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Springtime in a Glass: Yunnan Maofeng Tea 云南毛峰茶

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艾墨本

This is such an insightful and enjoyable post. Thank you.

 

I'm starting to explore the world of Tea. I took a 10 week course on the Chinese tea ceremony and learned how to perform it to a lesser extent. It did not include much information about the tea itself, though. I would love any direction you have, particularly any Chinese language resources. Any books or websites to explore?

 

Thank you,

Ben

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Shelley

Once again abcdefg you have managed to bring this to life for us and let us share in the great pleasure that is drinking tea in china.

 

Thank you very much for your efforts.

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abcdefg

Thanks for your kind words, Shelley and Ben.

 

About books, there's plenty in Chinese, but not a whole lot in English. "The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook" by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss isn't bad. (Amazon stocks it, in hard copy and in Kindle format.) The problem with most of the English-language tea books that I have found is that they all devote about half their space to covering the same basic things. None of them go into enough detail to be terribly useful except as general background.

 

Where did you take your tea course, Ben? I attended tea academy here in Kunming last year up through the intermediate level. We were about 20 people; had class 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for close to 3 months. Pretty intense. The vocabulary alone was challenging, as none of the teachers spoke any English.

 

After completing that, I did advanced study in a small group of 4 to 5 people with one of the teachers who left to start her own school. We had two textbooks along the way, but I really didn't use them much because the language was too formal and complex. Relied instead on my notes and live recordings that I made as we went along. I also photographed all the teacher's slides so I could review them at night.

 

Some lecturers were better than others, but all were well informed. The other students were taking the training for vocational purposes; I was the only one doing it as a hobby. It was lots of fun.

 

If you think you might be in Kunming later this year, I can introduce you to the staff. Always glad to find other people interested in the subject. I've written a few other posts on specific kinds of tea here in the forum that you might find helpful. 

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艾墨本

Woah, what an amazing opportunity. It's great to hear you've invested so much time into studying tea. I hope you've found some way to share this fruitful knowledge back home in Texas.

 

The tea course I took was part of my students curriculum. I teach English at a technical college and many students study hotel management our tourism management. One of their required courses is two semester of tea training. I've been joining them for the class but it's entirely about the tea ceremony itself, and not much about tea. It's just once a week for 1.5 hours, so nothing like what you've done.

 

Actually, I hope to be in Kunming later this year! I''m looking at the Keats program their, the one that is advertised on this site. Dates are still up in the air until I find out when other obligations will start and end.

 

What motivated you to make such a time commitment to tea? I can't imagine it was a cheap process, either.

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imron
What motivated you to make such a time commitment to tea?

A three month, full-time course entirely in Chinese, with native Chinese classmates... what better way to improve your language skills than through something you find interesting?

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abcdefg
Can anyone recommend a lighter tea for me to try?

 

-- #14 -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48538-chinese-tea-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%8C%B6/

 

This is a question posed by ChTTay about a year ago from Beijing. I answered him privately, then thought It would be better to post here for the sake of others who wondered about the same thing. Not everyone prefers the strong, hearty teas. In fact Chinese people seem to prefer green tea, especially in the warmer months of the year.

 

Suggest buying a Huangshan Maofeng 黄山毛峰。 The fresh crop is hitting retail dealers' shelves right about now and is not difficult to find or overly expensive. Insist on some from this year's crop; don't let them give you last year's tea. Different grades exist, depending mainly on the elevation at which it is grown.

 

Taste it in the shop before purchasing. That's the norm in China. All else aside, the tea merchant can give you first hand tips on how to get the most flavor and enjoyment from that particular tea. You can get a big handful of prime leaves (50 to 100 Grams) at this time of year for under 50 Yuan. Not a huge investment.

 

If in doubt about technique, you can brew it simply in a glass, as per the instructions above in the earlier parts of this thread. (Remembering not to use water that is excessively hot.) No special equipment or supplies required.

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abcdefg

And earlier in that same thread -- Shelley -- #13 --

 

The more I think about it the more I like this idea of trying new teas.

 

You can guide us in the best way to brew and serve teas and this will help demystify the whole tea thing.

 

I am a fan of smoky teas but I also like good red tea, not tried too many green teas partly because I am not sure which ones to try and how to brew/serve them.

 

And, same thread, jump to #90 --

 

I will come back and post more as I discover more teas, which I intend to do.

 

Try some Huangshan Maofeng 黄山毛峰。If your local store doesn't have it, order some on-line. It's the right time of year to enjoy this tea. Save the heavy, smoky ones for fall and winter.

 

One can also use a gaiwan to brew this tea, and if you would prefer to do it that way, I can talk you through the process. (Though using a clear tall glass provides an extra element of visual beauty.)

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ZhangKaiRong

Really envy you, abcdefg! The tea shop here in my city has just ordered the first flush of spring tea, so it will take some time for them to arrive. Yunnan Maofeng is an excellent tea, together with the Mengding Gan Lü, these are really refreshing and takes the spot on the list of my most favorite Chinese greens.

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abcdefg

Thanks, ZhangKaiRong. I'm not sure I've ever had Mengding Ganlu tea, though I've read about it.

 

Do you think this below is a good description?

 

https://www.teatrekker.com/teas/sweet-dew

 

Actually that website has a nice rundown on several early spring teas and a discussion of what makes them special:

 

https://www.teatrekker.com/teas/all/all/2016

 

https://www.teatrekker.com/yunnan-sweet-white-threads

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ZhangKaiRong

Yes, it is exactly the Ganlu, a very good tea from Sichuan. I tend to prefer this, as the price of the pre-Qingmingjie harvest is tolerable, and provides a good value to its price. You should try it this year :)

 

Spring greens have always been a great wonder of the world of tea, and we need to appreciate them. I hope I can get some soon, currently I can only drink my Japanese spring matcha.

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abcdefg

Thanks, I will look for some Mengding Ganlu this weekend.

 

Spring greens have always been a great wonder of the world of tea, and we need to appreciate them.

 

Definitely, could not agree more.

 

Last year at this time I went with friends who were professional tea buyers into the mountains of South Yunnan, around Menghai 勐海县 to taste the new spring crop of raw Pu'er 生普洱茶。It was freshly picked and had not yet been compressed into cakes. They simply referred to it as 新茶。Still loose-leaf 散茶。

 

Some of it was fruity and delicious, but lots of it wasn't. Some was sharp and astringent, even though none of the tea they liked was bitter. We even tasted several teas each of which was picked entirely from one large ancient tree. They raved about it, but I couldn't really see that it was all that special.

 

They kept urging me to "look beyond the now" and try to imagine what it would taste like in 5 or 10 years when it was mature. Easier said than done! Even though the overall experience was definitely fun, I'm afraid much of the actual tea was lost on me.

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Alex_Hart

Beautiful review, abcd! It sounds like a lovely tea. Those pictures are also very pretty!

 

This may be a silly question, but is there a big difference in the taste created by different processing methods, i.e. if we take the same leaves and process them in different ways, will it taste drastically different?

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ZhangKaiRong

Yes, it will. The different tea types (white, green, oolong, yellow, red) are from the same leaves, but due to processing differences they will taste differently. Of course, based on some hundred years of expertise, Chinese realized that which area's leaves are the best for a specific tea type.

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abcdefg

Agree completely with ZhangKaiRong's explanation, and it was more succinct than the one I was formulating in my head. But let me expand on his answer with a couple of examples.

 

The tea farmers who grow Longjing Tea 龙井茶 near West Lake 西湖 outside Hangzhou 杭州 learned long ago that these small, thin leaves produce the best tea when just quickly pan roasted 杀青。They don't roll them and twist them 揉捻 or bake them 烘焙 or allow them to ferment 发酵 or even oxidize.

 

post-20301-0-49888100-1459925006_thumb.jpg

 

In the mountains of middle Taiwan, near Nantou 南投 last fall I visited a large tea farm where the maker grew three different closely-related varieties of tea on three different hilltops. He took great pains to show me the differences, and at first I could not tell them apart. The leaves on one hill were slightly "fatter" than the others (wider across); while the leaves on another hill had slightly more prominent serrations along their edges. 

 

He explained that he could pick one hill a few days earlier than the others, thus staggering production. And one hill was better to pick if the day was sunny and hot, another was better if the day was overcast and cool.

 

He could make very good Dongding Oolong 冻顶 乌龙茶 from all three, but he subtly varied the manufacturing process.

 

post-20301-0-61965700-1459926553_thumb.jpg

 

Maybe the leaves from Hill A would be best if withered outdoors in the shade a few minutes longer than the leaves from Hill B; but Hill B leaves would respond better to a longer indoor cool withering time, maybe two or three extra hours. And so on.

 

He personally supervised every batch and made small adjustments as they went along to get the best taste from each kind of leaf. Artisan teas like that require lots of skill exactly because the maker slightly varies the manufacturing process to fit the properties of the leaves.

 

So even if those leaves could have theoretically been turned into white tea or green tea or red tea by adjusting their handling, a maker who knows his craft will select the best way to handle them to produce a superior product and will usually stick with that year after year.

 

One tea farm I visited in Taiwan was run by a two young maverick teamaster brothers who inherited the farm from their elderly father. They first studied the art of brewing and serving tea, and only later entered the world of growing and producing finished tea leaves.

 

They made the usual teas for bulk sale, but also liked to play around by doing exactly what you were wondering about. They were inclined to experiment.

 

I tasted some tea there that was made from leaves that would normally have been processed as a green tea, but instead was processed as a red tea. They had even produced some tea using a process usually reserved for Pu'er. They laughingly called it their "Taiwan Pu'er."

 

Interesting subject, Alex_Hart. Thanks for asking about it.

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Alex_Hart

Thank you to both! I hadn't known the tea types were actually from the same leaves, Zhang! Rather unbelievable considering the massive variation in terms of taste - reminds me of (my favorite type of food) cheese. 

 

Thanks for the long write up, abcd! I had the privilege of trying 龙井茶 at a friend's home recently - quite delicious. Would like to try it again now that I know something about its unique production process. 

 

It would be really interesting to try the differences in the 南投 tea. I guess that was what I was getting at with my prior question - the variations that you could find in a tasting between the teas using a different production processes. I have gone to tea tastings with friends, but we were generally served several different types of tea. Would be great to, for example, try that farmer's three kinds of tea, or 龙井茶 from several different plantations/production facilities. Suppose I have to develop my palate first!

 

It's also rather fascinating when you think about the incredibly hands on productive process. Here in NYC (and the USA more generally), we have an entire movement ('hipsters') devoted to rediscovering that sort of artisanal production of food and beverages. Thus, you also stumbled upon the answer to another question I was meaning to ask: is there an ongoing climate of innovation/experimentation in the tea industry. While I understand the benefits of a tradition, it's always interesting to see whether new generations are fiddling with the rulebook handed down to them. I take that to be one of the defining aspects of the American hipster culture: take traditional items (e.g. pickles, grilled cheese, beer) and see what happens when you change it up. 

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abcdefg
Thus, you also stumbled upon the answer to another question I was meaning to ask: is there an ongoing climate of innovation/experimentation in the tea industry?

 

Another excellent question. There is some innovation and experimentation, but I don't know how to quantify it. And I don't know how China's tea innovation compares with that of Sri Lanka and India. China fell behind in the global tea race in the 1800's and never really caught up. Tea production in China today is still not very efficient.

 

Last year I visited an experimental tea farm in a village outside Menghai in the south of Yunnan. The tea farm was operated by agricultural scientists from a major university, which I think was Fudan (Shanghai) but I'm not 100% certain.

 

They were doing lots of things that I couldn't fully understand, but one project that was not too esoteric was taking many different successful tea cultivars and modifying the way they were grown so that they could be grown elsewhere as well.

 

For example, they had a large patch of Longjing tea growing in one spot and a large patch of a Fujian Ooling right next door. They were trying to adapt both of these to grow in an unlikely part of Inner Mongolia by altering farming techniques. They were trying different watering patterns, different end-of-year pruning methods, different ways of enriching the soil and so on. 

 

They were working as well with tricks of organic cultivation. China's record regarding food safety is not good, to put it mildly. There is an effort afoot to raise tea which is chemical free.

 

They also had indoor experiments underway that had to do with processing picked leaves in such a way as to make them more stable to transport and store. One project had to do with finding ways to allow green tea to stay fresh longer. For example, I saw compressed cakes of green tea being tested to see how that would affect flavor.

 

That kind of agricultural research is something I don't really know much about, but I was impressed that they were putting a lot of money into their projects. Not sure whether those efforts are enough to move Chinese tea to the forefront again, like it was hundreds of years ago.

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