En Shi Yu Lu ‘Jade Dew’ (恩施玉露) is a an early spring Ming Qian green tea produced in Enshi, Hubei Province. It is unique as this green tea undergoes steaming as part of the fixation process, a technique commonly used in Japan but very rarely in China. This results in a bold verdant profile that is closer to a Japanese green tea while still retaining most of the Chinese green tea characteristics. This current batch is 18 March 2021 pre-Qing Ming harvest harvest.
In a way, this is a heritage tea, even though the modern methods of the production of En Shi Yu Lu only date from the early 1900’s. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) tea in China tea was made through a method of steaming of sorts as a way of fixing it. The finished product would be often compressed into bricks. Around the same time (around the year 800 according to some accounts) tea, alongside other features of Chinese culture and Buddhism made its way to Japan. It was not until about 300 years later that tea gained in popularity in Japan. But the tea production method of steaming was fixed. To date, the vast majority of Japanese green tea undergoes steaming, with the notable and rare exception of kamairicha. Meanwhile the tea production method in China evolved away from steaming and to pan-frying instead. Hence the steaming method as a way of fixing green tea disappeared in China. It was not until 1900’s when there was a movement to bring back heritage production methods to tea and this rare Chinese steamed tea from Enshi (re)appeared.
En Shi Yu Lu can be translated as Jade Dew from Enshi. The characters for ‘Jade Dew’ (玉露) are exactly the same as the characters in Japanese for gyokuro. This has lead to some people to refer to En Shi Yu Lu as a ‘Chinese Gyokuro’. This is not correct as gyokuro requires a very specific set of growing conditions, namely plants being shaded for a period of time during growth. En Shi Yu Lu does not undergo any shading, so the flavours are not as concentrated. While the tea is grown in a mountainous area with plenty of clouds and fog that act as natural providers of shade, this does not provide quite the same level of shading. The picking standard and the rest of the processing, such as steaming time, rolling, shaping, etc are also quite different. Also the growing and production methods for gyokuro were developed in Japan in mid 1800’s, before the reintroduction En Shi Yu Lu.
This En Shi Yu Lu consists of young small tippy leaves that are neatly rolled into green needles. There is a waxy appearance to the dark green dry leaves that is very similar to a sencha or gyokuro. It produces an opaque green-yellow liquor with a vegetal aroma. The flavours are light and smooth, without pronounced umami flavours or astringency. The bold herbaceous liquor has a verdant flavour with buttery notes reminiscent of a parsley and butter sauce. The aftertaste is mouthwatering, sweet and lightly drying.
It is best brewed at 80°C for 2-3 minutes according to your taste and can be brewed more than 3 times, increasing steeping time with each next brew if desired. Unlike gyokuro, this tea does not require a higher leaf to water ratio or lower brewing temperatures. Brew as you would most Chinese green teas!