2014 Longjing Tea Has Arrived

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This year we are quite pleased to announce the arrival of the first two of our 4 Longjing (DragonWell) offerings for the season. Our ShiFeng and Weng-jia Shan Longjing shipments arrived on Saturday and are ready for drinking.

These geographically-highly-controlled selections are made from pre-Qing Ming leaf (plucked prior to April 5, 2014) and represent some of the most elegant and sought-after teas of eastern China.

To read more about Tea Trekker’s Longing here or to place an order visit:

http://www.teatrekker.com/

Stay tuned for additional Chinese spring green teas arriving soon.

2014 New Harvest Tea versus ‘New’ Tea

This post is a re-post from last year. Because many new tea drinkers may not know how to evaluate some of the claims of ‘new tea’ that are being touted this time of year, we hope this will help. As well as be a good reminder to those of you who know this but need a little re-fresher on this topic.

Soon the earliest plucks of fresh tea from the 2014 spring tea harvests in China, India, and Japan will begin arriving in the US. In fact, Tea Trekker has already received 3 new 2014 season teas from Western China.

News Clip ArtConfusingly, it is also the time when some tea vendors add ‘new teas’ to their inventory that are not from the new 2014 harvest. So it is important for tea enthusiasts to understand what they are purchasing by paying attention to harvest dates. Some of you know this information, many of you may not, so it is worth repeating:

In the next two months, simply because a tea is advertised as ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new tea from the 2014 harvest, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of assuming that it is.

If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea (or tea from anytime, really) that is simply ‘new’ to 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 green teas are still tasty; but many are not.

But my point is two-fold:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a ‘new’ tea is fresh, new 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 when the new season teas are just around the corner.

It is helpful to know in what period of spring premium Chinese green, black and white teas are made:

  • a few teas are made from the end of March to April 5th ( pre-Qing Ming teas)
  •  most teas are made in mid-April (Yu Qian)
  •  some teas are made from the end of April to the end of May (Gu Yu and Li Xia teas) when the spring tea season is over

Tea production times follow roughly the same pattern each year with slight allowances for weather, and there is an order to when tea factories make certain teas. It most often 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.

So awareness of when certain teas are made will help tea enthusiasts determine if it is possible for a certain tea to have been made in the new tea season or if it must be from last year’s harvest (or older!) For instance, spring high mountain oolong from Taiwan is not plucked until May, so any spring tea of this type being offered now is from last winter or last spring as it is too soon for 2014 high mountain oolong from Taiwan to be in the marketplace.

Our 2014  eastern China teas ( a handful of pre-Qing Ming green, yellow and black teas ) will be arriving as early as next week, followed soon by an early round of 1st Flush Darjeelings.airplaneOnce the season is underway our tea deliveries arrive fast and furiously.To appreciate the absolute fresh goodness of these tea we will air-ship them to arrive at our store as fast as possible. (Watch your in box for email alerts that the tea has arrived – some sell out quite fast each year!)

Tea from the 2nd seasonal plucking (Yu Qian -April 6th to April 20th) of black, white and yellow teas, oolongs and Pu-erh will follow along as their production season arrives.

The 2014 green teas from Japan (with the exception of Japanese Shincha which will be available sooner) are still 4-6 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 2014 Japanese green tea to our shop about the middle to end of May. ( Again, watch your in-box for emails).

IMG_7473-1So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the dates of harvest. Tea enthusiasts who know what these dates and differences in freshness will end up with fresher tea than those who are unaware of what they are purchasing.

Hooray for spring and happy fresh new tea drinking!

2012 spring competition-grade Taiwan high mountain oolong

We have just received three luscious 2012 spring high mountain gao shans from Taiwan. For lovers of these very hard-to-find teas, we have distinguished selections from Alishan, and Shan Lin Xi tea districts. And, for the first time, we have a super-delicious, authentic, pure and natural Milk Oolong  from the Jin Xuan cultivar. (Read more about milk oolong on our website www.teatrekker.com).

Our Alishan and the Jin Xuan are grown and processed on a tea farm owned by a third generation tea grower and a tea master. The farm was awarded very high honors at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government in various tea growing regions.

This is how their tea placed:

  • 2nd Place for 2012 spring Alishan tea
  • 1st Place for 2012 spring Jin Xuan tea

To be clear, our teas are not from the competition winning batches of tea, but are from competition-grade batches tea processed in the same manner by the same tea farm for the spring competition. (Competition-grade teas are made with the utmost care and with more  attention to detail over the usual production methods because they will be entered into the competition). So these teas are in the top tier of deliciousness, so lucky us, lucky you!

Why not just sell the winning teas? Because the winners of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards sell the remainder of the batch of award winning tea to collectors and wealthy tea fanatics for very, very high prices. And those who understand the market in Taiwan for high quality gao shan know that this can mean many hundreds of dollars….spent in an instant by wealthy tea collectors, businessmen, and corporations.

However, all of the tea from the award winning tea farms is highly desirable in that year and in future years to come, so we are THRILLED to have these extraordinary teas from this farm for the pleasure of our gao shan customers.

How the competition works.

To enter the competition, tea is submitted in batches of 12 kilos per for judging. As many batches as desired may be entered.

Several thousand entries vie for placement in these competitions, which are conducted for the spring harvest and again for the winter harvest. This particular competition is for semiball-rolled teas produced exclusively in the Alishan tea district. The fresh leaf must be plucked from tea bushes that are grown on local tea farms, and the leaf must be processed by local tea makers.

Each competing tea farm and tea factory will make tea many batches of tea over the course of several days prior to the start of the competition. The methodology will be the same for each batch of tea they produce, but each batch will be slightly different one to another, as the tea made each day can never be exactly the same as the tea made the day before or after.

Businessmen and customers, as well as the tea makers themselves, can select their favorite batch of tea and enter it into the competition. Most tea farms will have several batches of tea entered on their behalf.

The Agriculture Council forms a panel of knowledgeable tea specialists to evaluate all of the tea that has been entered. Judges scrutinize the tea to see how it conforms to the norm for its regional type in both appearance and flavor. This means evaluating:

  • the size of each ball of tea
  • the shape and the tightness of the roll
  • the color of dry leaf
  • the aroma of the dry leaf
  • the color and clarity of the tea liquor
  • the aroma of the liquor
  • the initial taste and returning flavor of the liquor
  • the appearance of the tea leaves after steeping

For the teas that make it through the preliminary stages (more than 50% of the tea entered does not make it beyond this point) each tea is judged thusly:

  • 20% is based on the appearance of the dry leaf
  • 20% is based on the appearance of the tea liquor
  • 20% is based on the aroma of the tea and the wet leaf
  • 30% is based on taste
  • 10% is based on the appearance of the wet leaf after steeping

( FYI…this criteria is the same that we here at Tea Trekker use to evaluate each and every tea we are considering purchasing. We learned to conduct comparative tasting from our colleagues in China years ago. We always learn so when we taste and compare a series of similar teas from the same region).

First, second and third places  awards will have only one winner. Fourth place and up (upwards to seventh place ) will be awarded to multiple winners.

The top three teas will each be packed in special container and sealed with a stamp signifying the award and the win. The winning tea are sold at auction where there will be high and fast demand to purchase these teas as well as all of the remaining tea from that producer in that season.

For those who wish to have their own comparison gao shan tasting, we have some remaining stock of 2011 winter gao shans from Alishan and Shan Lin Xi. With only two plucks a year – winter and spring – each season brings its own qualities to the tea and there is much debate about which is more flavorful and more aromatic. All tea lovers look for and appreciate different characteristics in the cup, so compare and discover which you prefer!

For more details, please visit our Taiwan gao shan oolong page or Taiwan oolong page at www.teatrekker.com

2012 Japan Shincha has Arrived!

Our Position on 2012 Japanese Green Tea

With great joy we will be supplying our shelves once again with spring harvest green tea from Japan. Among these new 2012 teas, look for old favorites as well as tasty new teas from Uji and several regions on Kyushu Island (Kagoshima and Kame).

As fans of our Japanese tea know, we immediately cancelled plans to import our usual supplies of Japanese tea last spring when news of the disaster at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant became known. Instead, we quickly arranged to purchase as much tea from the 2010 harvest as we could. Because of the good keeping qualities of Japanese tea, that decision served us and our customers well.

Our actions, as it turned out, may have been somewhat premature, as much tea from the 2011 harvest tested negatively throughout the year for contamination. But, as this was a serious matter we believed that caution should prevail, and we did not waiver from our original decision.

Now, a new tea season is beginning, and we look forward to expanding our selection of safe and clean Japan green tea. We have contacted our suppliers, made our initial choices, and will receive tasting samples once the teas are harvested and manufactured (this will be around the end of May until the middle of June depending on the location of the tea gardens). At the same time we will evaluate the testing results for those teas that we are interested in.

Our growers and producers are confident that their upcoming teas will pass the test with NO CONTAMINATION DETECTED. The majority of their teas tested well in 2011, and the numbers should be even better this year. We will rely on Japanese testing to be our guide in these matters. Why? Because Japanese standards are MORE STRICT than those set forth by the US.

For example, test results for cesium radioactivity in food is expressed in becquels per kilogram (Bq/kg). Japan bans the sale of food products emitting more than 500 Bq/kg. But testing conducted in the U.S. according to Food and Drug Administration regulations permits foods registering up to 1,200 Bq /per kilogram to be sold.

We will make our final tea selections from among those teas that test NEAR or AT ZERO for contamination. The first tea from the 2012 spring season is our HASHIRI SHINCHA from Shizuoka Prefecture. Its test results are very clean – less than <2BQ/kilo – which is about as close to AT ZERO as we think it is possible to attain.

We promise to do the best we can to provide transparent information – all of the test results from our 2012 Japanese green tea will be posted on-line and available in the store for those who are interested.

Of course, purchasing Japanese tea is a personal matter and we respect each customer’s decision. We will do our best to help you make an informed decision, and to feel comfortable purchasing Japanese tea from us.

2012 New Harvest Tea versus ‘New’ Tea

It’s the time of year when fresh tea from the new harvest in China and India begins to show up in the US. It is also the time when some tea vendors add new teas that are not from the new harvest. So it is important for tea enthusiasts to pay attention to harvest dates and know what they are purchasing. Some of you may know this information, many of you will not, so it is worth repeating.

It is helpful to know in what part of spring certain Chinese teas are made: some teas are made from the end of March into early April; many teas are made in mid-April; and others are made from the end of April into early May before the spring tea season comes to an end.

Tea production times follow the same pattern each year, so this information tells us that it is not possible to have certain teas ahead of their usual production dates.

The only 2012 China spring teas available now in the US are a handful of Pre-Qing Ming ( Ming Qian ) green and black teas ( tea plucked before April 5th ) that have been air-shipped over to a few eager tea vendors like Tea Trekker.  Teas from the 2nd seasonal plucking time (April 6th to April 20th) such as white teas, yellow tea, some black and early oolongs will be here soon.

2012 green teas from Japan and Korea have not yet been made – the tea harvest in these countries begins in late spring. These teas (with the exception of Japanese Shincha) are still 4+ weeks away from being harvested (depending on the region and location of the tea gardens).

Right now many tea vendors are introducing ‘new’ teas to their store and websites, and tea wholesalers are looking to move out last years tea at reduced prices. The important thing to realize about that is this – simply because a tea is ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new tea from the 2012 harvest, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of thinking that it is.

If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea ( or tea from anytime, really ) that is simply ‘new’ to 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 teas are still tasty. My point is two-fold:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a ‘new’ tea is fresh, new 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 when the new harvest teas are so close to being available.

Tea vendors who bring new harvest spring teas over in early April send this tea by air so that the tea arrives when it is just days old and super-fresh.  (Shipments of these same teas sent via sea cargo arrive at the historic ‘normal’ time in late July and August). Any tea lover who has had a chance to drink tea this fresh knows what a thrill it is!

So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the dates of harvest.

At Tea Trekker we have begun to list the season and year of the harvest on our green, white, yellow, and oolongs, and some black and Pu-erhs, too. We believe that when dating matters, it matters alot, and that tea enthusiasts who know what these differences mean are better able to make the right choices when purchasing premium tea.