Thoughts On the Arrival of 2016 Spring Tea

Whoohoo….it is fast approaching the new 2016 tea season here at Tea Trekker.

Early spring is an exciting time for us. It is filled with anticipation of the new tea season in China, India, Japan, Korea,Taiwan and Sri Lanka. We eagerly await the moments when we are notified by our tea suppliers that new fresh teas are ready and the samples we requested have been dispatched to us.

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The teas we select are then AIR SHIPPED to us in order to obtain these premium teas when they are just 10 days to 2 weeks old. These fresh teas are such a taste treat, and so rarely available for sale in the USA this soon after manufacture. We pride ourselves on being one of the first tea vendors to accomplish this fast availability of fresh new tea.

Seasonality in tea is important. Tea enthusiasts are beginning to understand that many premium Chinese green, white and yellow teas; and Japanese and Korean green teas are plucked only once each year in the early spring.

Other teas, such as hong cha and oolongs may be plucked over the course of two or three seasons. Tea that is plucked once a year is more expensive because the short manufacturing season yields less tea for the farmers and tea villages to sell. But these teas have superior flavors and aromas and more finesse and character than the standard-quality green teas that are plucked during the summer months, so tea lovers seek them out for the sheer joy they provide in the cup.

Some tea has a main spring crop and a second crop in the late summer or fall. Knowing what season a tea was made can reveal information about what to expect in the flavor and aroma of that tea. All teas, even those manufactured in more than one season, have a time of the year when they are at their tastiest best. 


Japanese sencha, too, manufactured from leaf  plucked in early May will have a sweetness and a delicacy that is lacking in sencha manufactured in the summer.  While seasonal variations in tea reveal different flavor and aroma qualities, tea drinkers often find that they have personal taste preferences from one season over another.

Spring plucked tea implies ‘freshness’ and freshness is important with green, yellow, and white teas, and some oolongs. ( The notion of ‘fresh’ tea or ‘young’ tea does not apply to all classes of tea. Many Chinese oolongs are aged to enhanced flavor, and other teas (like matcha, for example ) are best when ‘mellowed’ for several months before drinking. Sheng Pu-erh tea can be drunk young, but is traditionally stored for years to develop rich, deep flavors. Many black teas will hold well for several years and a bit of aging can soften their astringent edges. So knowing when a certain tea was harvested and having an understanding of when that tea should be drunk, is an important tool in evaluating any tea.


The spring tea harvest begins at different times in different countries and regions of each country. In the locations where tea has a dormant period, bud-break (the re-awakening of the tea bushes after winter hibernation) is triggered by seasonal weather changes.

Following below is an approximate timeline of tea harvesting dates in China, India, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka and Taiwan based on a normal weather cycle. Of course, these dates are always subject to the whims of nature and the seasonal/un-seasonal weather patterns and conditions that affect all farms and agricultural crops. Cold weather will delay plucking, and unseasonably warm weather can speed up leaf growth and the pace of plucking and manufacture by as much as a week or two. And, for tea villages located higher and deeper in the mountains, seasonal tea production can delayed by a week or two.

Hopefully, this timeline will help our customers gauge when their favorite 2016 teas might be arriving to our tea shop. We announce new tea arrivals via our e-newsletters, so those who want to know when teas arrive (some sell out fast ) would be advised to sign-up on the teatrekker.com website to receive these newsletter announcements.

  Approximate Tea Harvesting Timeline

  • FEBRUARY (late)

China: production of bud-pluck green and black tea (dian hong) begins in late February in some regions of Yunnan Province

India: the Darjeeling and Assam regions in the north begin plucking 1st flush black teas end-of-February to mid-March

Sri Lanka: The quality season for the Southern Coast districts is February, and in the Central Highland districts of Nuwara Eliya and Kandy it is February and March.

  • MARCH

China: weather permitting, the arrival of early spring in mid March begins the plucking season for some premium green and yellow teas in Western China. In Sichuan Province, Mengding Mt. Gan Lu, Mengding Mt. Huang Ya and Zhu Ye Qing are plucked in mid-March.

The earliest plucks of Xi Hu Region Longjing tea (Zhejiang Province) and tiny
Bi Lo Chun (Jiangsu Province) begin to appear at this time as well.

In eastern China’s Fujian Province, production of bud-plucked Yin Zhen white tea is from mid-March to the end of March.

In Yunnan Province dian hong leaf black teas begin to appear in the market along side leafy green and tender bud green teas by mid-March.

Nepal: Eastern Nepal begins plucking 1st flush black tea in mid-March.

Taiwan: early spring semiball-rolled oolong production begins in central Taiwan.

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  • APRIL

China: April is the busiest time in eastern China for premium green teas from all of the important green tea producing Provinces. Teas such as Anji Bai Cha; En Shi Lu Yu; Huang Shan Mao Feng; Long Ding; and Lu Shan arrive early to claim the Pre-Qing Ming designation

The 1st Fenghuang Dan Cong oolongs are plucked beginning at the end of April.

Production of Lapsang Souchong and Jin Jin Mei begins in northern Fujian Province in April, as well as all the teas that make up the family of Keemun black teas.

In southern Fujian semiball -rolled green oolongs from the Anxi region
(Tieguanyin and SeZhong varietals: Ben Shan; Huang Jin Gui; Mao Xie; Tou Tian Xiang ) begin to appear in late April and continue into May.

Light roast Wu Yi Shan oolongs (Da Hong Pao, Jun Zi Lan, Rou Gui, Shui Jin Gui, Shui Xian, etc) are manufactured in late April to early May but are sometimes not sent to market until June. Traditional charcoal roast Wu Yi Shan oolongs (heavy roast) appear in June.

Dian hong production in Yunnan Province begins in April and can extend into May

The leaf and bud materials for Pu-erh are plucked from old tea trees in parts of Yunnan Province from April to July.

NOTE: the spring season in China is divided up into 4 periods of time, and the harvest dates of the most anticipated green teas, such as Longjing, are associated with certain dates on the agricultural calendar. This is the breakdown for the production time based on a perfect weather season:

  1. Pre-Qing Ming or Ming Qian tea ( leaf plucked before April 5th )
  2. Before the Rains or Yu Qian tea ( leaf plucked before April 20th )
  3. Spring tea or Gu Yu tea ( leaf pucked before May 6th )
  4. Late spring or Li Xia ( leaf plucked before May 21st )

India: spring tea from the Nilgiris are manufactured in April/May.

Japan: limited early production of the first new tea of the new uear – Shincha – may begin in late April as well as first plucked Sencha (Ichibancha) teas.

Korea: the first of the season green – Ujeon – is plucked just before Koku ( the first grain rain and the sixth seasonal division), around April 20th.

Taiwan: spring pluck Baozhong comes to market towards the middle April. Production of jade oolongs from lower level elevation tea gardens begins in earnest.

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China: Several later-to-market Eastern China Greens that rely on very large leaf sizes, such as Fo Cha; Lu An Guapian; and Tai Ping Hou Kui are ready for May production.

May also brings to market the Bai Lin Gong Fu family of hong cha, and the Golden Monkey Panyang Congou family of hong cha.

The base tea for jasmine tea ( zao pei ) is made now and stored until the tea can be ‘married’ with the fresh flower blossoms when they arrive in the summer.

Production of leafy Bai Mu Dan; Gong Mei; and Shou Mei white teas begins and ends in May.

India: 2nd flush teas begin to be plucked in Darjeeling and Assam.

Japan: production of Sencha begins and or continues in various regions throughout May. Gyokuro tea production can begin in mid May and continue into early June depending on the location of the tea gardens.

Korea: production of Sejak occurs during Ipha (the start of summer- around May 6th); plucking of Jungjak follows during Soman (full grains season around May 21s )Taiwan: production of high-mountain gao shan begins in the higher elevation tea gardens. Plucking may continue into early June. Manufacture of Bai Hao begns.

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  • JUNE

Sri Lanka: the Uva district of the Eastern Highlands produces its quality season teas from June-September.

Taiwan: manufacture of Bai Hao oolong continues into June and sometimes July.

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  • SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER / NOVEMBER

China / Fujian Province: Fall production of Tieguanyin and local Se Zhong varietals is underway at the end of September into October

China / Guangdong Province: September/ October production of  winter dan cong begins

India / Nepal: Fall production of autumnal teas begins in October and can extend into November

Taiwan: mid-to-end of October until mid-November is the time for winter production of high mountain gao shan and mid-level elevation semiball-rolled oolongs; and leafy Bai Hao and Baozhong oolongs.

  • JANUARY

India: winter frost teas (black tea) from the Nilgiri region of southern India are manufactured from December thru March.

Sri Lanka: West Highlands quality season in the Dimbula region is January thru March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tips for Steeping Delicious Green Tea

We hear a lot of this and that about green tea from our customers. Most are thrilled to have discovered this lovely category of sweet, fragrant tea while others find it bitter and astringent or just plain unpleasant. Sometimes there are foods and drink that just do not agree with us and that is that – like a bad first date that is just not meant to be. But other times we wonder if the technique used to steep green tea is going unchecked or if someone was using just plain old or bad tea.

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So, in advance of the new 2016 green tea season which will begin in China at the end of March (4 weeks away), followed by harvests from Japan and Korea as the weather warms in May , let us share some thoughts about how to obtain the best flavor from your green tea. We have found over the years that many tea enthusiasts who think that they do not like green tea actually do, once their steeping technique is adjusted to fit the needs of this fresh, clean leaf.

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1. Start with good, premium grade loose-leaf tea. Supermarket tea will just not deliver good taste and neither will teabag tea (no matter how fancy the teabag or how much you paid for them). There is a reason why most commercial green tea is flavored, and it is almost always to distract from how low-quality the base tea is.

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2. Buy fresh tea. Try to purchase green tea that is sold with a current harvest date, not an expiration date. Green tea is especially perishable, so if the tea is more than 1-year old or has no harvest date listed, pass on it and purchase tea from a vendor that sells tea from the current year’s spring season. Old tea will lack flavor and aroma and be unsatisfying or worse, harsh and bitter.

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3. Beware of other aromas fouling your tea. Tea leaves can easily pick up other aromas, so beware when purchasing tea from spice shops or other stores in which there are strong competing aromas in the air. Ditto for storing your green tea – do so away from other aromas in your pantry or kitchen cabinet.

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4.  Do not refrigerate or freeze your tea. Cold, humid air can affect the moisture content of the leaf and yield strange flavors. Keep your green tea dry and in a clean container.
NOTE: some Japanese tea drinkers refrigerate their sencha and matcha, but they do so very carefully in airtight metal containers that do not allow for moisture exchange. If you choose to follow this storage practice, do so meticulously.

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5. Use enough leaf. We recommend using 2-3 grams of leaf tea for every 6-ounces of your tea-steeping vessel’s capacity. Green tea has tremendous variation in leaf size (from 1.5 inches long to very tiny) and also comes in many shapes and and densities (from curls to flat to fluffy). So it becomes difficult to measure many green teas by the teaspoon, tablespoon, etc. Use an inexpensive gram scale if you seriously want to have consistent results and get the right amount of leaf in the cup. ‘Eyeballing it’ produces results that will be successful 50-50 at best. Seriously.

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6. Know your water. Good water will allow the bright flavors of your tea to shine in all its complexity – bad water will dull the flavor and flatten out the taste. Lu Yu, the Tang dynasty author of The Classic of Tea said that water drawn from the center of a flowing mountain stream is best.Since that is not possible for most of us, tap water is often the default water for steeping tea. But is your tap water soft or hard? Hard water contains a high percentage of calcium and magnesium and other salts that may overwhelm the taste and subtlety of green tea. Soft water is the opposite – it contains very few minerals. Taste-wise, soft water is generally preferred for tea steeping. But the best for tea steeping is to use sweet tasting, slightly neutral water, which is easily obtained by purchasing bottled spring water in the supermarket. Avoid mineral water and distilled water.

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7.  Use short steeps. Green teas are sweetest and most elegant when they are steeped for 1-2 minutes; longer than that in the water only encourages bitterness in the cup. You will also gain the opportunity to re-steep most green tea one or two additional times if you steep this way. Much of the joy for Asian tea drinkers is observing how the tea changes in taste and character on each re-steeping.

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Hong Cha steeped for 20 minutes ?

Here at Tea Trekker we have been experimenting with various steep times for several of our long leaf, China black teas (hong cha).

Of particular interest has been the wild and high-mountain-grown, older-variety leaf from Yunnan Province in southwest China.

We normally steep these teas twice, first for 4 minutes and then again for 4-5 minutes, depending on the size of the leaf and the amount of bud. We generally use this methodology also with the large leaf eastern China black teas, new Keemun Buds, and several other black teas such as Fenghuang Dan Cong Black and Yingde #9, as well.

Depending on the circumstances, we vary the steep times and the amount of leaf used. We always use a generous portion of leaf, as this ensures the hearty cup that we are seeking.

One recent afternoon in the store, Bob was steeping some JingMai Wild Arbor black tea, and was called away to answer a customer’s question. That leaf ended up steeping for almost 20 minutes before he had a chance to retrieve it.

He knew to taste it anyway, ‘just in case’, because the initial steeping water had been off-the-boil, as that is what he normally likes to use with Yunnan black teas. The steeped tea was absolutely delicious and very unusual – it had nuances of flavor that were shocking and there was not even a whisper of astringency or that over-steeped, ‘cooked’ flavor that a smaller-leaf tea would have exhibited if steeped that long.

He even decided to experiment with a second steeping (curiosity is critical in tea steeping!) and so used very hot water and a 5-minute steep and the resulting tea was quite drinkable, but light.

What was particularly noticeable in the long steep was the deep, woody, layered ‘forest’ flavor that is so unique to Yunnan teas, but doesn’t always show in a ‘regular’ cup steeped for a shorter time.

We use this experience to illustrate the necessity to ‘play with your tea’. We just never know what delightful experience we will have until this sort of ‘mistake’ happens.

The Book of Tea

BOOK REVIEW
by Mary Lou Heiss
November 8, 2015

The Book of Tea
by Okakura Kakuzo
Tuttle Publishing (December 15, 1989)

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In Kakuzo Okakura’s eloquently conceived discourse, The Book of Tea, Okakura introduces readers to the intricacies of Japanese culture and values. Okakura arrived in America in 1905 and took a position in the Chinese and Japanese Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which he held until his death in 1913. He was also associated with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and was influential in assisting Mrs.Gardner  amass a stunning collection of Asian art. In fact, Kakuzo Okakura made Boston the center of the late-nineteenth-century vogue in the United States for art and objects Japanese.

The Book of Tea was first published in 1906, and has remained in publication continuously since. Okakura chose to write his book in English for an American audience. His intent was that his words act as a cultural emissary and spread understanding and appreciation for Japanese art and culture to an American audience that little understood Japanese culture. For most Westerners, Japan remained an aloof place with intriguing customs and impeccable taste.

With thoughtful and beautifully crafted sentences delivered in a straightforward and direct manner, Okakura chose to write about Japanese culture via the Japanese tea ceremony – Chanoyu – using this topic as the vehicle to explore his subject and give voice to his words and feelings. Perhaps by drawing on the tea drinking sensibilities of New Englanders, he chose this way to approach his objective of introducing and clarifying essential Japanese beliefs on topics such as life, art, religion, spirituality, and the value of beauty. He also paved the way for an appreciation of Japanese tea culture that reverberates to this day.

The roots of tea culture began in Japan during the Nara Period (710-794). By the Muromachi Period (1333-1573) Zen Buddhist practices were firmly established in Japan. The great Japanese tea masters, such as Sen Rikyu, were Zen masters who shaped these doctrines and embraced tea drinking as a disciplined ritual central to developing the mental and physical health necessary to lead an ordered and practical life.

Tea drinking underscored Zen concepts and incorporated the principles of
wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (purity) and jaku (tranquility) – virtues that imbued meaning not just to the lives of individuals, but also to society at large thru mindful and respectful social interactions. Undertaken as a mindful ritual, tea drinking embraced spiritual ideals, philosophical thinking and cultural values. It provided the opportunity for men and women of all walks of life to kneel as equals beside one another in the simple and pure environment of the tea room.

By focusing their attention on the details involved in the preparation and enjoyment of the tea, guests could leave behind the worries of their everyday existence and take pleasure in the humble beauty of the experience.

Okakura titles his chapters The Cup of Humanity, The Schools of Tea, Taoism and Zennism, The Tea-Room, Art Appreciation, Flowers, and Tea Masters, all of which combines into a skillful, parallel walk thru the ideals of chanoyu and Zen approaches to life.

Handmade 2015 Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea

Woohoo! After a long time of this and that, we have finally received some Nie Jian – handmade Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea. This tea is from 2015 spring and it is stunning to look at and delicious to drink.

Bob and I visited the Tai Ping Hou Kui tea production area on our first tea buying trip to China in 2000. The core production zone for Tai Ping Hou Kui tea is Hou Keng village in Xinming Township. Two nearby villages – Hou Gang and Xian Jia – also contribute to the production. These tea areas are in Tai Ping county, at the southern end of Tai Ping Lake, situated close to the stunning Huang Shan Mountains in Anhui Province.


Read more: http://www.teatrekker.com/tai-ping-hou-kui