The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
China's Early Spring Green Teas - An Eagerly
Awaited Treat For the Taste Buds
Each year beginning in late March, China citizens eagerly await the start of the
spring green tea harvest.  In those first early days of spring just after bud-break,
the newly emerging tea leaves are tender, delicate, and sweet, holding within
the buds more sugars and flavor compounds than at any other time of the year.
   In China these early springtime
   teas are often called Qing Ming
   or "before the rains" tea as the harvest usually
   coincides with China's Qing Ming spring festival,
   celebrated about April 5.  Teas picked after April
   5, but before April 20 are called gu yu, and tea
   picked from April 20 to May 6, called li xia.

   The window to pluck these coveted spring teas
   is very short, only about ten to fourteen days.
   After this time the tea bushes flush rapidly and
   as the leaf grows larger, the tea quality dimin-
   ish diminishes a little with each passing day.
   Chinese spring green teas are lighter and
   sweeter than
Japanese green teas, with much
   of the sweetness coming from tender new
   buds.  As the spring temperatures rise it sig-
                                      nals the plant to emerge from winter dormancy.  Over winter the
                                      roots have stored up glucose and other flavor compounds that they
                                      now send to the buds to restart growth.  The early spring green teas
                                      also contain more
antioxidants because the plants send out addition-
                                      al polyphenols to protect the leaves from bugs.

                                      China's green teas are only picked once in spring, but the season is
                                      broken up into early, mid, and late spring.  The spring green teas are
                                      traditionally hand plucked with workers sorting through the fields
                                      daily, sometimes even twice daily plucking fresh leaf.

They do what's called a "fine plucking," mean-
ing they only pluck the specific leaf or leafset
required for the
type of tea being processed
that day.  The choicest plucking is a bud and
its two adjacent leaves, called mao feng. The
next plucking of slightly larger leaf is mao jian
which consists of one leaf and a bud.

Starting with one of China's lightest spring
green teas is Pan Long Yin Hao (also called
Dragon Silver Hair).  This tea is very light,
almost to the point of resembling a
white tea.
It comes from the Chinese coastal province of
Zhejiang, and has large buds with fuzzy tips,
resembling a pussy willow, and has a sweet,
      light taste.  Pan Long Yin Hao was origin-
      ally designed for the local market, but is
      now also available in the West.

      Jin shan or Jin Mountain has a classic China green tea flavor.  Jin shan is both a tea and a
      tea growing region, where it thrives in the cool mountains separating Zhejiang and Anhui
      provinces. This tea has smaller white tips and is more heavily fired than Pan Long Yin Hao,
      giving it citrusy, vegetal, and roasted flavors.    

      Next comes Bi Lo Chun or Spring Snail Shell, named for the tightly wound spirals resembling
      a snail shell.  This tea comes from a tiny island called Dongting on the Tai Hu or Tai Lake
      located on the southern border of Jiangsu province.  The roasted and vegetal flavors are
      more pronounced in Bi Lo Chun, but they're nicely offset by sweet
floral and citrus flavors.

                                           Lung Ching or Dragonwell is China's most famous green tea.  Lung
                                           Ching is not as sweet as many other China green teas, containing a
                                           much smaller bud.  It is a bit more savory and assertive, with a
                                           mouth filling vegetal taste, along with a nutty, roasted flavor.

                                           With its long, slender leaves Taiping Houkui, or Taiping Best Monkey
                                           King Tea is not shaped like any other tea, resembling strands of
                                           spaghetti floating upward when steeping.  From Anhui province,
                                           Taiping Houkui is a mid-range green tea that is vegetal in flavor
                                           with a light, sweet honey-like finish.

      Huangshan Mao Feng or Yellow Mountain Downy Tip also comes from
Anhui  province.  This
      is a mature tea with a starchy, vegetal flavor, and a hint of sweetness.  While most of the
      other China spring green teas are made by hand, Huangshan Mao Feng is made by mach-
      ine.  Grown in the lower elevations of the Huangshan or Yellow Mountains, it is also the
      home of Huangshan Mao jian green tea which is produced a bit later in the season.

      One of the most common green teas produced in China, their "every-
      day" green tea is Meecha or "Eyebrow teas," named for the curved
      shape resembling a woman's curve-shaped eyebrow.  Chun Mei (also
      called Zhen Mei or Precious Eyebrow), is an everyday average green
      tea, although special grade Chun Mei has a light plummy flavor and
      light amber infusion.

      Gunpowder teas come from Zhejiang province, their name coming from
      the tightly rolled pellets of tea resembling gunpowder.  Gunpowder
      green tea is available in many sizes, starting with "Pinhead," to larger
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pearl sized.  It is often paired with mint or jasmine, and by itself is lightly sweet and herbal in flavor.

This is just a precious few of the hundreds of China green teas available.  These are some of the most popular, but
there are many more.  Visit our
China green teas page for more on spring teas, and our Green Tea Processed and
China's Basket and Pan Fired Green Teas pages to learn more about how these superb teas are made.  Enjoy.
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