ZI RAN HONG is, first, a smokehouse. The gardens and facilities are over a century old, and in keeping with tradition, the Cong family's operation is fully-integrated. They cultivate and finish only their homegrown tea, never outsourcing the smoking process to factories producing commodity lapsang souchong on a huge scale.
Thus, their name: "natural red". A title with duel meanings describing the nature of a tea grown on Tongmu, smoked with wood grown on Tongmu, and their end-to-end production of Tongmu black tea. All the old tea making traditions of Tongmuguan are alive at Zi Ran Hong.
Their yields are necessarily small, compounded by the forests of pine used to smoke zhengshan xiaozhong—endemic only to Tongmu village—being federally-protected. Only residents may legally harvest the wood, and the tea gardens are invite-only; our access to the Cong family's estate is a rare privilege in one of Fujian's best-protected ecological treasures.
Zhao Cong is the third generation head of Zi Ran Hong smokehouse. He was the first to introduce us to truly smoked-to-dry lapsang; that is, black tea dried with smoke after oxidation, as opposed to smoked after drying.
The effect is unmistakable. Zhao's process preserves and lifts all the complex sugars and floral elements of his high mountain material, using smoke to accent, rather than concea