Master yellow tea maker Wang Xiangzhen is one of the few female tea masters in the world. She was born in 1947 in Fan Jia Wu Village in Moganshan (the Mogan Mountains). She learned the specialized skills to make yellow tea from her family and from other tea masters. She is now the chief tea maker at Hengling Gardens in Moganshan and has received many awards for her Mogan Huangya yellow tea, from best yellow tea in the county in 1979 to best yellow tea nationally in 2019.
Because she is the world’s foremost expert on making this particular tea, Ms. Wang was awarded a prestigious position in the Chinese national registry of Intangible Cultural Heritage on Nov. 27, 2014. This honor recognizes her as the person who carries the cultural heritage of this rare tea in her knowledge of its history and the skills to make it. She is currently passing her extensive knowledge on to her daughter, Zhao Xianqin, and her granddaughter.
As of 2022, Wang Xiangzhen has already been in the tea industry for 50 years, beginning by helping out on the family’s tea farm when she was young. She has been making Mogan Huangya for 43 years. Everyone in the next generation in Deqing County who has learned to make yellow tea has been a student of hers.
Yellow tea is a type of very lightly oxidized tea and is one of the rarest and most labor-intensive varieties of Chinese tea produced. Prized for their gentle, complex flavors and their health benefits similar to those of high-quality green tea, yellow teas have been enjoyed almost exclusively by locals in their areas of origin. As a result, they are almost unheard of in the broader tea market. Though information about the history of yellow teas is elusive, they were likely first made in the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). However, because of the immense investment of time, skill, and labor required to produce them, many of the specialized techniques used to make yellow teas have been lost to time.
Mogan’s exemplary tea-making team
Hengling is a family operation that now includes three generations of tea professionals. The family matriarch, Wāng Xiángzhēn (汪祥珍), is head of tea production while her husband, Zhào Rónglín (赵荣林), is head of farming operations. Ms. Wang is an icon in Deqing County, standing out not just as a female tea maker, but also as an exceptionally good one.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, this husband and wife team worked with the Zhejiang Agricultural University to develop and standardize a modern processing technique for Mogan Huangya. During this time, their Mogan Huangya also earned the official designation of “Province-level Famous Tea.”
From 1992 onwards, Ms. Wang and Mr. Zhao have conducted numerous trainings from their tea farm at Hengling to teach the techniques of making Mogan Huangya and other styles of tea to other tea producers in the county. Over 100 tea makers have apprenticed to them through these programs. Moreover, under Ms. Wang’s leadership, Hengling has served as a model factory for its adoption of new tea production best-practices, including strict standards for tea plucking, review and grading of fresh leaves, and segmentation of tea processing steps.
In 1997, Mr. Zhao and Ms. Wang were each awarded the title of “Master Agricultural Technician” by the Zhejiang Province Association of Science and Technology. In 2015, the Huzhou government awarded the title of Inheritor of Intangible Cultural Heritage to Ms. Wang — an award that amounts to a recognition of her status as a living treasure.
In total, Hengling, the Zhao family, and their team of tea makers have won over 30 awards for both yellow and green tea for the quality of their agriculture, tea processing, and service to their industry.