Tuesday 19 May 2015 by
Golden Gong Fu and Hui Ming Spring
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.
Zhejiang province is famed for its green teas. Whilst Dragon Well is surely the most famous, each region has its local specialty 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 9th century monk Huiming 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.
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.
Tuesday 19 May 2015 by
Drink Spring Teas at their Best in Spring!
It is a privilege to taste, as I do at this time of year, the freshest spring teas produced just days prior and bursting with flavour. The spring sourcing season for Darjeeling 1st flush and high-quality Chinese green and black teas opens in early to mid-March and fills me with a keen sense of anticipation.
Each year the search begins for that spring’s best teas. This search can take the form of tasting hundreds of Darjeeling teas in one go, looking for one with the complex aromas and juicy texture I crave. Or the search can take me to remote corners of China where a place previously just a name on a map comes to life with the people and surroundings that make a special tea.
Spring teas are the early picked teas, the first small shoots from bushes that have rested over winter, storing up flavour and vigour. The leaves are delicate, the processing is careful and the yields are small, capturing the freshness of the raw material.
As the weather in tea producing regions turns warmer, these teas reflect the onset of spring with renewed growth and a sense of optimism and potential. Here, there is no better accompaniment to a warm and sunny spring afternoon than a tall glass of Dragon Well or a cup of Darjeeling 1st flush in fine bone china. Good at any time of year, but particularly special right now in spring.
Friday 8 May 2015 by
This year I have sourced an authentic West Lake Dragon Well as JING’s top grade of Dragon Well. The most famous green tea in China from its authentic and historical origin, this tea, of all the Dragon Wells I have tasted and sourced in the past, stands out for its classic flavour.
Dragon Well is not one monolithic tea. There are variations even within what would be considered an authentic West Lake Dragon Well. The tea I sourced last year was from Meijiawu (one of several villages around West Lake) and typical of that style was its emerald green infusion and lighter floral aromas. This year I visited a small village called Wai Tongwu and spent several days in Mr. Shen’s workshop tasting the small batches of tea he produced daily.
Behind the workshop, the tea gardens nestled in the rolling hills that surround West Lake. Water flowed from the hilltop and the villagers tended smallholdings of tea bushes, all of the “old variety” cultivar traditionally used for Dragon Well tea.
This is a prosperous village in the richest province of China’s booming east coast economy. The villagers only produce tea during two or three weeks of the spring season, to give to their families or sell in small quantities online. Outside of this period, the village draws visitors for its traditional arts and crafts displays, its museum commemorating a Chinese war hero or the peaceful walks in the surrounding hills.
I chose this tea as JING’s Dragon Well Gold for its mouthwatering spring freshness with its absolutely classic Dragon Well taste of roasted chestnuts.
The traditional way to drink Dragon Well is sprinkle a pinch of leaves in the bottom of a tall glass and pour on near-boiling water. Most of the leaves will sink to the bottom of the glass; gently blow aside any remaining at the top and sip the tea as it cools. The strength of the infusion will increase towards the bottom of the glass, at which point you can top up with more water.
But to get the best out of this year’s Dragon Well Gold I recommend using our One-Cup Teapot. For a perfect cup of Dragon Well take 4g of dry leaf and infuse in spring water at 70°C for 3 minutes before pouring off all the tea into a glass cup. Pause to admire the bright green infusion; breathe deeply and enjoy the aromas from the wet leaf; drink.