To the uninitiated, all Mao Feng ("Furry Peak") teas are created equal. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Huangshan Mao Feng Tea, formerly called Huangshan Cloud Tea due to the height at which it is grown on Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain (i.e., at altitudes of over 700 m), and probably best known as Yellow Mountain Furry Peak tea, is the third-best Chinese green tea, and the fourth-best tea in all of China (the two best Chinese teas being green teas, while the third-best Chinese tea is actually an oolong tea, which is a slightly fermented tea lying somewhere between a non-fermented green tea and a fully-fermented black tea*).
Though the color of the brewed tea is jade green, the leaves of Mao Feng tea themselves are covered with a fluffy, silvery down, or "fur". Not a scented tea, Yellow Mountain Furry Peak tea nevertheless has an apricot flavor and a fragrance reminiscent of magnolia blossoms. Its leaves can be brewed repeatedly; according to tea lovers, Huangshan Mao Feng tea is fragrant on the first brewing, sweet on the second, and robust on the third.
Huangshan Mao Feng tea was first produced on Yellow Mountain beginning in 1875 during the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, as the area offers the ideal climate for growing tea. Not unlike the restrictive growing-harvesting constraints imposed upon white tea (see the footnote below), the harvesting constraints imposed upon Huangshan Mao Feng tea mean that the leaves must be picked while the buds are still on the tip of the branch, and with only one leaf unfolded (!). Though each tea plant has many such branches, the harvesting procedure nevertheless places a severe limitation on the availability of harvestable Huangshan Mao Feng tea (alternatively, it places a tremendous burden on the Huangshan Mao Feng tea farmer!). Like other fine Chinese green teas, Huangshan Mao Feng tea leaves are first sun-dried, then pan-fired in large woks to drive out moisture and thus prevent fermentation/ oxidization.
An ancient Chinese legend concerning the origin of Huangshan Mao Feng tea has it that a young scholar and a beautiful young maiden who worked on a tea plantation on Yellow Mountain were madly in love. One day a wealthy landowner saw the girl and desirous of her, he made her his concubine, which was within his power. However, the unhappy girl escaped only to discover that the landowner had in the meantime killed her lover, the young scholar. The young girl located the grave of her lover and remained there, weeping incessantly and uncontrollably, until finally she became the rain itself and her murdered lover became a tea tree, nourished by her tears. This is why, says the legend, the slopes of Yellow Mountain are humid and mist-enshrouded all year long.
* To complete the picture, there exists a fourth type of tea, so-called white tea. Its name is derived from the fact that the leaves are harvested before they have opened fully, at the stage when the buds are still covered with a fine white down – hence the name. White tea may be compared to champagne in the sense that it is, by its very growing-harvesting methods (and irrespective, in the case of champagne, of whether we are speaking of cava (the Spanish variant), spumante (the Italian variant), or sekt (the German variant)), a scarce commodity.
The immature leaves of white tea are only picked in good weather – only in early spring and only on rain-free and frost-free days. The immature leaves are then steamed gently, which opens them, then allowed to dry slowly, untended (no roasting, no "stir-frying", etc.; in fact, no stirring at all, which, together with the lack of high heat during the curing process, accounts for why the leaves of white tea do not roll up like the those of other tea types). On the fermentation/ oxidization scale, white tea scores a zero, making it the least "processed" of teas.