Spring is the best time of year for green tea. The bushes rest over winter and store up nutrients in order to produce new shoots as the weather warms up. These tender shoots are packed full of flavour and worthy of great care in processing to yield small quantities of extremely delicious tea.
This year I visited a small tea factory in China to see the spring green tea production and taste tea at its freshest.
What most impressed me was the quick change of pace and the flurry of activity when time came to process the tea. Throughout the day workers had been patiently picking buds and small leaves from the tea bushes in gardens surrounding the factory. They arrived sporadically at the factory gate by motorcycle, carrying bags of the day’s harvest. Here the leaves were weighed out and graded so the worker could be issued a payslip to take to the factory’s cashier for reimbursement.
Tea picked in the morning was ready to process by early evening, having been laid out to wither for several hours. After taking an early dinner, the factory staff filed into the small workshop. Each person assigned a station and seemingly readily familiar with the task at hand. These tasks performed diligently and quickly but without rushing, the factory manager conversely a dynamic presence flitting between stations to conduct activity.
So a sense of calm activity was the pervasive atmosphere. The tea leaves were constantly in motion, spinning in the shaqing machine, being tossed by hand on the drying table or hand rolled as the final step to give the tea a luxurious fluffy appearance.
Once the process begins there is little room for error and problems in timing would affect the quality of the tea. The purposeful attention of this experienced group of people transformed raw tea leaves to a refined and high-quality product in the space of approximately 30 minutes.
Following the day’s production I took a range of samples of this factory’s spring teas with me and over the next week compared them against other green teas from all over China. This is a familiar process at this time of year: JING’s range of teas is focussed and whilst there are many good candidates for new teas, only the best are brought forward to offer to our customers. Tea from this factory, which we have named JING Hunan Silver Peak, stands out amongst all spring green teas I tasted this year. The infusion is thick and strong, bright green and lively on the palate. There are complex floral aromas and sweet vegetal flavours of baby courgette.
I recommend choosing an infusion method to get the best out of this tea: to emphasize the vegetal flavours and sweet umami character of great green tea, infuse at around 60°C for 4 minutes (8g of tea in a 250ml teapot). To appreciate the floral aromas and thick textures, reduce the amount of leaf slightly and infuse at around 85°C for 3 minutes.
Most of all, if you want to show off this tea at its best, sprinkle some leaves in a tall glass and pour on water a shade below boiling. Using this typical Chinese infusion method, the leaves will unfurl before your eyes, the glass will funnel all the floral aromas to your nose and the infusion moves from light to strong as you drink. Once the infusion is too strong, top up with more water and enjoy the second infusion.