2017 Fresh New Harvest Tea versus ‘New Tea’

This post is something that we re-post every year at this time. We hope that it will clarified for our many new tea enthusiast customers what they need to pay attention to when purchasing tea this time of year (March and April) in the weeks before the arrival of fresh, tea from the new 2017 Chinese spring tea season.

Every year, right before the new tea season begins, many tea sellers begin to introduce ‘new’ tea. While this may suggest that these teas are ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ teas from 2017 spring, savvy tea drinkers know better. It is important to read between the lines this time of year and pay attention to the actual harvest dates of the tea in question.

In the next two months, simply because a tea is advertised as ‘new’ to a store or website it does not mean that it is new tea from the 2016 harvest. And tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of assuming that it is.

Very little new tea has been made in China to date this early spring (perhaps only a little from Hainan Island and Yunnan Province). So right now, if a Chinese tea is being sold as a ‘new tea’, and does not have a 2017 harvest date, it is not from this spring. If no harvest date is given for the tea, and if Chinese tea from 2017 spring is what you want, it is important that you understand the tea harvesting calendar to understand when new teas are made and subsequently when the first date is that these teas will be available for sale in the USA.

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It is confusing when tea vendors add ‘new teas’ to their inventory this time of year and they do not list a harvest date. If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea (or tea from anytime, really) that is simply a ‘new’ inventory item for that merchant or tea vendor.

Which does not mean that last year’s teas should be avoided – that is not the point. Some of last year’s Chinese green and white teas are still tasty but many are not.

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But our point is two-fold:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a ‘new’ tea is new 2017 harvest tea unless that tea is clearly identified as such.
  2. do not stock up heavily on last year’s green, white or yellow tea unless that is what you mean to do. Some of these teas will keep quite nicely for several more months or even a year if the weather in that place of production had all of the right elements going for it. But in general, one does not want to purchase large quantities of green, white or yellow tea from the previous spring when the new season spring teas are just around the corner.

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What You Need to Know

It is helpful to know when in the spring premium Chinese green, yellow, and white teas are made. These are China’s most distinguished hand made teas and are only made for a limited time each spring. Tea production times follow roughly the same seasonal calendar dates each year with slight allowances for weather, and there is seasonal timing to when tea factories make certain teas. Some teas are made in early April while others are made in early May. It depends on when the leaf is the right size on the tea bushes to achieve the characteristic appearance of the tea, and that the flavor components of the fresh leaf is properly developed for the tea to have its identifiable, characteristic flavor.

  • the first teas to appear in the spring are made for a short window of time from the end of March to April 5th and are known as Pre-Qing Ming teas
  • many of these teas have a 2nd plucking in mid-April and are classified as Yu Qian teas.
  • some of these have a 3rd plucking made from the end of April to the end of May and are classified as Gu Yu and Li Xia teas.
  • Some green teas are plucked only in the Yu Qian season and others only in the Gu Yu and Li Xia season. It all depends on the size of the leaf required to make certain teas.
  • Li Xia marks the end of the new spring tea season for green, white and yellow tea

So awareness of when teas are made will help tea enthusiasts determine if it is possible for a certain tea to be fresh tea from the new season or if the tea must be from last year’s harvest (or older!) For instance, spring high mountain gao shan oolong from Taiwan is not plucked and made until late April or early May, so any tea of this type being sold now can only be from last winter or last spring or beyond.

A Quick Look at Tea Trekker’s 2017 Tea Arrivals

As always, Tea Trekker will have our earliest harvest 2017 Chinese green and white teas air-shipped to us as soon as possible after these teas are made. We are readying our order requests with our Chinese and India Darjeeling tea suppliers for the time when these teas are actually made and samples can be couriered to us to taste and evaluate. We eagerly await these samples and taste them immediately, placing orders for our supplies of these teas the very next day.

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Black, green, white, and oolong from the 2nd seasonal Yu Qian plucking (April 6th to April 20th) will also be air-shipped to us as their production season is underway.

The 2017 green teas from Japan (with the exception of Japanese Shincha which will be available sometime mid-late April) are still 10-11 weeks away from being harvested, depending on the region and elevation of the tea gardens. Weather depending, production in most regions will begin at the end of April or in early May. Which puts arrival of 2017 Japanese green tea to our shop about the beginning of June.

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Spring is a very busy time in the tea gardens. Each tea has a time in the spring when conditions are right for that tea to be made. So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the harvest dates.

Tea enthusiasts who are familiar with seasonal tea production and the relative times that certain teas are expected in the marketplace will end up with fresher tea than those who are unaware of what they are purchasing.

Sign up for for email alerts announcing that when our spring teas arrive – many customers wait for these teas and some sell out quickly !

For more information on seasonal teas, please follow this link to our website, teatrekker.com

https://www.teatrekker.com/content/seasonal-teas-by-harvest-month

Hooray for spring and happy fresh new tea drinking!

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Is the Same Tea Really the ‘Same’ Tea?

With the rush of new spring 2017 tea just a few short weeks away it’s a good time to discuss something which I think speaks to many tea enthusiasts – how to get the best tea for your money from a a crowded marketplace of variously priced teas that appear to be the ‘same’ thing.

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Tea producers have an equally daunting task of pricing each and every production run of tea, and in the case of Chinese green tea, for instance, an excess of warm weather can increase the speed with which tea leaf grows in the first few weeks of the harvest. When the weather fails to cooperate, the amount of time for plucking tender bud-only teas may quickly vanish, even before enough of these teas are made.

When this happens tea producers will switch to plucking the next leaf configuration known as a mao feng ( two leaves and a bud) and make tea with it. So the tea in the baskets at the end of the day in the tea factory may be a different pluck from what they had in mind at the beginning of the day. For all tea, the quantity produced as well as the quality of each batch will factor into the price of those batches of tea. So the price of the bud-only tea will reflect a shortage of that tea for the year.

yel-mengmt_sb2-03bea932And so it goes – adjustments to the plucking style are made each and every day as the leaf grows larger. This gives tea producers many choice teas with both small and large grades of differences to sell. Each small batch will most likely have a different price, too.

Tea merchants, on the other hand, have the equally daunting task of finding the right grades of tea to satisfy their customers. The retail cost of any tea is directly related to what the tea merchant paid for the tea, plus a small amount added in to cover freight costs. Tea merchants purchase their teas from a variety of trusted sources – some purchase directly from origin, others from tea importers of varying sizes (in the US) and others from wholesalers (in the US) who purchase teas from larger tea importers. This range of sourcing options can present tea merchants with a dizzying choice of tea in many grades and prices.

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So what savvy tea enthusiasts need to realize is this: all tea is not created equally, even when it has the ‘same’ name. Nor is all tea sold equally fresh and sound or from the same plucking season or year.While this may be quite obvious to some, we know from experience that there are plenty of tea drinkers out there who don’t see the correlation between grade and price, and erroneously believe that all tea with the same name is the ‘same’ tea.

Some tea merchants sell consistently high quality tea and others do not – it all depends on their attitude about tea and the teas they select. If you only frequent shops that sell low-priced tea and shun those you fear are over-priced, you may be cheating yourself out of drinking really good tea. Low priced tea will never be good value in the long run.

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There is frequent complaining in the tea-o-sphere about the price of tea. Of course, those who are complaining about price usually believe that all prices are too high and that every tea vendor is an evil devil who is out to flinch their tea customers. Honestly, while there is some pretty bad tea being bandied about the internet (and that is something to complain about at any price) and a few merchants who mark their tea up to atmospheric levels, the market is self-policing.

So those serious about staying in business know that today’s transparency on the internet will cast them in a poor light. So, overall, I think the problem is not as great as it is made out to be. I sometimes think that posts like the aforementioned are designed simply to attract readership and cause a tempest in the teapot. It’s a known fact that sensational reviews and posts that rant and rave attract more attention than less flammable opinion does. Grousing is in – in fact, it has now become a sport for some!

So rather than have customers fixate on price, we believe that tea enthusiasts should think more about how to get the best tea that their money can buy. Which is not the same as searching for the lowest price. As shoppers, we need to think more like investors, and expect for ROI – return on investment on our purchases.

Thin-Client-Return-on-InvestmentWhat is ROI on tea? Imagine that you purchased 4 packages of Keemun Congou tea from 4 different tea vendors. You steep each tea fairly and uniformly with the same steeping parameters, and rate the teas on the following points. The level of enjoyment and satisfaction that you received from each tea in relationship to the price is the ROI value. The level of enjoyment and satisfaction is a measure of:

  • satisfaction with the taste/flavor/aromatics in the cup
  • freshness of taste/flavor/aroma
  • degree of seasonal flavor characteristics
  • sound condition and good appearance of the leaf
  • tasty-ness in relation to price

Ideally, you want to find tasty tea at a price you can afford – the teas that give you, well, the best bang for the buck. You might end up deciding you prefer the most expensive tea, or if the most expensive tea is 2 x the cost of another selection but only a little bit better tasting, then the less costly tea may be the best ROI for you.

How to find teas with the best ROI? Our suggestion is to invest a little money in your future tea drinking this spring (when the fresh teas start arriving) and order the ‘same’ tea from several tea vendors. Do this with 3-4 teas and order the ‘same’ teas from at least 4-5 tea merchants. This will cost you a bit of money, but what you discover will be well worth it.

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After you conduct your steeping/tasting experiment, you will most likely find that there is a pattern to the quality of tea each tea merchant sells. Tea vendors position themselves quality-wise, so you will find that some tea will be great, and some, just so-so. Reliable tea shops maintain a discernible level of quality because they know what they want in their teas and stay true to these principles.

And this is what tea enthusiasts should look for – a tea shop or online tea vendor that has a well-thought out selection of good, sound tea that turns over seasonally and stays fresh because it sells. Because in truth, great teas do not pop up in unlikely places. Most know that Walmart is not the place to go to purchase handcrafted goods, nor is Whole Foods the right place to purchase distressed food.

The same holds true for tea. The shop that sold you some 2-year old green tea, and some saw-dusty black tea will not be the place to find a mind-blowing Fenghuang dan cong.Choose Two-Way Road Sign - Isolated

OK, so what factors do tea sellers consider (and you should think of these, too) when purchasing tea to sell? The factors that affect grade/price:

  • season of the year and time frame within the season for teas made in the same year
  • age and condition of the tea (if it is an aged tea)
  • the leaf pluck of the tea (bud most expensive; bud and leaf next most costly; bud and two leaves next most costly)
  • amount of hand-work involved in shaping and firing the leaf
  • condition of the leaf
  • quantity of that tea produced
  • the taste/flavor and aroma of the tea

Let’s again use Keemun Congou, a popular Chinese black tea, as an example. Most producers of Keemun sell their tea in 3 categories with 3 price points in each category for a total of 9 different grades of quality.

So, at the retail level the grade of Keemun will account for big differences in the price of the tea. The cost may double, triple or quadruple per kilo from common grades to the highest grade of premium Keemun.  Keemun  Congou has 9 grades for teas – this does not include other Keemun-related tea such as Keemum Mao Feng or Keemun Hong Xiang Luo, which have their own set of grades and price points. And tea workers like to show off their tea making skills by finessing more and more differences from those tiny tea leaves. So it is not uncommon for small batches of special production Keemun to be outside of the normal grading standards.

Tea producers usually assign letters or numbers to their grades such as Grade A or #1 Grade, but sometimes also use terms such as premium grade, superfine grade, Emperor grade, superior grade, etc. While these can be legitimate grades, these terms may also become diluted when they are used indiscriminately by some tea vendors. On the retail level many Keemun Congous are not sold with a known grade. If the specific details about different Keemun Congous are unknown, you should assume that these are most likely very different teas that merit the taste test to ferret out the best ones.

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Chinese spring green teas are manufactured in even more grades and price points, adding a greater level of complexity and confusion for consumers. But there are some clues given at will be of some help in evaluating the quality of spring teas, and these are:

  • season of the pluck (when plucked)
  • where the tea is from (place)
  • configuration of the pluck ( bud, mao jian, mao feng, etc)

Each spring, tea from the new harvest year is sold by tea producers in one of 4 categories based on seasonal divisions/pluck time. Sometimes these markers of pluck time are given for certain teas:

  • Pre-Qing Ming or Ming Qian tea (plucked before April 5th)
  • Before the Rains or Yun Qian tea (plucked before April 20th)
  • Spring tea or Gu Yu tea (plucked before May 6th)
  • Late Spring or Li Xia tea (plucked before May 21st)

Each seasonal division has several grades of quality, too. The earliest plucked tea within the division and the most perfect leaf will be the most costly. For XiHu Longjing, a very famous and popular tea worldwide, there are four designated places where authentic Longjing (based on tea bush varietal) is grown: Shi Feng, Meijiawu Village, Weng-jia Shan and West Lake Village. Last year, the 8 grades of XiHu Longjing were listed, as well as the occasional special batch and competition-grade teas.

  • AAA Jing Pin: 100% bud and 1 leaf
  • AA Te Ji: 70% bud and 1 leaf; 30% 1 bud and 2 leaves
  • 1 st Grade: 70 % 1 bud and 2 leaves; 30% 1 bud and 1 leaf
  • 2nd Grade
  • 3rd Grade
  • 4th Grade
  • 5th Grade
  • 6th Grade

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Lastly, for an even more complex listing of grading/pricing, consider a very well-known
yan cha or rock oolong tea – Da Hong Pao. Prices for this tea can range wildly, as can its authenticity, proving a thorny issue for tea merchants. This is an example of last year’s production grades and not counting special small batches; traditional charcoal roasting or not; amount of roasting; new or aged tea; blends of Zheng Yan and Ban Yan, etc.:

Zheng Yan – core production zones

  • Grade AAA
  • Grade AA
  • Grade A
  • Grade 1
  • Grade 2
  • Grade 3

Ban Yan – close to original production zones

  • Grade AAA
  • Grade AA
  • Grade A
  • Grade 1
  • Grade 2
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5

When purchasing yan cha (or dan cong) remember this: the best ones can cost $1,000 a lb or more in China so are never cheap. The highest grades never leave China. The older these teas are or the rarer the tea bush varietal from which they are made the more expensive they will be. And if these teas have been given a traditional charcoal-roast this will add to the cost as well. Much of the ‘Da Hong Pao’ that is sold in the West is actually Shui Xian – know your vendor!

OK, so before you throw up your hands and say ” What’s a tea drinker to do? ” remember, that the best way to find your way to a clearer path of discernment among tea is to do a little homework and taste a lot of teas to develop your palate.

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Keep notes in a book or on your smart phone and educate yourself about the teas you are drinking. Because purchasing tea is not as cut and dry as searching for a specific bottle of a favorite wine by a known producer or finding the brand of chocolate that you like, tea enthusiasts have more work to do to find the right tea vendor for their taste preference and pocketbook. However, once you do, the rewards are tremendous and are well worth the effort required to educate your palate for fine tea.

So, with a new tea season coming, it is time to revel in the fresh new teas that will soon be here. Use a little caution and look for ROI in your tea and you will feel that you have spent your money well for tea that is fresh, tasty and makes you feel good when you drink it. That is the best ROI that we can think of!

Our Awesome Nepal White Tea

Nepal Himalaya White Moon Dance white tea

We work directly with Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden for the teas that we sell from their gardens each year. This tea really impressesd us with its brisk flavor and fresh, exhuberant aroma.

It is a stunning example of the art of tea making and a limited, seasonal pluck from a specific spring time frame. It is comprised of a very tiny leaf and bud. This tea was made just a few weeks ago – now that’s fresh!

In fact, we like this tea so much that we purchased the entire batch that was made (minus 2 kilos that went to a fine tea shop in Europe!).

Read more about it here:

https://www.teatrekker.com/nepal-himalaya-white-moon-dance

Our 2016 Spring Teas are Here!

Welcome spring – welcome new spring  tea !

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Our fresh 2016 new teas are being sent from the tea fields as soon as they are made. As each tea arrives we add it to the Tea Trekker website where it will appear in the appropriate listing for its type of tea (green, black, etc) and also in the seasonal teas listing for 2016. We expect the spring green teas to continue arriving thru the month of April.

Happy, sweet tea drinking!

 Click her to follow our 2016 fresh spring tea harvest arrivals

 

The 1st of Our 2016 Famous Chinese Teas are On The Way!

In the distant days of pre-history, forest-dwelling inhabitants experimented with cooking the leaves and buds plucked from wild-growing tea trees in the far Western regions of China. Since that time, tea has developed over the centuries into a refined and elegant beverage: the drink of emperors, monks and every man.

China was the first country to understand the value of the leaves of indigenous Camellia sinensis and Camillia assamica tea bushes – first as a food source, then as a medicinal tonic and lastly as a refreshing beverage. Centuries were spent cultivating vast numbers of teas  in the mountainous regions of China, and in refining methods for preparing tea. Exquisite teawares were created to showcase this precious beverage, adding a tactile and visual element to social tea gatherings.


Imperial Tribute Teas / Famous Chinese Tea

Fortunately for us today, many of these historic teas survive. Once known as Imperial Tribute Tea  (teas once favored by various ruling emperors) today these teas are known as Famous Chinese Teas.

Beginning in China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) and continuing into the Song dynasty
(960-1279) certain teas became renowned for their elegance and refinement. Plucked in the cool, misty days of early spring from isolated tea gardens in lofty mountain regions, these teas were promoted as elixirs of the gods. Each tea was of such remarkable and ethereal quality that successive emperors claimed production of certain teas as his exclusive property. Emperors took delivery of the tea as soon as it was available in the spring, which was recorded as fulfillment of ‘tax’ owed to the government. Hence the name ‘tribute’. The fine reputation of these teas from revered mountains were also known to tea connoisseurs and the literati in the Song dynasty, who praised the sublime nature of these teas and sipped them from fine, delicate tea bowls.

The Imperial Tribute Teas lost their emperors in 1911, but the teas became available to more tea drinkers in China. And their moniker changed to Famous Chinese Teas. The reputation of these teas has survived both the Cultural Revolution and modernization in Chinese drinking habits and they still remain famous and revered today.


Each Famous Chinese Tea is instantly recognizable by its characteristic leaf shape and size, appearance and taste. These are ‘named’ teas, that is teas that are named for their respective mountain source or place of origin. Their pedigree comes not only from their past imperial association but also from each tea’s unique environment – terroir – and the specific cultivation and steps of leaf manufacture that creates its distinguished character.

It is easy to understand why these teas gained imperial favor – each is an example of a regional specialty tea, unlike no other and made no where else in China. And made just once-a-year for a short one, two or three weeks each spring.

Many of these teas are classified as pre-Qing Ming teas, which means that they are made from the first budding tea bushes of spring (from mid-March to April 5th). Accordingly, pre-Qing Ming teas are more costly than tea that is plucked a few weeks later. These teas are in limited supply because the number of pluckable buds on newly sprouting tea bushes is very small.

Tea enthusiasts in China have published various lists of the Top 10 or Top 15 Famous Chinese Teas. The trouble is that there are so many well-known, beloved teas in China that these lists do not always feature the same teas.

So in the spirit of list-making, the following is Tea Trekker’s list of Top 15 Famous Chinese Teas, based on an aggregation of other lists and what we have gleaned from visiting our tea producers in the various tea-growing regions of China.

 


The bold-faced teas in this listing are the Famous Chinese Teas from the 2016 harvest that will be arriving at Tea Trekker in April and May. In some cases, such as Keemun, Da Hong Pao, Longjing, Pu-erh and Tieguanyin we will have more than one tea of that type. This is possible as we source micro-lots of tea from different villages with slight differences in manufacture, sub-varietal specificity, etc. Please visit the respective listings pages for these teas to read about each of them and check back frequently to see what has arrived!

  1.  Longjing – Xi Hu Longjing (green tea) – arriving mid-April 
  2. Bi Lo Chun ( green tea) – arriving early April 
  3. Huang Shan Mao Feng (green tea) – on the way to us NOW! 
  4. Jun Shan Yin Zhen (yellow tea)
  5. Keemun (black tea) – arriving mid-April 
  6. Da Hong Pao (oolong) – arriving late April 
  7. Liu An Gua Pian (green tea) – arriving mid-May 
  8. Tieguanyin (oolong) – arriving early May 
  9. Tai Ping Hou Kui (green tea) – arriving mid-May 
  10. Xin Yang Mao Jian (green tea)
  11. Yin Zhen (white tea) – arriving mid-April 
  12. Pu-erharrives throughout the year 
  13. Lu Shan Yun Wu (green tea) – arriving mid-April 
  14. Ding Gu Da Fang (green tea)
  15. Mengding Mountain Gan Lu (green tea) – arriving approx. mid-April