We received a lot of inquires this time of year from tea enthusiasts who order our early spring green Chinese teas and wonder about the tiny balls of fuzz that they find here and there mixed in with the tea leaves in their packages. This is particularly true for our Pre-Qing Ming teas such as Longjing and Gan Lu.
” Is there something wrong with this tea “? is at the heart of the question, no matter how they approach the subject.
Our answer? No, we say, nothing is wrong. The tea is fine. Very fine. Better than fine. Because, in fact, we love to see those tiny fuzzy balls scattered throughout the tea. For us, it is the proof that the tea was picked as early in the spring as it was supposed to have been picked and from newly emerging buds and leaves.
Why are these fuzzy little balls in there? Some tea leaf varietals (more so than others) produce these little hairs on the surface of newly emerging spring tea buds and leaves. For early green teas that are pan-fired (pan roasted) such as Longjing, most of these leaf hairs are rubbed off as the leaf is being handled, pressed and shaped. These fuzzy hairs evaporate when the leaf is heated in the firing pan, and much of what remains s removed from the tea in the tea factory.
But a small amount of these leaf hairs gather into those fuzzy balls. These tiny balls are sprinkled throughout each batch of tea – there are not so many, so perhaps it is good luck to receive a few in our bag of tea!
If you look closely at the picture below, you can see that some of these leaf hairs are still attached to the sides of these Longjing leaves. These tenacious little hairs went through the processing and remained clinging to the side of the leaf!
In the second picture you can see a few examples of the fuzzy balls that form from these leaf hairs, and a close up of one of the balls in the third picture.
In contrast to the fuzzy balls found in pan-fired teas, the picture of Gan Lu tea below shows leaf hairs that are still very firmly attached to each strand of tea leaf. Teas such as this (which can be basket fired or pan fired or made by using a combination of the two techniques) is not pressed flat into the bottom of the hot firing pan. So the leaf fuzz remains attached to the leaf as not as much of it is ‘rubbed’ off.
Chinese green tea that is produced from fresh leaf plucked later in the spring usually does not have the fuzz present. So the fuzz is a characteristic of early spring leaf, and we see it specifically in certain green and white teas, and some 1st of the season spring black teas from Yunnan and eastern China.
Knowing this about the leaf hairs on certain teas is, we think, yet another interesting detail of handmade tea. And another reason why tea enthusiasts in the know can glean a lot of information about a Chinese tea from it’s appearance.