The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
China - the Birthplace of Green Tea
Not only is China number one in overall tea production, but also produces the
largest amount of green tea in the world.  (
India runs a really close second, in
fact, it has edged China out of first place in overall tea production some years.
Many of China's teas are
grown by small village tea
farmers and are still pro-
cessed by hand, firing a pound or two at a
time, using traditional processing methods
handed down through the generations.  The
variations and immense diversity in styles
exist today because of these continuing
traditions.

Each day the freshly plucked tea is hand
delivered to the local village tea factory or
cooperative to be processed. Compared
to large, modern processing plants, China's
methods of tea production may seem old
fashioned and antiquated, but it's a system
that has worked for thousands of years,
turning out some of the highest quality
China's Growing Seasons
China has a dormant season from December through February when the tea bushes are given     
a rest.  Each year Chinese citizens eagerly await the beginning of the
early spring tea harvest      
or spring flush.

The first dawning days of March brings forth newly formed buds
that burst into the first delectable new tea leaves.  These sweet
fresh green teas are known as "before the rains" teas.  Picking
for spring flush green teas begins in earnest in late March just
before the Qing Ming Festival celebrated April 5th.  Tea picked
after April 5th, but before April 22 is called gu yu, and tea picked
from April 20th  to May 6 is called li xia.

Picking continues through mid to late May when the rains come,
giving the tea bushes a chance to rejuvenate and prepare for the
summer plucking season.  These early spring green teas are fresh, sweet, mild teas with a slight
hint of grassiness, vegetable aromas, and
herbs.  When brewed their color is a light gold-green.
Where the Green Tea Grows
The Main Tea Growing Regions of China
Located west of Shanghai, where steep
mountains lift the tea gardens into a cool
area of clouds and mist, lies China's main
green tea growing regions of
Anhui Province,
Jiangxi, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu Provinces.

          Known as "China's Golden Triangle of
          Tea," the modern world has yet to in-
          vade these beautiful cloud and mist cov-
          ered mountains, with their thick forests,
          spectacular waterfalls, and abundant
          groves of bamboo.

          Historically close to the seat of the em-
          peror, China's Golden Triangle of Tea
          was the source of many of the famous
          imperial tribute teas, some of which can
          be found in the marketplace today still being proudly produced.

          The Anhui Province is home to the Huang Shan Mountain range.
          With steep, rocky peaks, natural cold mountain springs, and ancient
          pines, the moist environment of these mountains  produces a nat-
          ural phenomenon of swirling mists known simply as "sea of clouds."
 
          The cool, moist climate provides the ideal growing conditions for
          Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea, which thrives in the unique micro-
          climate the mountain provides.  Also grown here is Lu' an Guapian
          or Lu' an Melon Seeds.  Guapian translates to "melon seed," which
          is what the rehydrated leaf resembles. This is also where you'll find
          the rare Tai Ping Hou Kui.
                                 
                                                          Unlike most spring plucked
green teas, these are made
                                                          from a special picking of one large leaf located in a specific
                                                          spot on the branch.  Also called Taiping Best Monkey King,
                                                          the dried leaves of this green tea are remarkably long-
                                                          about two to three inches, and are incredibly briight
                                                          shades of green.

                                                           Tai Ping Hou Kui tea pickers pluck from dawn to mid-morn-  
          ing to capture the leaves before the hot sun changes the delicate balance of moisture.
          The best Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea comes from an area outside the village of Tai Ping
          called Monkey Ditch, located at the end of a river that runs into the quiet, tranquil Taiping
          Lake.  This tea is plucked in late April, giving the leaves plenty of time to grow.

          From Jiangsu Province comes Bi Lo Chun or Green Snail Spring, a del-
          icately curled green tea.  It also goes by the name Dong Ting.  From

         
Jiangxi Province comes their treasured specialty, Ming Mei, the slender "eyebrow tea," gathered
from remote villages located on Da Zhang Mountain.

And from Zhejiang Province comes one of the most famous and popular of green teas, Longjing, or
Lung Ching, which translates to Dragon's Well, referring to an old well, halfway up a hill outside
Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.  It's also known as Dragonwell tea of Hangzhou, named after the
village where the original tea was grown.      

                                  Also look for the next grade of Longjing - Queshe Longjing (or Sparrow's Tongue), made from
                                  a bud and two new leaves which open during brewing to resemble a bird's beak and tongue.

                                  These three green teas - Bi Lo Chun (Green Snail Spring), Ming Mei (eyebrow tea), and Long-
                                  jing (Dragonwell or Lung Ching), all differ from one another in two specific ways; first is the
                                  drying and shaping techniques unique to each style, and secondly, each tea requires the fresh
                                  leaf be of a certain size and configuration, such as two leafs and a bud, one leaf and a bud, or
                                  a pair of leaves and no bud.

                                  Also from Zhejiang Province                               comes Tianmu Shan Clouds and Mist (also called
Yunwu Clouds and Mist) tea, and Zu Cha (Pearl gun-                            powder), which ranges in size from very small
"Pinhead," to larger, more  loosely rolled varieties.                                Pearl Gunpowder was originally marketed as
Green Pearl in Europe.  Also look for Gunpowder Tribute, a tribute tea during the
Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.).  The
top grade of this green tea is made from very young, tender leaves that are loosely rolled.  Gunpowder is one of the
few green teas that's not a "Qing Ming" or spring tea.  It is made from less tender, later season leaves that are nearly
twice as long as the early spring plucked green teas.    

Another green tea from Zhejiang Province is the pan-fired Pan Long Ying Hao (also called Curled Dragon Silver Tips or
Dragon Silver Hair).  Called the "whitest" of teas, the loosely shaped, lightly rolled leaves bring out the down in the
buds, making them look like soft little pussy willows.

Other early spring flush "before the rains" green teas are Mao Jian or Hair Point teas,
produced among the cloud and mist covered mountains of
Anhui,  Zhejiang, and Henan
Provinces. Mao Jian literally translates to "hairy tip" or "fur tip," and refers to the un-
opened leaf bud that's covered with fine, downy hairs, and usually plucked with a single
leaf.  Young Hyson (also known as Flourishing Spring or Lucky Dragon is another "before
the rains" early spring flush green tea.

And lastly, there is Jin Shan or Jin Mountain green tea.  Jin Shan is named after the an-
cient tea growing region where it's grown, in the cool mountains separating Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces.  Jin Shan
lies just outside of a Buddhist monastery, the tea developed by the monks for their own use and also to sell to help
support the monastery.

This is, of course, just a small representation of China's green teas.  Many may be found in the U.S., online, by mail
order, or check your local
specialty tea shop.  Enjoy.              
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green tea on the planet.  So, what's that old saying?  "If it's not broke, why fix it?"  So true.
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