Monday, July 25, 2016

Xinyang Maojian Green Tea from

Today I have a green tea that Robert James Coons of Chayo Tea/Daoist Meditation picked up during his most recent trip to Asia.  This is Xinyang Maojian green tea from Henan province of China.  Although this tea often appears on lists of “famous Chinese teas,” this is actually the first time I have heard of it, so it is unique to me. Chayo sold this tea as part of a special "Teas of Summer" sale (which is still available at the time of writing this).

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
The dry leaf is very thin wispy strands of small leaves and the dry leaf aroma is very intense and unlike any other green tea I have encountered.  It almost reminds me of the freshly processed Fujian black tea from the White2Tea club a couple months ago, as I’m noticing a hint of smoke, like BBQ smoke almost, and it’s quite good.  Robert said that this tea is pretty strong and that a little bit goes a long way, so I have measured out 3g to use in a 120ml gaiwan.  Water temperature is 175F, and first infusion is around 30-40s.

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
The wet leaf aroma is just as amazing as the dry leaf aroma and makes it obvious how fresh this tea is.  The smoky note is still present, but the green tea umami characteristics also come out.

The flavor is a bit more complex than the aroma.  Intense green tea floral notes balance out the smokiness on top of a base of sweet creamy cashew nuts.  Perhaps the most impressive feature of this tea though is the wonderful intense floral aftertaste and how long it seems to linger after each sip.  

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
I don’t often pick up on some of the body-response properties of teas, but Robert mentioned that this is a good tea to drink in the summer, and I definitely did notice a cooling effect of this tea.

In addition to 25g of the Xinyang Maojian green tea, the "Teas of Summer" package also included three Da Song Chrysanthemum flowers. These Chrysanthemums were grown in Kaifeng, also in Henan, China which is an area with a long history of growing Chrysanthemum flowers, especially during the Song dynasty. (

Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.
These flowers are quite nice looking and preserved whole and carefully packaged in individual plastic trays to protect them during transport. I brewed the Chrysanthemum in a glass teapot so I could hold it up to the light and look through the bottom of the glass to see the beautiful flower suspended in the water.

Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.
The Da Song Chrysanthemum liquor is a pale yellow, similar to the Xinyang Maojin green tea liquor. The flavor is much more gentle than some other Chrysanthemums I have had before-- the taste of some types of Chrysanthemums sometimes reminds me of plastic, but thankfully this one did not have that characteristic. It has a slight peppery/spicy note to it, but balanced with a really nice floral sweetness.

Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.

I am very pleased with this "Teas of Summer" set that Robert brought back from Henan, China. At $12, which includes shipping, the quality to price ratio is pretty high and makes this one of my favorite spring tea purchases of this year.

Link to Chayo Tea/Daoist Meditation:
Link to "Teas of Summer" -

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spring Long Jing (Dragon Well) Green Tea

Today I am drinking Long Jing (Dragonwell) green tea from two different vendors. I have Teavivre’s “Organic Superfine” Long Jing and Life in Teacup’s “Da Fo” Long Jing.  I’ll go ahead and say from the start that these two Long Jings are not in the same price tier which should be considered if comparing them.   The Teavivre Oraganic Superfine version is $13.90/50g and the Life in Teacup Da Fo is $22/50g.    Teavivre does offer several other versions at various price points, including one called “Organic Nonpareil Ming Qian” which is $21.90/50g which might be a better comparison since it was harvested in late March like the Da Fo.  Teavivre’s highest priced Long Jing is their “Organic Nonpareil She Qian” which is $34/50g.   Likewise, Life in Teacup has a premium version called “Shi Feng” priced at $56/50g.

Here are these two teas at a glance:

TeavivreLife in Teacup
NameOrganic SuperfineDa Fo
LocationZhejiang Province, Hangzhou prefecture, Lin'an County (Tianmu Mountain)Zhejiang Province, Shaoxing prefecture, Xinchang County
Leaf CultivarJiu KengLong Jing #43
Harvest DateApril 10, 2016March 17, 2016
Price per 50g$13.90$22

A look at the dry leaf shows that the Life in Teacup Da Fo Long Jing leaves have a more uniform and smaller appearance than the Organic Superfine Long Jing.  The Organic Superfine leaf is a darker green.  Both teas have a good amount of "fuzz" which is common with younger buds and early harvests.  The aroma of the leaves is slightly different.  Organic Superfine is nuttier than the Da Fo leaves which have a lighter and slightly floral aroma.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing (left) and Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing (right)
An abundance of green tea fuzz balls in the Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing package.  Post edit: More about these can be found here: Tea Trekker: What Is Tea Leaf Fuzz?
After hydrating the leaves with the first infusion, the wet leaf aroma is quite different between the two.  The Organic Superfine from Teavivre has a umami seawater aroma, and the Life in Teacup Da Fo has a distinct asparagus with black pepper aroma.  The liquor of the Da Fo is slightly lighter in color, but both are very pale yellow.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing (top) and Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing (bottom)
The flavor of these two Long Jing teas is pretty different.  The Teavivre Superfine Organic starts out nutty with a good dose of umami and a nice perfumy aftertaste.  It is a very strong flavor despite such a light looking liquor.  By the third infusion I noticed some grassy notes as well.

The Life in Teacup Da Fo flavor was much lighter, slightly buttery, and had a hint of a green bean taste.  Throughout the infusions I noticed a very interesting peppery flavor.  Umami is present, but balanced with some floral notes and a good sweetness at first which gives way to stronger umami in the later (fourth) infusion.

Back-to-back, the Da Fo is a much lighter delicate flavor than then Organic Superfine and seems more balanced.    The Organic Superfine seemed easy to get bitter when pushed, but the Da Fo never got bitter, only trading sweetness for more umami flavor.  Where the Organic Superfine had a nice nutty flavor note, the Da Fo had an unusual black pepper flavor note which was actually more pleasant than it might sound.

The hydrated leaves again show more variance in the Organic Superfine leaf shape/size where as the Da Fo has smaller leaves that are more uniform.  A lot of this difference is due to both the cultivar difference and also the earlier harvest time of the Da Fo.  These difference are also likely responsible for differences in the flavor.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing

Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing
Both of these teas work well brewed straight in a glass "grandpa" style.  Due to the strength of the Organic Superfine, it's better to error on the side of less leaf than too much or expect the first few sips to possibly be bitter.  The later additions of water will show a nicer balance and the strength of these leaves help it last a long time when brewed this way.  Interestingly this method did not give me the umami flavors as much, but the nutty flavors were still there.  I actually bought the Teavivre Organic Superfine Long Jing for the purpose of drinking this way.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing
It is not my goal to say that one of these is better than the other.  I find that each one has strengths and weakness, and I would be in the mood for each one at different times.  The Da Fo is a much more delicate brew that can be appreciated more in a more focused session, and the Organic Superfine was capable of producing a nice bold full flavored green tea experience.

Link to Teavivre Organic Superfine Long Jing:
Link to Life in Teacup:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Boston Teawrights - Tea Processing in the Comfort of Your Own Home!

Boston Teawrights is a company that distributes freshly harvested raw Camellia sinensis tea leaves for do-it-yourself at-home processing.  They refer to someone who crafts their own tea as a “teawright” like someone who crafts a play would be a “playwright.” 

This write-up is from a fall harvest that I received in November 2015 and processed at that time.  I am just now finishing this write-up about it because I wanted to let my processed tea rest for a few months to make sure the taste was stable.

My tea shipment came in an unusual foil padded envelope, and inside was a large typical looking Taiwanese tea package.  Boston Teawrights do not go into detail about how they keep the tea from drastically deteriorating during shipping, but if I had to guess I would think that the bag has probably been flushed with something like nitrogen to limit oxidation of the leaves, and they suggest that you can refrigerate the unopened bag for a week or two if you cannot get to the processing right away.  When you place an order, you are in a way making a pre-order, and the leaves will only ship when the farm is ready to do a harvest.

Upon opening the bag, the leaves inside did have some signs of slight withering and bruising, what Boston Teawrights refers to as “storage wither,” but the edges were still mostly crisp and the leaf veins were green.  They had a slightly leathery texture and some were shiny while some were more of a matte surface.  When I first opened the bag, the leaves had a strange plastic-like and spinach aroma, but after a few minutes they began to smell more like fresh cut grass.

Pretty neat to have leaves that were still on the bushes halfway around the world just a week prior.

Deciding how to process the leaves can be a difficult choice.  Boston Teawrights gives a few steps on their website for processing as green tea or black tea, and searching around Google did provide some more information, but I had a hard time finding any fully detailed step-by-step instructions, so some improvisation may be necessary if you want to stray from the Boston Teawrights guides.  Since this was my first time trying this out, I probably should have stuck to the guides on the website, but I ended up trying a few other steps along the way, which may have been a bad idea.

I first let the leaves wilt.  This is a common step for processing black tea, oolong, or white tea. (see the chart on this Wiki page about tea processing.)  It’s hard for someone without experience to know how long the wilting process should take.  Factors such as ambient temperature and humidity will have an effect on this process, though I am not sure to what extent.  I decided that I wanted to try to make an oolong.  I watched some videos online** of tea producers in China, and I noticed that they would often shake and toss the leaves while they were wilting, so I did this as well.  Active enzymes within the leaves will cause the leaves to oxidize during this time, and the shaking and tossing of the leaves will slightly bruise the leaves which will promote faster oxidization.  The leaf edges and veins start to take on a red color.

Before and After wilting and some oxidization.  This took place over night.  The aroma became very pleasant during this time.

After this point is where I likely messed up my batch of leaves.  Boston Teawrights suggests rolling the leaves after wilting, allowing more oxidization as needed, and then they describe a process of heating the leaves in an oven at 225F for 5-10 minutes which will halt all enzymatic activity and stop oxidization, increase fragrance, etc.  This heating step is often referred to as the “kill green” step.  When making green tea, you would do a kill green step before any oxidation has occurred which will keep the leaves green after drying them.   Instead of doing this kill green step in the oven though, I tried to replicate what I saw the Chinese tea makers do in the videos I watched. They did this step in a hot wok.  I tried heating the leaves in a wok on the stove, but unfortunately I believe I got the leaves too hot and nearly burnt them.

Note the small batch to the left.  I did not heat those in a wok like the main batch.  Main batch has been twisted/rolled and ready to dry.
 The final step is to dry the leaves in a barely warm oven -- 140F.  They suggest that this may take 40-60 minutes or more depending on how much water content the leaves have.  I believe I may have over-done this step too because my leaves ended up very light weight and brittle.

In the end, I’m not exactly sure what kind of tea I ended up creating.  The leaves looks pretty, but don’t look like typical oolongs or black teas.  If anything, the color is similar to some white teas.  The dry aroma reminded me of sweet orange rind, peach, autumn leaves, but also had a burnt smell.  Oops.

I brewed my leaves in a gaiwan using my typical 5g/95ml ratio.  I experimented with water temperatures, and they handled boiling water fine without getting bitter.  The brewed tea has an initial spicy (slightly peppery) flavor note and then a very nice honey-like sweet finish.  The main flavor notes are that of autumn leaves and peaches, but also that unfortunate burnt leaf flavor which has too much weight in the flavor for me to be able to drink this tea with enjoyment.  In general it is similar to a white tea, but slightly charred.  Another bad thing about my tea is that the overall flavor is very light-- there is no intensity at all even with boiling water and longer brew times.  The aftertatse is also very weak.  I tend to regard good strong aftertaste as being a sign of a good tea, so this is not impressive at all.  I believe I simply had too much heat when processing these leaves. 

White tea?  Black tea?  Oolong?  Hard to tell.

Interestingly I did have a very small second batch of leaves-- these were the leaves that fell off my tray during the wilting process and I did not do any additional wok frying or rolling of these leaves.  I just scooped them up and placed them in the warm oven to dry.  This second batch was only about 3g of leaf and I decided to brew it all in a gaiwain in one session.  This small batch, though similar in flavor profile to the first batch, tastes much cleaner since it did not get burned, and the aftertaste is a bit stronger.  It reminds me of a white tea even more than the first batch.

Small side-batch that didn't get burnt.  Ended up similar to a white tea.

Overall this was a really fun experience and I’m glad I had the chance to do this even if my tea did not turn out wonderful.  I have talked with several people who have also processed their own tea from Boston Teawrights, two people who had the same batch as me last November, and they managed to get much better results making green tea, white tea, black tea, and even oolong.  I will definitely consider trying this again some time, and I'll be sure to get some tips from my friends next time!

Link to Boston Teawrights:

** One fun channel on YouTube to see tea processing is that of Tea Drunk from NYC.  Also, you can find some nice videos of yancha processing made by Essence of Tea