This year I have sourced two new teas picked in spring from different parts of China. These two teas represent the culmination of weeks spent visiting tea gardens in April and showcase the flavours that make this such an exciting time of year for tea lovers.
Hui Ming Spring
Zhejiang province is famed for its green teas. Whilst Dragon Well is surely the most famous, each region has its local speciality and there are hidden gems to be found by those willing to seek them out. Jingning County certainly qualifies as one such place. Ringed by mountains the county town until recently had no highway access and might have remained out of practical reach of even the most intrepid tea buyer.
Approaching from the south, I stood on the veranda of Mr. Lan’s tea tasting room which was set in the mountains overlooking his tea gardens. I surveyed the county town of Jingning in the distance and saw Hexi Brook flowing through it. Jingning is an autonomous county for the She people (one of China’s 56 ethnic groups) and Mr. Lan’s family has grown tea in Chimu mountain for generations.
Huiming Spring is a green tea made from a special cultivar defined by its light green leaves and because of this is often called a “white tea”. The name refers to the colour of the newly sprouted leaves and not the processing method of the tea (in contrast to the more widely known Fujian white tea, which is the processing method defined by a long withering stage). The tea’s full name derives from the temple next to the tea gardens, itself named after the 9thcentury monk Hui Ming who founded it.
We have stocked Anji Green for several years and we know that the white tea cultivar creates green teas of unmatched smoothness with rich umami taste and softer green flavours. The beautifully small delicate leaves of Huiming Baicha are the first small shoots on the bushes as the mountain weather turns warmer and the tea infusion seems to reflect this with an almost frosty white sparkle. This tea shines with floral aromas of orchids and sweet pea and a glossy infusion that is creamy and smooth.
Golden Gong Fu
In Fu’an I met a tea farmer called Mr. Lin who invited me to visit his gardens in the hills of Baiyunshan national park. A hair-raisingly steep climb to the summit revealed well-tended gardens being gently grazed by a friendly group of tea pickers. A small pagoda stood on one of the flatter outcrops and as we rested underneath Mr. Lin pulled out of his bag all the materials needed to make tea, in this the perfect setting.
Golden Gong Fu is a black tea, and one with a longstanding pedigree having been produced in these mountains since 1851. Whilst many will think of spring teas as delicate green teas such as our Hui Ming Spring, there is no rule to this effect and the same high quality tea leaves can also be used to make black tea. The key difference in the processing is to encourage the oxidisation by rolling the leaves shortly after picking and gently heating while the leaves turn from green to red.
This tea sparkles with life in the bright red infusion, with lighter fruit flavours dancing on the palate. Unlike heavier black teas produced later in the year, this black tea captures the transitional climate of spring when you might relax in hot midday temperatures but retreat indoors again in the cooler evenings. And that is also where this tea really delivers; as the infusion cools the fruit flavours come into their own, with each mouthful ending in an insistent aftertaste on your tongue of sour plum that just demands the next sip.
I hope from the descriptions of these two teas you get a sense of how teas picked in spring really evoke the time at which they are picked. At JING we want to bring you this experience and have rushed the teas from China to be delivered just as the season starts to change here. Whilst there may be a certain tea you cannot be without every day (for me it’s our superb Assam Breakfast), I strongly urge you to try these two new teas (Golden Gong Fu and Hui Ming Spring and be transported to the spring climes of China’s Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.