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Topic: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

Can anyone shed light on what the term "Congou" means?  Babelcarp explains that Congou is synonymous with Hongcha(红茶 or 紅茶), red tea, what westerners call "black tea", and that it's a corruption of Gong Fu.  Upton Tea Imports also uses the term in this way, in their catalogue and articles.

However, I've seen other sources which refer to congou as being a specific type or grade of Chinese red tea.  Some sources on the net, which I would not necessarily trust as reliable, say it refers to a specific grade of tea produced by only the fifth leaf from the top of a shoot of the tea plant.

Then, I see specific teas such as Panyang Congou as well, and I've found conflicting information about them...including claims that Panyang Congou is always a tea that does not contain tips, and then other sources selling tea labelled by this name that clearly is a tippy tea.  Again, according to Babelcarp, I found that Panyang refers to Tanyang(坦洋), in Ningde county in Fujian.  But...not much more detail and no authoritative sources to clear this up.

Any clarifying information would be greatly appreciated.

Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

Congou is for 工夫 (gongfu). I believe the name became common in English based on a romanization of the way that the word is pronounced in one of the Min dialects, probably the Xiamen (廈門) dialect, since this was the port that a lot of Fujianese tea traded out of. Babelcarp, correctly, points out that the name comes from 'gongfu', though I would argue it's not a "corruption" of gongfu any more than 'gongfu' - in fact, it's probably a closer approximation of the pronunciation of the word in the area where the tea is originally from.

Gongfu red (black) tea is the name for one type of red tea. I believe it's so-named because of its shape, and because of the skill / effort required to make it, rather than because it's suitable for brewing "gongfu" style, but I could be wrong about that. So in some cases, you might just use 'congou' to describe that type of red tea.

Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

Thanks, this makes sense.

Do you know, or have any sources that can explain what distinguishes gongfu / congou red tea from other red teas, and which teas would be classified in this category, and which would not?


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Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

cazort wrote:

Thanks, this makes sense.

Do you know, or have any sources that can explain what distinguishes gongfu / congou red tea from other red teas, and which teas would be classified in this category, and which would not?

Nowadays, I don't think gongfu is a practical concept for classification. But in Gong Zhi's China Red Tea, he explained the origin of the term gongfu. After some refinement of tea processing procedure, people started to call the tea processed with the better procedure "gongfu red tea", and gongfu basically means a lot of good work. Later, tea processing more and more converged to the best practice, and gongfu is more of an advertising term meaning "good tea".

門前塵土三千丈,不到薰爐茗碗旁

Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

There are roughly three categories of black tea made in China; Souchong method, Congou method, and mechanized.

Souchong method was the original way of making black tea. It used a lower grade of leaf, and the processing was a bit different. I'll see if I can dig up my notes explaining exactly how.

After black tea started becoming wildly popular for export, efforts were made to improve the quality of black tea, using general tea knowledge. This resulted in the congou method, which is basically the way tea is made today, minus mechanization. It was so popular that very little if any black tea is still made using the Souchong method, other than Lapsang Souchong.

The British figured out how to mechanize the process, in various ways, and all these imported mechanized tea processes are collectively considered the third style (or perhaps third generation) of tea manufacture.

There is some crossover, in that a tea called "Congou" is not necessarily handmade. In some cases Congou is simply shorthand for non-Souchong black tea.


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Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

Souchong method was the original way of making black tea. It used a lower grade of leaf, and the processing was a bit different. I'll see if I can dig up my notes explaining exactly how.

Welcome.

Souchong refers to xiaozhong, no? 小种 [see this thread]. Wouldn't that imply a description of a small leaf varietal being used, more than a method of production?

Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

Some terms of tea are not so meaningful but rather habitual uses formed in history. The term Xiao Zhong and Gongfu were used in different historical period, Gongfu coming out later than Xiaozhong. The term "Gongfu red tea" is more in use than Xiaozhong red tea". The "xiaozhong" in lapsang souchong is from, but not of the same meaning of the "xiaozhong" term in history. But basically, when Xiaozhong and Gongfu were respectively used in history, each of them emphasizes the quality of the tea.

Again I would cite Gong Zhi's China Red Tea, as he is the guru of science and history of Fujian tea. According to him, after Xiaozhong (good red tea once upon a time was generally called xiaozhong red tea) processing was formed, there was some modification to simplify it, and then there was some modification to refine it. Then the new technique is called gongfu red tea. But the red tea processing nowadays almost all follow gongfu red tea processing.

Xiaozhong is only remotely related to tea cultivars. A few tea books in history mentioned Xiaozhong as some sort of exceptionally good tea. But these books weren't talking about the same thing. It seems that Xiaozhong was commonly used in Fujian tea producing regions, and meant different things in different ages, or people might even have different understanding of it in the same historical period.

門前塵土三千丈,不到薰爐茗碗旁

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8 (edited by mbanu 2012-03-09 14:26:15)

Re: Congou - What exactly does it mean?

From Tea: Bioactivity and Therapeutic Potential by Yong-su Zhen:

Black tea was developed in the mid 17th century in Chongan county, Fujian province of China. The first black tea was so called Xiao Zhong black tea, the withering of which was promoted indoors by pine tree smoking. In 1850 AD, Congou black tea manufacture was created in Fujian province on the basis of Xiao Zhong black tea manufacturing method.

As for the details:

Congou process teas usually use a plucking standard of 1 or 2 leaves and a bud. Souchong process uses 3 or 4 leaves and a bud as the plucking standard.

Souchong teas are withered indoors using pine smoke, at a temperature of around 30 C. They are spread in thin layers, 9-10cm. The leaves are turned frequently - every 10-20 minutes.  Congou is dried at a cooler 20-25 C, with limited turning, maybe once every two hours, in deeper layers of 15-20cm depth, for a long period, maybe 12 hours.

Souchong teas are (traditionally) hand-rolled for 60-90 minutes, then oxidized in baskets or bags for a long time, 5-6 hours. Congou teas are oxidized for a shorter period of time, 2-5 hours, usually in a high humidity environment.

To halt oxidation, souchong is pan-fired at 200 C for 2-3 minutes. In congou this is accomplished by drying at a cooler 110-120 C for 10-15 minutes.

Souchong is then given a second rolling, and the drying is completed with pine smoke, taking another 8-12 hours. The end moisture content is around 8%.

With congou the leaves are spread out and dried at a cooler temperature of 70-90 C for 45-60 minutes, until the moisture content is between 4-6%.


What makes one Congou different from another is primarily where it was grown, the varietal used, and when it was harvested. There will be some minor variations in things related to processing, but with a few notable exceptions, these are not the dominating influence in the character of the tea.

More important, honestly, is how the tea is treated out in the field, the plucking standard, the pruning cycle, shading and pest control, and how the leaf is handled on its way to the manufacturing area.

Panyang/Tanyang Congou is one of the three famous styles of Fujian province black tea, (Min Hong), along with Bailin and Zhenghe/Chingwo. Each is made in a different part of Fujian.