeit it.
新茶登市后, 蜚声遐迩, After the new tea came on the market, it became famous near and far,
连峰翅亦逊色多矣。 峰翅品质虽优于大茶, making even Summit Wing grossly inferior. While Summit Wing’s quality was superior to big tea,
但其采制技术均与大茶相同。 its harvest and processing technique was merely equal to that of big tea.
而瓜片却脱颖而出, 色、香、味、形别具一格, Whereas Melon Flake distinguished itself, its color, aroma, taste, and appearance giving it a unique style;
故日益博得饮品者的喜嗜, 逐渐发展为全国名茶。 therefore day by day it garnered the happy addiction of drinkers, gradually developing into the nationally famous tea.
时过境迁, 虚实难辨。 Time passes and things change; truth and falsehood become difficult to distinguish.
但上述两种传说有三点则是一致的, 其一: But the aforementioned two types of legend have three points that are consistent, firstly:
六安瓜片问世于1905年前后; Lù’ān Melon Flake came out around 1905;
其二:六安瓜片的产地在金寨县麻埠齐头山附近的后冲, second, Lù’ān Melon Flake’s production area was Jīnzhài County, Mábù, Qítóushān near Hòuchōng,
麻埠已随响洪甸水库的建成而淹没消失。 Mábù having been submerged after the building of the Xiǎnghóng​diàn Reservoir.
但过去这里曾是六安瓜片的主要集散地; But Lù’ān Melon Flake’s major distribution center used to be here;
其三:六安瓜片采制是在大茶的基础上, Third, Lù’ān Melon Flake processing builds on big tea’s foundations,
汲取兰花茶、毛尖制造技术之精华, 逐渐创制成功的。 having drawn out the best parts of orchid tea and máojiān manufacturing techniques, gradually codifying success.
目前在制茶工具及技术方面, 仍有许多与大茶相似之处。 With respect to present tea-making tools and techniques, it still has many similarities to big tea.
瓜片产区目前春茶制瓜片, 夏茶仍制大茶, 形成组合生产。 Currently in Melon Flake’s place of origin, spring tea is made into Melon Flake, while summer tea is made into big tea, its form dictating its production.
六安瓜片产于六安、金寨、霍山三县之毗邻山区和低山丘陵, Lù’ān Melon Flake is produced in the adjoining mountain and low hill areas of the three counties of Lù’ān, Jīnzhài, and Huòshān,
分内山瓜片和外山瓜片两个产区。 divided into the two growing areas of “in-mountain” Melon Flake and “out-mountain” Melon Flake.2
内山瓜片产地有金寨县的响洪甸、鲜花岭、龚店; “In-mountain” Melon Flake production areas include Jīnzhài County’s Xiǎnghóng​diàn, Xiānhuālǐng, and Gōngdiàn;
六安县的黄涧河、双峰、龙门冲、独山; Lù’ān County’s Huángjiànhé, Shuāngfēng, Lóngménchōng, and Dúshān;
霍山县的诸佛庵一带。 and Huòshān County’s Zhūfó’ān region.
外山瓜片产地有六安市的石板冲、石婆店、狮子岗、骆家庵一带。 “Out-mountain” Melon Flake’s production areas include Lù’ān City’s Shíbǎnchōng, Shípódiàn, Shīzigǎng, and Luòjiā’ān region.
产量以六安最多, 品质以金寨最优。 Lù’ān’s yield is the most; Jīnzhài’s quality is the best.
瓜片原产地齐头山一带, 旧时为六安管辖, 现属金寨县。 Melon Flake’s original production area of the Qítóushān region, in the old days administered by Lù’ān County, is now under Jīnzhài County.
齐头山所产“齐山名片”为六安瓜片之极品。 Qítóushān is the place that produces “Qíshān Famous Flake” as Lù’ān Melon Flake’s highest grade.
齐头山是大别山的余脉, 海拔804米, Qítóushān is the extent of the Dàbié Mountains’ range, elevation 804 meters,
位于大别山区的西北边缘, 与江淮丘陵相连, located at the Dàbié region’s northwest edge, connected with Jiānghuái hill,3
几十里外就能看到她巍然兀立, 如天然画屏。 and from almost 10 li [~5 km]4 she can be seen standing majestically as a natural backdrop.
全山为花岗岩构成, 林木葱翠, 怪石峥嵘, 溪流飞瀑, 烟雾笼罩。 The whole mountain is composed of granite, lush green forests, strange, soaring rocks, flowing streams and flying waterfalls, and enveloping fog.
山南坡上有一石洞, 处于人迹罕到的悬崖峭壁之上, The south upper slope has one stone cavern, located above the primeval cliffs and rock faces;
因大量蝙蝠栖居, 故称为蝙蝠洞。 because a large amount of bats live there, it is known as Biānfú (“Bat”) Cave.
传说洞口曾有 “神茶”, Stories say the cave opening once had “spirit tea”:
有年春天, 一群妇女结伴上齐头山采茶, one spring, a group of women ascended Qítóushān picking tea,
其中一人在蝙蝠洞附近发现一株大茶树, one of whom discovered near Biānfú Cave a great tea plant,
枝叶茂密, 新芽肥壮。 with dense leaves and branches, and hearty sprouts.
她动手就采, 神奇的是茶芽边采边发, As she went to pick them, the tea buds magically opened as they were picked,
越采越多, 直到天黑还是新芽满树。 and she picked more and more, until it was dark, and still sprouts filled the plant.
次日她又攀藤而至, 但茶树已然不见, The second day she made her way there again, yet the tea plant was nowhere to be seen,
于是“神茶”的美谈就传开了。 by which time the legend of “spirit tea” was already spread.
50年代曾有茶叶工作者, Once in the ‘50s some tea workers,
为调查六安瓜片茶树品种资源和生态环境, in order to investigate the Lù’ān Melon Flake tea plant’s variety resources and ecosystem,
冒险攀登探洞, 见洞内蝙蝠粪便厚积, 松软如绵。 risked climbing and exploring the cave, finding a thick accumulation of bat feces inside the cave, silky soft.
蝙蝠栖居石缝深处, 白天很难见到, The bats lived in the depths of a rock seam and were very difficult to see during the day,
但静坐洞中却时而能听到蝙蝠飞翔之声,如风似涛。 but sitting quietly in the cave, one could still hear the sound of bats flying, like wind or waves.
洞口有野茶一丛, 有人说为蝙蝠衔籽而生, 无从断定。 The cave opening has a thicket of wild tea, which people say grew because of seeds carried in the bats’ mouths, which no one can say for sure.
六安瓜片产区位于大别山东北麓, 属淮河流域, Lù’ān Melon Flake’s production area is located at the northeastern base of the Dàbié Mountians, within the Huái River watershed,
年平均温度 15°C, 年平均降水量 1200~1300 毫米, yearly average temperature 15°C, yearly average precipitation 1200~1300 mm,
土壤 pH6.5 左右, 多为黄棕壤, 质地疏松, 土层深厚, soil pH around 6.5, mostly as “yellow-brown earth” [or alfisols], loose texture, deep soil layer,
茶园多在山坡冲谷, 生态环境优越。 with many tea gardens on the hillsides facing valleys, a superior ecosystem.
六安瓜片的采制技术, 与其他名茶不同。 Lù’ān Melon Flake’s harvest and processing technique is different from other famous teas’.
春茶于谷雨后开园, 新梢已形成“开面”, Spring tea is ready to pick after Gǔ​yǔ [~April 20], the new tips already having become “open-faced”;
采摘标准以对夹二、三叶和一芽二、三叶为主。 the correct plucking standard is to pinch off two or three leaves and a bud–fundamentally the two or three leaves.
鲜叶采回后及时扳片, Fresh-picked leaves should promptly be spread flat;
将嫩叶(未开面)、老叶(已开面)分离出来炒制瓜片, separate fresh leaves (not yet open-faced) from old leaves (already open-faced) and pan-fry into Melon Flake;
芽、茎梗和粗老叶炒制“针把子”, 作副产品处理。 buds, stems and tough old leaves are pan-fried into “Needle Handle”, processed as a by-product.
六安瓜片炒制分生锅、熟锅、毛火、小火、老火五个工序。 Lù’ān Melon Flake pan-frying is divided into five steps: raw pot, cooked pot,5 gross fire,6 fine fire, and old fire.
生锅与热锅:炒茶锅口径约70厘米, 呈30度倾斜,两锅相邻, 一生一熟。 Raw pot and cooked pot: tea fry-pan diameter approximately 70 cm, angled at 30°, two pots next to each other, one raw, one cooked.
生锅温度100°C左右, 熟锅稍低。 Raw pot temperature is about 100°C, cooked pot somewhat lower.
投叶量约100克,嫩片酌减, 老叶稍增。 Put in leaves totalling about 100 grams, somewhat less tender flakes, and more old leaves.
鲜叶下锅后用竹丝帚或芦花帚翻炒1~2分钟, After putting fresh leaves in the pot, stir-fry for 1-2 minutes with a bamboo-filament broom or a reed-plume broom,
主要起杀青作用, 炒至叶片变软时, with the principal purpose of starting the kill-green, stir-frying until the leaves soften,
将生锅叶扫入熟锅, 整理条形, 边炒边拍, 使叶子逐渐成为片状, then the raw-pot leaves are swept into the cooked pot, arranged in strips, fried while beaten, causing the leaves to gradually become flake-shaped,
用力大小视鲜叶嫩度不同而异, using more or less force depending on the tenderness of the fresh leaves:
嫩叶要提炒轻翻, 帚把放松, 以保色保形。 the young leaves must be tossed gently while frying, holding the broom loosely, to protect the color and shape.
炒老叶则帚把要带紧, 以轻拍成片。 While frying old leaves, however, the broom must be held tightly using light swats to produce flakes.
炒至叶子基本定型, 含水率30%左右时即可出锅, 及时上烘。 Fry until the leaves look basically finished; at the point the water content is about 30% they can leave the pan, being promptly removed from heat.
毛火:用烘笼炭火, 每笼投叶约1.5公斤, Gross fire: using a firing-basket with a charcoal fire, in each basket toss 1.5 kg of leaves,
烘顶温度100°C左右, 烘到八、九成干即可。 roasting at temperatures up to about 100°C: until 80~90% dry will suffice.
拣去黄片、漂叶、红筋、老叶后, 将嫩片、老片混匀。 After picking out any yellow flakes, bleached leaves, red veins, and old leaves, mix even amounts of tender and coarse flakes.
小火:最迟在毛火后一天进行, 每笼投叶2.5~3公斤, Fine fire: no more than a day after gross firing, in each basket toss 2.5~3 kg of leaves,
火温不宜太高, 烘至接近足干即可。 with not too hot a fire, roasting until just short of sufficiently dry.
老火:又叫拉老火, 是最后一次烘焙, Old fire: also called “pull old fire,” is the last round of roasting,
对形成特殊的色、香、味、形影响极大。 having enormous impact in forming the characteristic color, aroma, taste, and appearance.
老火要求火温高, 火势猛。 Old fire requires high fire temperature, with fierce intensity.
木炭要先排齐挤紧, 烧旺烧匀, 火焰冲天。 The charcoal must first be arranged even and compact to burn bright and even, a soaring blaze.
每笼投叶3~4公斤, 由二人抬烘笼在炭火上烘焙2~3秒钟, In each basket put 3~4 kg of leaves, with two men lifting the firing-basket over the charcoal fire and roasting for 2~3 seconds,
即抬下翻茶, 依此抬上抬下, 边烘边翻。 removing to mix the tea, and thus lifting and removing, roasting and mixing.
为充分利用炭火, 可2~3只烘笼轮流上烘。 To make full use of the charcoal fire, 2 or 3 firing-baskets can take turns on top of the heat.
热浪滚滚, 人流不息,实为我国茶叶烘焙技术中别具一格的“火功”。 The heatwave rolls on, a ceaseless stream of people embodying our country’s tea roasting technique and achieving a distinct style of “firework.”
每烘笼茶叶要烘翻五、六十次以上, 烘笼拉来拉去, 一个烘焙工一天要走十多公里。 Each firing-basket of tea must be roasted and mixed fifty, sixty times or more, pulling the firing-basket back and forth: one tea-firer must walk many tens of kilometers in a day.
直烘至叶片绿中带霜时即可下烘, Roast until green leaves have “frost” in the middle and then remove from heat,
趁热装入铁筒, 分层踩紧, load into a metal cylinder while still hot, treading the layers tightly,
加盖后用焊锡封口贮藏。 and after putting on a lid use solder to seal for storage.
六安瓜片的外形, 似瓜子形的单片, Lù’ān Melon Flake’s appearance resembles that of a melon seed,
自然平展, 叶缘微翘, 色泽宝绿, naturally spread flat, the leaf edge raised slightly, the color a lustrous green,
大小匀整, 不含芽尖、茶梗; uniformly sized, neither containing pointed buds nor stems;
清香高爽, 滋味鲜醇回甘, a highly refreshing sweet fragrance, a fresh flavor with a rich aftertaste,
汤色清澈透亮, 叶底绿嫩明亮。 a brilliantly clear liquor color, with tender and brilliant green infused leaves.
过去根据采制季节, 分成三个品种: In the past, it was divided into three varieties according to the harvest time:
谷雨前提采的称“提片”, 品质最优; Tea picked before the rise of Gǔyǔ is called “Rise Flake”, optimum quality;
其后采制的大宗产品称“瓜片”; the bulk of the product processed after that is called “Melon Flake”;
进入梅雨季节, 鲜叶粗老, 品质较差, 称“梅片”。 entering the plum rain [monsoon] season, the few coarse and old leaves of mediocre quality are called “Plum Flake.”
现在“齐山名片”分1~3等, Now “Qíshān Famous Flake” is divided into grades 1 through 3,
内山瓜片和外山瓜片各分4级8等。 while in-mountain Melon Flake and out-mountain Melon Flake are each divided into 4 ranks of 8 grades.
六安瓜片在我国名茶中独树一帜, Lù’ān Melon Flake has achieved a singular position among our country’s famous teas,
其采摘、扳片、炒制、烘焙技术皆有独到之处, 品质也别具一格。 with its distinctive plucking, shaping, pan-frying, and roasting techniques, as well as its unique style.
其产制历史虽不足百年, The history of its manufacture doesn’t amount to one hundred years,
但就目前生产规模和技术精熟程度而言, and yet the present scale of production and refinement of technique are that of a mature tea,
则为许多名茶所无法相比。 whereas many other famous teas don’t actually measure up.
为了充分利用扳片后的鲜叶资源, In order to fully utilize all the fresh leaf resources that have undergone shaping,
金寨县的茶叶工作者新近又将制“针把子”的芽尖, Jīnzhài County’s tea workers will once again make “Needle Handle” bud tips,
创制成一种眉形、颖秀、显毫、翠绿、鲜润的新名茶– manufacturing a eyebrow-shaped, refined, tippy, emerald green, succulent, new famous tea–
“齐山翠眉”, 在1989年农业部西安名优茶评比会上, 被评为名优茶。 “Qíshān Jade Eyebrow,” an official selection7 at the 1989 Xī’ān Bureau of Agriculture Outstanding Tea Competition.
詹罗九 Zhān Luójiǔ  

Notes

1.  Lù’ān County [sic] (六安县): all of the towns ascribed here to Lù’ān County are currently administered by Yù’ān District (裕安区).  Yù’ān District and Jīn’ān District (金安区) cover “Lù’ān City proper” and its outlying areas.  I don’t know if it’s currently acceptable usage to refer to these two districts as Lù’ān County.  These two districts, Jīnzhài, Huòshān, and three other counties, make up Lù’ān Shì (六安市), or “prefecture-level city.”  You can see that it’s common in China for a municipal region to be “identified” with its principal town.

2.  内山 (nèi shān) and 外山 (wài shān): these terms often take on the significance of teas grown inside or outside the “canonical growing area,” which may be characterized by a single mountain or group of mountains.  I have opted for a literal translation of “in-mountain” and “out-mountain” to allow that this may simply mean teas grown in or outside of mountainous areas, which carry some cachet in themselves.

3.  I can’t definitively locate Qítóushān (齐头山) but I’m pretty sure it is at the southeast edge of the Dàbié Mountains.  Have I translated this incorrectly?

4.  10 lǐ (里) is about 5 km, although this is likely an abbreviation for gōnglǐ (公里), which would make that 10 km.

5.  shúguō (熟锅): I think “cooked” pot may refer to a “seasoned” pot, as in coated with oil, but I don’t have enough information here.  It would certainly make more sense.

6.  máohuǒ (毛火): “Gross fire” captures the distinction of getting most of the moisture out of the leaves, as “fine fire” is the finishing touch.  But the máohuǒ process also gets its name from its end product, máochá, the “crude tea” which is in a semi-finished state.

7.  Which only means they paid they official entry fee, according to my tutor, who has done plenty of translation work for such affairs.

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