What are Xinhui Mandarins?
Stuffing tea into fruit is not a new innovation. When asking farmers around the orchards of Xinhui, Guangdong province, some farmers estimated that Xinhui Mandarins have been harvested for their skin for hundreds or even thousands of years. When tea was first stuffed into Xinhui Mandarins is up for debate, but it has been a traditional staple in Guangdong for quite some time. In modern times the Puer tea stuffed Mandarins, also called Ganpu, are a marriage of a Yunnan tea and a Guangdong fruit that are as popular as ever. First, it will help if we define a few terms and the region of Xinhui. Xinhui is located in Guangdong province and historically has produced Mandarins, which are harvested for their skin. The Mandarin skin is then dried and the citrus rind is used for a variety of purposes, such as treating scratchy throats, stomach problems, or to aid digestion in traditional Chinese medicine or in traditional Cantonese cooking. Guangdong has a long history with Puer tea and the connection between the local fruit and the beloved tea was an excellent match. The aged citrus rind of Xinhui Mandarins, which is also called Chenpi, is very expensive. As an anecdotal example, thirty-year-old Chenpi can cost more by weight than thirty-year-old Puer tea! (And can be just as difficult to find). In recent years, the appreciation for quality Xinhui Mandarins has risen along with Puer tea. The increased demand, along with rising labor costs have contributed to a rise in prices. As with most goods in China, with fame and appreciation come knock offs. Ganpu, the Puer stuffed into Xinhui Mandarins, are often mimicked with other similar fruits from other regions, such as tangerines, which are called jupu. Xinhui Chenpi is also often faked, whether with dubious ages or with tangerine rinds from other areas. For those in the audience rolling their eyes at how citrus rinds from one region could be worth more than those from another, think of the grapes of France as a Western example. Burgundy’s grapes cost quite a bit more than those from Langeudoc, despite the fact that they are both grapes. Xinhui is like the Burgundy of Mandarins, their cost and quality far exceed the imitators.
How Ganpu, Xinhui Puer Stuffed Mandarins are Made
The process of creating a Puer tea stuffed Mandarin is very labor intensive. Without mentioning all the labor involved in picking and processing the tea, the tea stuffed Mandarin has an intricate amount of hand processing involved that requires a large team of workers to get from the tree to the final product. The first step is picking the fruit in the orchard, where it is then transported to a workshop. At the workshop, the first worker in the assembly line makes a cookie cutter hole in the top of the Mandarin and pops off the rind. The next worker takes a needle nose pliers and inserts it inside to grasp on to and remove the fruit. This takes several attempts and a lot of experience. You’ll notice some workers are wearing thick rubber gloves to protect from the acidic citrus juice. However, some workers choose to work without gloves. When asked they said that the juice doesn’t bother their hands. We think we’d opt for gloves. After the fruit has been cored, the shell is then passed to the next group of workers, who work on a table with the ripe Puer tea
. The tea is repeatedly tossed over the top of the hole in order to fill the fruit, and is then gently pressed down to make more room, taking care not to break the skin of the rind. Any breaks in the skin are merely cosmetic, but “perfect” Ganpu fetch a higher price. From here, different processing techniques vary, but the fruit must be dried. In most cases this involves either an oven at very low temperature for a long period of time, or a heated room called a hongfang,
or sun drying for chenpi. The Mandarins are placed on drying racks to dry further. This portion of the process varies from producer to producer and takes the most amount of expertise. Incorrect processing can affect the results of the final product if performed poorly, imparting a bad taste or sharp feeling in the mouth, rather than smoothness. Finally, the dried tea stuffed Mandarins are wrapped in either paper or plastic, or both, and shipped off to teapots around the world. The next time you enjoy a tea that was stuffed in a Mandarin, take a moment to consider all of the labor that was involved in its preparation. It is truly a team effort to produce such a fragrant and joyful tea. All of the images above were taken during the annual autumn harvest in Xinhui. The workshop images are of our 2015 Red Star Mandarin Puer. Until the end of Cyber Monday get a free Red Star Puer Mandarin with any order over $75!