June 10th Update on 2012 Tea Arrivals

Tea, tea and more tea. We are thrilled to announce our first-round of new teas for 2012. The second round is on the way, so keep checking teatrekker.com for new additions.

This year the green tea harvest was delayed throughout eastern China by unseasonable weather conditions. In some areas long periods of colder than usual weather lingered as winter retreated and spring approached, and in other areas incessant rainfall and cold delayed the start of leaf plucking. But despite the rocky start and the plucking delays, our teas from this season are excellent in flavor, aroma and appearance.

Because of plucking and production delays our Chinese teas arrived later than usual this spring ( Darjeelings from India, too!).  Last year most of our Pre-Qing Ming teas were in our store by April 5th (a herculean feat in any year and last year was an extraordinarily cooperative year), but this year schedules had to adjust to accommodate the weather. The quantity of China spring green tea produced in 2012 was much smaller than usual, so we are happy to report that we received just about everything that we wanted with minimal (if any) price increases.

For us, this delay coincided with our decision to re-locate our store. Which meant that much of our new tea began to arrive as we were beginning to pack up for the move. That is not the way we would have liked it to be, but whenever the tea arrives safe and sound we are happy.

From late April until the middle of May new tea poured into the store pretty rapid fire. We carved out time to list some of these teas on teatrekker.com; others were offered only in the store. Now that we are happily in our new storefront, all the new 2012 teas that we have are now listed on the website. Not everything has complete information (that will come soon!) but you will find listings and prices in place.

As always, we are happy to answer any questions about availability and what’s in the pipeline.

Here is what we have –

2012 China Green Tea

  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village (Pre-Qing Ming)  – sold out! 
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village  (Yu Qian)- in stock!
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Shi Feng – in stock!
  • Xin Chang County Longjing: Dafo Village ( Pre-Qing Ming) – in stock!
  • Buddha’s Tea (Jui Hua Shan Fo Cha) ( Early Spring ) – in stock!
  • Huang Shan Mao Feng ( Early Spring ) – in stock
  • Kai Hua Long Ding (Pre-Qing Ming) sold out!
  • Kai Hua Long Ding  ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Lu Shan ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) ( Pre-Qing Ming) – sold out!
  • Gan Lu ( Sweet Dew ) ( Pre-Qing Ming Grade A X-Fine Pluck ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Snow Sprout ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Spring Beauty ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Spring Buds  (Pre Qing Ming) – in stock!
  •  Zhu Ye Qing  (Pre-Qing Ming)sold out!

2012 China Red Tea ( black tea )

  • Bai Lin Gong Fu (Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 China White Tea

  • Bai Mudan ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Fuding Wild Curly Leaf ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Bai Mudan – in stock!

2012 China Yellow Tea

  • Mengding Mountain Huang Ya ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 Japan Green Tea

  • Hashiri Shincha – in stock!

2012 Darjeeling, India

  • 1st Flush, Castleton Garden, SFTGFOP1 CH – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Goomtee Garden, FTGFOP1, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Makaibari Garden, SFTGFOP1, Bio-Dynamic, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush Margaret’s Hope Estate, FTGFOP1 – in stock!

Coming Soon –

  • China red teas (black)
  • China oolongs – Anxi & Dan Cong
  • Japan greens ( old favorites ) and new offerings
  • Taiwan gao shan oolongs

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2012 Pre-Qing Ming Meijiawu Longjing & Gan Lu have arrived!

The first of our 2012 Pre-Qing Ming ( Ming Qian ) teas have arrived from eastern China. The beginning of the tea harvest was slowed in many regions by the vagaries of weather that makes established plucking-times and ‘market-date’  cycles in our modern times a bit unpredictable. However, these sheer deliciousness and goodness of these new teas have been worth the short delay.

Longjing is one of China’s Ten Famous Teas, and it is the most sought after of the pre-Qing Ming teas (tea plucked from the end of March until April 5th).

It is comprised of a classic two-leaves and a bud pluck, and the appearance is that of a carefully made, hand-shaped, pan-fired tea. It possesses a signature taste combination of toastiness, nuttiness and delicacy that is unique. From the first sip of the initial steeping right through to the lingering taste of the final cup,Longjing always fills the palate with sweet, satisfying flavor.

The origin of authentic Longjing is the vicinity of West Lake ( Xi Huregion ) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Longjing is a protected tea
( protected against counterfeit  ‘Longjing’  made somewhere else in China, or anywhere) and can only legitimately come from one of the places located within the National Designated Protected Zone.

(Our Longjing is ‘authentic Longjing’ which means that the tea is made from Longjing #43 tea bushes. Some early pluck Longjing being sold in the US  this year is made from Wu Niu Zao cultivar, which has an appearance similar to Longjing but is not true Longjing and should not command Longjing prices).

This zone is a scant 168 kilometers in area, and all Longjing tea manufactured there is sold under the name of the region or village in which it was plucked. The original production zones were called Lion, Dragon, Cloud ( Meijiawu Village), Tiger, and Plum.

Today, the names have changed, but the most important harvesting areas for production of authentic Longjing in the Xi Huregion remain the same:

Shi-feng Shan; Longjing Village; Meijiawu Village; Weng-jia Shan

Our 2012 Pre- Qing Ming Meijiawu Village Longjing is complex in aroma, and we think, quite spectacular. We are pleased to share this lot with our Longing-enthusiast clientele.  Supply is very limited!

This spring our 2012 Pre-Qing Ming Gan Lu is comprised of the tiniest baby tea leaves – the smallest we have ever seen! The leaf is covered with the characteristic white pekoe that signifies the tea is comprised of very early season buds, just as this tea should be. In the high elevation area tea gardens of Mengding Mountain in Sichuan Province, the sweet spring buds yield a refreshing, slightly-earthy tasting tea punctuated with high-notes of delicate sweetness. This very appealing quality has earned this tea the name, Gan Lu, or sweet dew.

Mengding Mountain Gan Lu is cultivated in the vicinity of Gan Lu Si Temple, where Wu LiZhen is reported to have planted the first tea bushes around 53 BC. This tea was enjoyed by Song dynasty Emperor Xiaozong ( r. 1162-1189), who gave Wu LiZhen the title ” Master of Sweet Dew.”

This batch of Sweet Dew is small – once this lot is sold we will have a slightly later plucking from the Yu Qian or Before the Rains plucking season, April 5th to April 20th, weather permitting!  Order now !


2009 Anxi Monkey-Picked Tieguanyin ( Wild-Grown )

monkeys.jpg

Wow…. those monkeys have been working overtime again. Thanks boys, for rushing this delicious tea to us; it is perfect for late-afternoon sipping on a warm fall day just before the cool of the evening settles in.

Kidding aside, those of you who follow this blog know that I love the monkey-picked yarn, but a yarn it is. For more on that, please read my blog posting on November 25, 2008.

Nevertheless, it’s time for the 2009 Anxi Wild-Grown Monkey-Picked Tieguanyin oolong. We decided to up the wow-factor this year and search for a wild-grown version of this tea. Wild-picked teas are teas that are plucked from bushes that are allowed for the most part to grow ‘wild’ without much human intervention.

These tea bushes are not pruned or cultivated as most tea bushes in most tea gardens are, but are instead allowed to grow as nature intended plants grow: wild, rangy and with a shape and habit all their own. Often, a wild garden is the result of the plants being located in an isolated or hard to reach place, in which case the plants are able to grow quite tall. Plucking is relegated to once a year in the late spring.

As tea enthusiasts know, no two Tieguanyin teas will ever be the same from producer to producer. In fact, this is a true statement for all tea,  and fortunately so. Exact duplicity of flavor should be reserved for white bread and processed cheese, not premium, hand-made artisan tea. Too many variables, including human skills and judgement, make duplicity impossible. These are a few of the major variables that come into play for oolong tea:

  • terroir ( location, climate and weather)
  • tea bush variety or cultivar (or age and condition of the plants when the variety is all the same )
  • the specificity of the pluck ( what leaf or configuration of leaf is plucked )
  • the amount of withering the fresh leaf undergoes
  • the degree of oxidation
  • the integrity of the leaf manufacture and how many of the steps of processing utilize hand-skills, such as rolling
  • roasting / no roasting
  • aging/ new crop tea

We loved this Tieguanyin because it is soft in style yet vividly floral and mouth-filling. It is a semi-ball rolled modern-style oolong oxidized in the range of 25-40%, which is much less than the usual range of 35-65% oxidation for semi-ball rolled traditional teas. The leaves are loosely-rolled balls that are very uniform in size, and the tea has not been roasted.

The color of the leaf is dark green tinged with highlights of gold. During  several repeated short steepings the color of the infusion will vary as the flavor is slowly drawn out.  Initially the liquor will be light and clear, and then it will darken with each infusion. After the leaves have given up all of its flavor it will return to a pale, clear brew. Both color and flavor rise and fall in appropriate anticipation and expectation.

2008 Olympic Games Commemorative Puerh Cakes

Games-time tea-time

Those of you who love dian hong ( fine, long, sturdy brownish Yunnan teas that are heavily tinged with gold bud ) know that it is made from the leaf of the indigenous strain of Camellia sinensis trees known as dayeh or arbor trees. And that it is in fact the same leaf that is gathered from the forests of the Ten Famous Tea Mountains to create the mixture of leaf used to make sheng puerh beeng cha ( for which the leaves are simply processed into maocha before being pressed into cakes. )

You also know that for nearly all of 2007 these teas seemed to disappear from the market almost overnight. As did lower grades of black Yunnan tea.

We were beside ourselves over this as we generally stock three to four delicious examples of dian hong. Our customers love these distinctive and flavorsome teas – we have cultivated interest in the unique characteristics of fine Yunnan tea for a long time and have quite a loyal customer following for them. And, selfish-ly speaking, we love them too.

Our colleagues in China told us many things – puerh becoming popular all over China now -all the leaf going to make puerh; making many puerh cakes for sale to USA and Europe markets; no leaf left for dian hong but tea farmers happy now; blah, blah, blah.

Well, I am sure that some of all of this was true, but rather mysteriously the dian hongs are back this year. What does that signify – no more production of puerh cakes ? That is unlikely. Again, we heard: market fall out of puerh sales- not the interest everyone thought; too many cakes, not enough buyers; blah, blah, blah.

Well, today I discovered what was probably the biggest reason for the disappearance and reappearance of the dian hong. The creation of 50,000 limited edition 2008 Olympic Games Commemorative Puerh Cakes by the Longshen Tea Factory and commissioned by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.

Of course, of course, of course…..I should have figured that out last year !  Chinese tea merchants, tea companies and other businesses are known for commissioning commemorative edition puerh beeng cha for significant anniversaries, important dates, events and big celebrations.

And the biggest celebration for China in a very long time is, of course, the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Such a Chinese gesture – we should have seen this one coming !

Do I think that this is the only reason that the dian hong disappeared ? Perhaps not, because I think that there is a bit of truth in all of the other reasons. But for all of the leaf to disappear so quickly and completely in 2007, there had to be a very big underlying reason.

So, now the question is…..how good will these cakes be ? Are they indeed made with wonderful mao cha or with lesser quality leaf. It is doubtful that they will be of exceptional or even good quality ( and also are they sheng or the inferior shou ?

One of my sources in China has told me about a set of ten 2008 Olympic cakes – 5 sheng and 5 shou . My guess is that a lot of other ‘unofficial’ Olympic cakes have also been made as well by tea companies enthusiastically joining in on the spirit of the occasion. But these cakes are being sold as souvenirs, so the quality is most likely not suitable for tea connoisseurs.

As proud as the tea producer may be of these cakes, they must know that the majority of these cakes will be purchased by visitors and as such the cakes will not be stored, aged and drunk at a later date ( if they are drunk at all. )

Oh my, the possibilities are beginning to swirl in my mind. And yet, I still have a nagging question: where did all the best dian hong really go ?