This very special tea is the highest grade a dealer in Zhengzhou, Fujian, carries. This is a traditional tea among the Hakka people of Southern Fujian and across the Straits in Taiwan, as well, and it is used medicially to prevent and treat coughs and fevers, among other things. I make no medicinal claims for this tea, but you can do your own research into the ingredients.
The large oranges used for this tea are used as decorations at Chinese New Year, but are not consumed because of their extreme bitterness. The Hakka, who have a reputation for not wasting anything, decided to experiment with these oranges, and stuffed them with tea and medicinal herbs like licorice and perilla, to use medicinally. In Taiwan, I've noticed citrus features in Hakka cuisine in interesting ways, and citrus sauces are even used for dipping chicken in!
Carefully selected sour oranges are put aside, and then the fruit inside the peel is removed. Orange and mandarin peel have long been used in Chinese Medicine to prevent coughs and other ailments, but the Hakka sought to improve on the basics by adding a variety of medicinal plants into the orange along with local tea. In this case, a rolled oolong was used, since these oranges are produced near Anxi, the home of tieguanyin. Some of the soft flesh is then put back into the orange with the herbs and tea after everything is mixed together.
The orange is then wrapped and steamed, pressed and roasted, before drying. This process is repeated over several months! Making these oranges is extremely painstaking, but the Hakka don't shy away from hard work when it comes to their cuisine, so their teas also involve a great deal of labor! This process makes the orange and its contents rock hard, and a hammer is suggested for breaking this tea up. My pu erh pick barely made a dent in the orange!
When brewing this tea, use water at full boil and use a large pot or mug. This tea is even given to children in Hakka communities when they are under the weather, but as benign as the ingredients are, I suggest starting with small amounts just in case. Rock sugar is often added to sweeten the bitter/sour brew, as well as dried longan, chrysanthemum buds or kumquats.
These Fujianese oranges appear to hark back to before Hakka immigration to Taiwan, as techniques have evolved there in more recent times and some of the Taiwanese oranges are much flatter than these Zhengzhou ones.
After chipping off enough for a session, I tested this tea in a gaiwan, but I'll go with a large pot next time, and I'll add some crystallized rock sugar as well! I thought the tieguanyin was roasted, but apparently it gets a roasted flavor since it is roasted inside the orange with all of the other ingredients during processing! A lot of dust is generated when breaking up these oranges, so I suggest using a strainer if you're dust averse.
This top grade orange tea is very smooth and easy to drink. It was almost incense-like in the cup, and the bitterness was light and pleasant. I got six infusions from the tea, and the last had pronounced bitterness and an aged oolong cinnamon taste to it. There was detectable licorice in every infusion, but in the background. The ingredients in this tea are definitely carefully balanced.
This is a rare tea that is well worth trying and keeping around for the sniffles, and it is a steal for the price considering all of the effort involved to make it. This tea is commonly aged, too, but you want to age it like an oolong and keep it dry! I'd brew some of the peel with the tea inside for the full experience.
Please note that there may be some variation in weight with these oranges as they are stuffed by hand and processed over several months, but the weight should be approximately 350g.