Unveiling Fo Shou Tea: the Mystique Buddha Hand of the Oolongs

Welcome to immerse on a trip to unveil all the main keys to understand one of the most mystique oolong teas: Fo Shou (AKA: Buddha Hand). This remarkable tea varietal possesses a rich history and fascinating attributes that make the delights of tea enthusiasts. In this article, we delve into the origins of the Fo Shou tree varietal, producing regions, the story behind its name as well as the intricate crafting processes involved.


Tea Tree Varietal’s Origins

Fo Shou’s tea tree varietal traces its origins to the Yong Chun county, in the Fujian Province of China, where it has a cultivation history of around 300 years, and where it always grow at an altitude between 600 and 900 meters above sea level. The main producing villages of Fo Shou are Sukeng, Yudou and Guiyang.


Only more recently, in the 1980s, Buddha Hand along with other tea varietals were brought to Wuyishan - cradle of the oolong Rock Teas - and processed in the Rock Tea or Yancha style. It also arrived to Taiwan by way of settlers who planted Fo Shou varietal in the tea regions of nowadays’ north Taipei. However, the popularity of other cultivars in the region soon eclipsed Fo Shou, being quite of a rare type at present day.


Buddha Hand Name Origin

The tea gets its name after the Bergamot fruit - also known as Buddha's Hand fruit - because this varietal's fresh leaves are uncharacteristically large, and when fully developed they’d span the length and width of a person’s palm. The name also alludes to Fo Shou tea’s aroma resemblance to the bergamot fruit and zest’s elegant and delicate citrus scent. Fo Shou is often referred among Chinese as “Golden Fo Shou” (金佛手) as it is said to be precious as gold.


In addition to the previous, In China, the fascinating and exotic Bergamot (or Buddha hand) fruit has traditionally had cultural auspicious connotations, and it has been used in Chinese medicine as it helps regulating "qi". Fo Shou is a symbol of "Good Fortune and Long Life" as per its homonym’s ('Fushou' or '福寿') meaning in Chinese. It also represents wisdom and strength as well as protection against evil.


Fo Shou Tree Varieties and Tea Varieties

There are two main varieties of Buddha Hand tea tree varietal: the “Red Bud Fo Shou” and the “Green Bud Fo Shou”. “Red Bud Fo Shou” is considered to be as the highest quality one, and these tea trees only grow in Yongchun, and therefore, it is only possible to find the “Green Bud Fo Shou” in Wuyi. Fo Shou is harvested the four seasons of the year, with spring tea making up 40% of the total. Late March sees Fo Shou sprouting, while mid-April sees Fo Shou’s harvesting.

Now, according to the craft processing that Budhha Hand tea leaves undergo, there are also two main varieties of Foshou:

 - Lightly Oxidised Rolled Leaves: this is the most primitive and original craftsmanship applied to Buddha Hand tea leaves at its birthplace: Yongchun county. Leaves are crafted into a mildly oxidized rolled oolong. The resulting tea has an scent and appearance very similar to that of the Anxi Tie Guan Yin.

Lightly Oxidised Foshou

- Oolong Rock Tea Fo Shou: Yancha or Rock Teas are natural to the Wuyi Mountains, so most probably Fo Shou tea leaves were first crafted folllowing Yancha standards only after they started to be planted in Wuyi in the 1980’s. However, nowadays Buddha Hand is also often crafted as an Rock Tea in Yongchun County.


Yancha Fo Shou


Fo Shou Story According to the Legend

The Buddha Hand tea legend take us to the Northern Song Dynasty. As part of his daily routine, a monk at Qihuyan Temple in southern Fujian's Anxi County offered som tea leaves to Buddha. He meticulously raised a specific tea that he had grafted from a tea plant that he had discovered. He was successful after diligent cultivation and created a tea that was super aromatic. After some time, the monk He gave this tea the moniker "Fo Shou" (Buddha's Hand) since he was so joyful. At the Shifengyan Temple in Yongchun County, the monk passed the tea on to his disciples at the Shifengyan Temple, in Yongchun. Up to this day, farmers in Yongchun still strive to produce the best Fo Shou.


Fo Shou's Yancha (Rock Tea) Craft Processing

Fo Shou, when crafted according to Yancha’s craftsmanship, follow this production process:

  1. Selective Leave Picking:

Tea farmers will pick Fo Shou leaves following "one-tip three-leaves" or “one-tip-four-leaves” standards, rather than “one-tip-two leaves”, as buds are too sensitive and easily break, which would harm the quality of the resulting tea. Small-leaf (小叶种) and medium-leaf varieties (中叶种) are considered as the best for picking, while large-leaf varieties (大叶种)  are regarded as inferior quality and are typically avoided by tea growers.

  1. Sun-Dry the Green (晒青or Withering

In the morning, tea picking is often finished about 11:30. After plucking, the tea leaves are brought in bamboo baskets to the factory where they are exposed to wither under the sun. This indicates that after being plucked, tea leaves are typically spread out under the sun to oxidize and lose water. The leaves will release a pleasant smell once the water has partially evaporated via sun withering. If the sun is strong, the tea only needs to be kept out to dry until 6-7 pm (leaves are typically set under the sun at 1 pm). After withering is completed, leaves are spread over bamboo sieves to cool for 20 to 30 minutes.


Withering Tea Leaves
  1. Shake the Green (摇青): Laying and Tossing

The alternating actions of laying and tossing are referred to in this 3rd step:

Laying: tea leaves are first placed in a bamboo barrel machine and heated with fruitwood or bamboo charcoal in order to reduce the moisture content found in the tea leaves by about 10%, making the leaves and stems softer and less prone to break off. Depending on how recently the tea leaves were harvested, the heating must be adjusted. Usually, this process is finished in 8 to 10 hours. The lid is left open after heating to allow the tea to stand and cool naturally. Before beginning tossing, this needs to be repeated two or three times.

 Tossing is the process of rotating the baskets after heating and allowing the tea leaves to evenly oxidize. The colour of the tea leaves does not alter in the middle; just the edge of the leaves turns gradually brown-red.

  1. Stir-Fry the Green ( 炒青)

Stir-frying the leaves will help to further reduce their moisture content by around 20%. This stage lasts for something between 7 to 10 minutes, and the temperature ranges from 80°C

  and 110°C

  1. Rolling (揉捻)

The tea leaves are rolled after stir-frying process. The rolling creates the distinctive final appearance of the tea leaves. It takes this process 3 to 7 minutes if rolling is made by machine and much longer when is made by hand.

Yancha Rolling

  1. Pre-Roasting (初培)

After having rolled tea leaves into strands, they are distributed and have a quick roasting for something between 5 and 10 minutes.

  1. Screening (筛分)

The undesirable yellow flakes, branches, and stems are then filtered out of the tea leaves, leaving just the desirable parts.

  1. Re-Roasting

Before being re-roasted, the tea leaves are allowed to sit for around 15 days to remove any harshness. The yan yun (岩韵) quality of the tea is supposed to thicken with consecutive roastings. There are three levels of roasting: low fire, medium fire, and high fire.

Rock Tea Charcoal Roasting