May 2016: China Spring Special!

We have another exciting selection in our May Curious Tea subscriptions for you to try. The first three of these teas have just arrived from China and are from the 2016 spring crops, so are super fresh and super tasty! The last one is a special and unusual yellow tea from the 2015 crop, but like a good complex wine, we think it has improved with a little ageing. We are excited to have the following four teas in our May tea subscription boxes: a very fine early spring Long Jing (Dragon Well) tea; an unusual Yin Zhen Silver Needle from Yunnan; an exotic Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong and finally a ‘coffee tea’ – a dark roast Huoshan Huang Da Cha yellow tea.

We think these teas are all quite excellent, and we hope that you will enjoy them too! To help you along with the tasting, here is some further information on the teas featured in our May boxes.

Long Jing Ming Qian Dragon Well

Long Jing Ming Qian Dragon Well

Long Jing (龍井), sometimes Longjing, is perhaps the most famous and popular tea to come from China. It is often referred to by the ‘Dragon Well’ name, which is the literal translation of the Chinese name. Long Jing ‘Dragon Well’ is one of 10 of the Famous Teas of China (中国名茶).

This particular Long Jing is classified as Ming Qian (also known as pre-Qingming), which is the premium early season first plucking of the tea bushes. The early plucking occurs before the Qing Ming Festival, which is either on the 4th, 5th or 6th of April each year. The production cycle is very short so only the very first spring shoots are plucked throughout a period of approximately 10 days.

Zhejiang Province, China

This Long Jing Ming Qian Dragon Well green tea comes from Xinchang, Zhejiang Province of Eastern China. It is also known as ‘Dafo’, meaning ‘Big Buddha’ as it is grown around the area where a 1600 year old Buddhist Dafo Temple stands, housing a 15m tall Buddha. While not from the famous West Lake area in Hangzhou, this tea in our opinion is one of the best from Zhejiang Province that does not come from the West Lake area. This tea uses the Long Jing #43 Cultivar.

There are many legends and versions that try to explain the Long Jing ‘Dragon Well’ name of this tea. Our favourite tells a story of monk imploring a dragon living in a well to come to the aid of villagers of an area that has been suffering from a drought. With the dragon helping out, the monk persuaded the villagers to pray and once they did, it miraculously started to rain. To celebrate this, a tea was named after the event – Long Jing ‘Dragon Well’.

Long Jing Ming Qian Dragon Well green tea undergoes hand processing, during which the freshly plucked leaves are wok fried for approximately 20 minutes in order to halt the oxidation of the leaves and keep it a green tea. This tea still has to be produced mostly by hand as the plucking and wok frying requires great skill.

We chose this Long Jing Ming Qian Dragon Well for our May Mixed and Light boxes. The green flat leaves with a bud and one or two leaves produce a light green liquor. The smell of the dry leaves is that of exotic fruits. We can just about detect a faint incense aroma from this tea – perhaps a result of being grown and processed next to a temple!? The taste is multilayered but clean and refreshing. There are sweet and savoury umami notes competing for your taste buds that combine with flavours of asparagus and grapefruit. These zesty vegetal notes provide a very pleasant finish to this tea.

We suggest brewing parameters of 80°C for 2-3 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed 2 or more times depending on your taste preferences. You can also use glass teaware to enjoy the beautiful green leaves!

Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle

Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle

Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle (雲南銀針) is a light and delicate white tea with a somewhat darker side! If you know the classic Yin Zhen Silver Needle from Fujian Province, this tea will definitely be familiar but you will soon see some interesting differences.

This Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle is sometimes called a White Bud Pu-erh tea. The reason for this alternative name is to distinguish this white tea from Yunnan from other counterparts grown elsewhere. The leaves that are used to make this tea are plucked from the same Yunnan trees that are used for producing the region’s numerous pu-erh teas.

Yunnan Province, China

Another reason for this tea to be called a White Bud Pu-erh is due to the processing that it undergoes. ‘Normal’ white teas undergo minimal processing, which involves plucking of fresh tea leaves, withering and then, sometimes, drying. This Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle white tea by comparison undergoes processing that is more akin to a young (raw) Sheng Cha (生茶) Pu-erh. So this tea starts life as the young and tender tea leaf shoots that are carefully hand plucked so as to keep the buds intact. They are then withered, pan fried and finally dried in the sun. As the leaves are not dried with hot air, there are still some enzymes present in the tea leaves. This leads to a very slight oxidation during sun drying. So this white tea is actually closer to a Mao Cha (毛茶), which is the loose-leaf form of young Sheng Cha Pu-erh and is the starting point for a pu-erh tea.

This Yin Zhen Yunnan Silver Needle white tea is grown in Yong De County of Lincang Prefecture, not far from the border with Myanmar. We selected this tea for our May 2016 Light box. It was plucked in mid March 2016, so it is extremely fresh! The tender leaves have been carefully hand processed to create neat silver needles. You can see plenty of white ‘hairs’ on this tea, indicating a very high quality of both leaf and processing. The unusual (for a white tea) processing results in a more complex and robust flavour. The pale liquor is sweet, mellow and smooth with no astringency. It has malty and woody notes which are the stand out features of this tea and make it an unusual experience. Our particular featured tasting notes for this tea are those of sandalwood (or other exotic wood) with slight earthy maltiness on the aftertaste.

This tea is best brewed at 80°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste. This tea should definitely be brewed multiple times, increasing water temperature and steeping time with each next brew if desired. Like with all white teas, you can experiment with lower temperature and longer steeping time as an alternative way of brewing this tea.

Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong

Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong

Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong (蜜兰香单枞) is an excellent example of an oolong from an area that unfortunately does not get enough attention – Guangdong Province in Southern China. Dan Cong (单枞) is the general term that is used to refer to oolongs that come from Guangdong and specifically from Phoenix Mountain. Dan Cong literally means ‘single bush’ as traditionally these oolongs were all plucked only from single semi-wild trees. It has now become the generic term to cover all Phoenix Mountain (Fenghuang Shan 凤凰山) and sometimes other Guangdong Oolongs.

Dan Cong Oolongs are noted for their ability to imitate various flavours, be it flowers or fruits. This is a natural characteristic of these oolongs and no flavouring is added at all. The apparent aroma and taste differences of Dan Cong Oolongs are mostly introduced during the finishing process of each tea. The skills of the tea master are therefore paramount in how each batch of tea turns out. This Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong for example is noted for its Honey Orchid aroma and flavour. The name Mi Lan Xiang (蜜兰香) translates as ‘Honey Orchid Fragrance’.

Phoenix oolongs are very varied in style and flavour but are often sold just as ‘Phoenix Mountain Oolong’ or ‘Phoenix Dan Cong’ often not specifying the exact type of Dan Cong that it is or which area there are from. Make sure to look out for which particular Dan Cong you are buying as they all have varying characteristics and styles depending on where and how they are grown and processed.

Guangdong Province, China

This particular Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong comes from the Phoenix Mountain area near Chaozhou City (Phoenix Town) in Guangdong Province. The semi-wild tea trees that are used to produce this tea are the Fenghuang Shui Xian cultivar, which is the traditional cultivar used in this area and the usual one for Dan Cong Oolong. The tea trees are on average about 30 years old and are grown semi-wild at an altitude of 1000-1500 metres on the rocks of Wu Dong Mountain. Plucking occurs in mid April and this Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong is from the 2016 harvest. Spring harvest is particularly favoured as it tends to be more floral and less astringent compared to leaves harvested during other times of the year.

We selected this Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong for our May Mixed and Dark boxes. The dry leaves are dark and twisted producing a medium strength golden liquor. The aroma is quite floral, a little baked with a smell of sweet violets. The taste of this tea is quite exceptional, really full of wild honey and exotic flower notes. The smooth flavours are sweet, floral and fruity with particular hints of mango, vanilla and honey.

The high quality of this Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong means that this tea can stand many infusions. Infuse it the western way in a tea pot at 90°C for 3-4 minutes 3+ times. If you are finding that your tea is turning out a little too astringent, you can reduce the brewing time or temperature until you reach your preferred taste. This tea would particularly benefit from traditional Gong Fu style brewing, yielding a lot more infusions, each bursting with flavour. It is a fascinating way of seeing how the tea changes with each infusion.

Huoshan Huang Da Cha

Huoshan Huang Da Cha

Finally we have a real tea oddity, one that claims to be the ‘coffee of tea’! Huoshan Huang Da Cha (霍山黄大茶) is strictly speaking a yellow tea because of the processing that it undergoes. But unlike a ‘usual’ yellow tea which is light and close to a white or green tea, this one has been heavily roasted (deep baked). The result is a uniquely flavoured tea that has found it’s way into our Dark boxes in May.

The manufacture of yellow tea is a process that is very similar to that of green tea (withering followed by steaming or pan-frying to prevent oxidation) with one additional stage. After pan-frying the tea leaves are gently heated (normally under a damp cloth or wrapped in paper) allowing them to oxidise very slightly through a process of non-enzymic fermentation. This step is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the desired appearance and aroma. After this step Huoshan Huang Da Cha undergoes additional heavy roasting, which is unique to this tea and sets it apart from other yellow teas.

Anhui Province, China

Grown in Huoshan County of Anhui Province, this tea is also known as ‘Mount Huo Big Yellow’ to follow the literal translation of the Chinese name. The large leaves of this tea are harvested from the bushes that are also used to make Huoshan Huang Ya yellow tea. The harvest time is in the middle of April.

As the name suggests, this Huoshan Huang Da Cha yellow tea has very large leaves that are also mixed with some of the stems from the tea plant. Much like the Japanese Kukicha, the stems impart this tea with extra sweetness due to naturally occurring sugars that are present in higher concentration in the stems.

This Huoshan Huang Da Cha yellow tea was selected by us for our May Dark boxes. While a yellow tea may be a strange choice for a box with ‘dark’ teas, you will understand why we have done it the moment you taste this unusual tea. The claim to be the ‘coffee of tea’ certainly holds strong. The roasting of the tea leaves is somewhat reminiscent of a strong coffee roast. The aroma from the dry leaves is very roasted with a big helping of smoked sultanas. The liquor is medium strength and light umber in colour. The taste profile is extremely similar to coffee. There is an unmistakable coffee roast-kind of taste present throughout. It is also reminiscent, strangely, of a flavour that is akin to a diluted brandy. So to us it also tasted like a slightly alcoholic drink. Perhaps black coffee and brandy in one cup? There are also hints of dried fruits, such as prunes on the aftertaste to keep things even more exciting!

To sum up, this is perhaps one of the most unusual tasting teas that we have had in our subscription boxes, partly helped by the fact that it is supposed to be a yellow tea but in reality the taste is very far from a ‘traditional’ yellow tea.

This tea is best brewed with water at 90°C for 4-5 minutes and can be brewed multiple times.

We really hope that you enjoy the tea club selection for May and are looking forward to what we have in store for your selections in June!

If reading this has piqued your interest, but you don’t yet subscribe to our monthly tea selections and would like to receive them in the future, you can set up your tea subscription in just a few clicks. We ship worldwide from London, UK.

We always love to hear from you, so if you have any questions, suggestions or just want to chat about tea, email us at contact@curioustea.com, via our Facebook page or via Twitter.

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Happy tea tasting!

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