• Enrique Jose Padial Calvo

Xinhui Ripe Pu'er Stuffed Mandarins or Xiao Qing Gan: The Ultimate Guide

Xinhui Ripe Pu'er Stuffed Mandarins or Xiao Qing Gan: The Ultimate Guide

 

Dried tangerines and ripe Pu'er tea leaves seem to be somehow like a perfect marriage. Dried tangerines rinds have been used as a special infusion since the Ming Dynasty times because of its remarkable medicinal properties and citrusy perfume.

 

The dried mandarin peel and Pu-Erh leaves were accidentally brewed together during the Qing Dynasty, and the couple has just gained in popularity ever since.

 

Side Note: if you want to learn everything you could possibly do about Pu-Erh tea check the article Pu-Erh Tea: What Actually Is It? 

 

What is Actually Xiao Qing Gan? (or Xinhui Pu’er Stuffed Mandarin)

 

First thing we may want to know about Xiao Qing Gan, and before deepening into details, is not surprisingly… What Xiao Qing Gan actually is? In order to have a good grasp of what Xiao Qing Gan (小青柑) actually is, first let’s approach it by its (Chinese) name:

 

小 (xiǎo): small

青 (qīng): green/young

柑 (gān): mandarin orange

 

 

The first character’s meaning doesn’t need further explanation. “Green” refers to the fruit (the mandarin) picked at a quite young and “green” stage before ripening. Finally, “gān” refers to a mandarin orange, it is very often referred as to “tangerine” in English literature as well.

 

Although mandarin and tangerine are not technically the same [tangerines are a type of mandarin, so that not all mandarins are tangerines], but for simplification purposes and as widely accepted, we will interchangeably use these two words. 

 

Stuffing tea into fruits has been an old tradition in different locations over China’s geography, most probably for about a very few hundred years at least. When tea was actually stuffed into Xinhui tangerines for the first time is up for debate, but hands-down it has been a long tradition and the very flagship of mandarin-stuffed-tea.

 

However, not all mandarins in China can be called “Xiao Qing Gan”, and instead certain requirements need to be satisfied:

 

  • Firstly, “Xiao Qing Gan” is actually an abbreviation for “Xiao Qing Gan Pu’er Tea”, meaning that Xiao Qing Gan has to be the marriage between Yunnan Pu’er tea and the precious fruit peel, and so, a tangerine stuffed with a tea other than Pu’er - let say white tea - will never be a Xiao Qing Gan.

 

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  • Secondly, Xinhui District is Xiao Qing Gan hometown, located in the city of Jiangmen in Guangdong province, and only (Pu’er-stuffed-) Xinhui mandarines can be called “Xiao Qing Gan”. Chakeng (茶坑), Tianma (天马), Meijiang (梅江), Dongjia (东甲) and Xijia (西甲) are the core Xinhui tea areas producing the highest quality Xiaoqinggan.

 

  • The Xinhui mandarin should be harvested when the fruit still at a very young or unripened (“green”) stage, otherwise it would not be “qīng”, and therefore would neither be a Xiaoqinggan.

 

Often times, finding authentic Xiao Qing Gan produced with original and highest quality materials can be challenging, check here to find authentic fully sun-air-dried Xinhui Pu-Erh mandarins.

 

What is the Step by Step Production Process of a Xiao Qing Gan?

 

The production process of making Xiao Qing Gan, is far from being an easy one, being labour-intensive as per how time consuming and requiring workers’ skill. The step-by-step process involve the following: 

 

  • Mandarin orange picking: manual selection of uniform, fragrant and high-quality Xinhui tangerines that will result in a good combination with Pu’er in the final product.

 

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  • Mandarin rinse: the manually freshly harvested fruit will then be rinsed in water for hygiene and cleanness purposes.

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  • Dig and pulp extraction: by means of especial tools holes are opened and the pulp is digged out from the inside.

 

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  • Tangerine peel washing: after digging out the pulp from the tangerine the second rinsing with water takes place, this time only applied to the fruit peel, again for hygiene purposes as well as for removing juices or small remains of the pulp.

 

  • Tangerine stuffing: the dried mandarin are then manually stuffed with ripe Pu’er tea leaves, leaves are lightly manually compressed using up the whole space and capacity possible within the mandarin skeleton.

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  • Drying and airing: there are a few different drying methods for Xiao Qing Gang, but all with an unique purpose: dry out mandarin rinds' moisture and preserve them for Pu’er stuffing.Natural sun-air-drying is hands-down, and if the weather/timing that year allows it, the ideal process for excellent quality tangerine peels and Xiao Qing Gans, rather than “shaqing” (“kill the green”) by stoving or oven-drying.

 

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  • Oxidation: the stuffed tangerines are then left to oxidate, allowing the flavours of the tea leaves and the mandarin peel to infuse and develop into a Xiao Qing Gans' unique and perfectly balanced mix of the earthy, nutty, smooth and sweetness of the ripe Pu’er with the citrusy and balsamic notes of the tangerine rind.

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  • Packing and storing.

 

Most of times Xiao Qing Gan will undergo processes that accelerates its production process, like baking or stoving them; check here for natural fully sun-air-dried Xiao Qing Gan.

 

Xiao Qing Gan (or Pu'er Stuffed Tangerine) Drying Processing

 

The same batch of Xiao Qing Gans will certainly result in a different flavour profile only by altering the drying processes they undergone. Producers use a variety of drying techniques depending on what weather conditions allowed for as well as depending on the quality and flavour profile pursued against time and capacity constraints.

 

  • Sun-air-drying: the best technique is unquestionably sun-drying, getting the best quality, most fragrant, sweet and with remarkable aftertaste. However that comes at a cost: it requires more time than other processes, resulting in higher costs and less efficient output. Finally, this is highly dependent on the weather conditions. The combined flavour of the tea with the citrus rinds is slightly milder right after the sun-drying process is completed, but has a lot more potential to age and develop an excellent flavor.

 

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  • High-Temperature-Roasting: the green mandarin peels are roasted at a temperature of between 70 and 80 °C until they dry. This approach is quicker and less expensive, and the resulting producst are ready for brewing immediately. However, the tangerine and Pu’er flavours are hardly blended, and only minor changes will take place during storage.

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  • Low-Temperature-Roasting: “chenpis” or tangerine peels are roasted at about 45 °C until drying. This results in a higher time and cost than what it comes with high-temperature roasting, and so the good news here is that the products will be of a better taste and fragrance than when using high-temperature, and importantly allow for them to stay activated, providing room to evolving, fusion of flavour and a good quality aging transformation over time.

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  • Half-Sun-Drying: this method combines sun-drying processing with low-temperature roasting. It is an ideal complement to alternate with sun-drying when weather conditions do not allow to. This processing allows also for excellent result in taste as well as good aging during Xiao Qing Gan storage.

 

Most of times Xiao Qing Gan will undergo processes that accelerates its production process, like baking or stoving them; check here for natural fully sun-air-dried Xiao Qing Gan.

 

Xiao Qing Gan’s Market Popularity, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Imitations

The Xinhui stuffed mandarin has experienced a significant increase in popularity during recent years, both in China and internationally. This is mainly due to a growing interest in natural medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as for the sake of the appreciation of the unique combination of mandarin oranges with Pu’er tea.

 

The citrus rinds together with Pu’er is used in Chinese medicine and Cantonese traditional cuisine for treating and healing different pains such as stomach problems, aiding and boosting digestion, scratchy throats, having a cooling effect as it helps reducing internal body heat, and even very recently, as the Chinese population got exposed to the Covid, has been massively recommended and demanded as an aid to combat the virus’ symptoms.

 

 

Xinhui aged Mandarin rinds, also known as “Chenpi” (陈皮) in Chinese, are a real luxury item. Well-aged “Chenpis” will cost more than its Pu’er equivalent (20 years-aged Chenpi is more expensive than a 20 years-aged Pu’er tea).

 

Its increasing popularity, together with the rising costs of labour have led to a rise in prices; and all that have resulted in a market where imitations are found in every corner of the country. Xinhui Chenpi is faked by often using mandarin rinds from other locations or using dubious ages.

 

Some people may be skeptical about how mandarin peels from a region could make so much difference and be significantly less or more than citrus rinds from other regions…

 

We could just think of grapes and sparkling wines… grapes from Champagne will be way more expensive than their counterparts from Alsace, for instance. Xinhui is pretty much the Champagne of mandarin oranges.

 

In order to get the most health benefits along with the best flavours, make sure to get only authentic fully- sun-air-dried Xinhui Pu-Erh mandarins.

 

What is the White Layer or White Frost on the Dried Mandarin Peel of the Xiao Qing Gan?

Xiao Qing Gan's mandarin peel “white frost” is known as “ (nǎo)” in Xinhui - hometown of “chenpi” and this unique tea - which could be translated as the “essence”.

 

So that, under normal circumstances, it is not mildew, so do not panic or get disappointed at it when you see the “white frost”, but just the opposite!

 

The “white frost” in the mandarin peel is a white powdery substance formed by the crystallization of the citrus oil after the Xiao Qing Gan is exposed to sun or low-baking temperatures for prolonged times. The main substance is limonene, which is a monoterpene compound.

The “white frost” in China is considered a key standard to judge the quality of the dried citrus rind and highly appreciated for its rich nutritional value and health care properties - important to note that even in Western countries limonene is used as a dietary supplement and as a fragrance ingredient in cosmetic products as well as in some medicines as flavouring to mask bitterness. 

 

 

Many of its benefits were recorded in the book 医学衷中参西录(“Records of Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine”), among some of them: promoting secretion of digestive fluid, eliminating accumulation of gas in the intestine, treating chronic bronchitis and pharyngitis, dry cough, nasal congestion and it can protect lungs and liver, etc…

 

[All the previous are only introduced for an explanatory and cultural context, but not to claim the effectiveness of its medical properties].

 

Finally, it is remarkable to note that not all Xiao Qing Gans will produce the "white frost”, and it will depend on different factors such as processing methods, growth and environmental factors, storage conditions etc…

 

Xiao Qing Gan: the Ultimate Steeping/Brewing Guide

The below provided methods are a list and guide of the most commonly found brewing or steeping styles for Xiao Qing Gan in China and “Gongfu Cha”, it is important to notice that there is not one (or the most) correct brewing style such a thing, and instead, there are as many methods as people’s preferences and tastes.

 

There is only one factor we would recommend to keep unaltered regardless the brewing technique: boiling water (100°C temperature); and the reason is because Xiao Qing Gan is made up of aged mandarin peel and aged ripe Pu’er (dark) tea.

 

With that said, the following Xiao Qing Gan's steeping guide covers excellent brewing techniques for this specialty tea, where every person can find his/her favourite steeping style in terms of taste preferences, available tea tools, easiness to brew and aesthetic reasons. 

 

Neck Glass Teapot

This Xiao Qing Gan brewing style is probably the easiest and the most aesthetically pleasant to they eye at the same time, and it has gained a wide popularity in China during the last few years.

 

This steeping technique will certainly not provide with the deepest tea liquor, as in decoction for example, that is because the water flow will only pass through the Xiao Qing Gan pouring down in to the glass teapot. 

 

 

The Xiao Qing Gan is placed on top of the neck of the glass teapot, then proceed to pour the boiling water, the more the upper-part-hole is targeted by the water flow the deeper and thicker Pu’er tea soup will come out, and the other way around: the more the citrus rind will be targeted by the water flow, the more of a citrusy flavour will be achieved.

 

In between, you can play with it to find your favourite balance. This method is excellent for people who do not enjoy so much a super thick and concentrated Xiaoqinggan liquor as achieve by decoction, while it is able to still get a very rich and deep result when the Xiao Qing Gan holes are directly targeted.

 

Gaiwan Brewing

Did you ever heard that of… “the Gaiwan is the most universal tea brewing tool”? (haha, pretty sure you did). It could not be less when it comes to Xiao Qing Gans, and so that, this method is pretty much like brewing any other type of tea with a Gaiwan.

 

Some remarks when it comes to this citrusy tea, sometimes the Xiao Qing Gan will be cracked with the hand before start steeping it (when still dry), sometimes it will be tear-opened after a few steeps, and many other times it is not cracked nor tear-opened at any point.

 

It is just a matter of preference, the earlier is cracked the faster it will juice out the dark tea soup from the Pu’er tea leaves, if not cracked at all it will slowly juice out through the long steeps.

 

Just remember rinsing the Xiao Qing Gan for “waking up” the tea for one or two times before start the real brewing.

 

Xiao Qing Gan by Decoction 

As it is well known, to make the best out of some teas, such as dark teas or white aged teas, and squeeze all the magic liquor they have to offer, decoction is the ultimate brewing method. The previous is perfectly applicable to ripe Pu’er (a type of dark tea after all) and Chenpi (aged tangerine skin) altogether, AKA: Xiao Qing Gan. 

For decoction method, in first instance, the Xiao Qing Gan should be rinsed for washing and “waking up” the tea leaves (醒茶: xǐngchá) for one or two times (enjoying a few first steeps by Gaiwan brewing method before start the decoction is perfectly fine as well).

 

Then we will use a stove, no matter charcoal or electric stove, to boil the water; and the tea will be placed in the heat-resistant teapot at any desired time, no matter before the water start boiling or after.

 

Using this method we can be re-fill with water once and over again until the tea get exhausted and we got all the best of his elixir.

 

To learn more about tea in general and what are the 6 main categories of tea you can check the article the 6 Big Types of Teas.


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