Spring Green Teas
Spring is here... that means its time to go grab a few fresh batches of loose leaf green tea... And by tea, I mean TEA tea - aka camellia sinensis, for those of you new to explorations of the leaf... If you can manage to get your hands on "Pre Qingming" harvest (which translates to pure brightness), these are the earliest of the season, and the most prized teas. However, quantities are limited, and expensive.
As a matter of fact, many of the finest first spring harvest teas don't even leave their countries (i.e. China), but are instead shared with family and friends. I was fortunate to be gifted this year with premium LongJing from Hangzhou, which was handpicked early March and then toasted and fermented in a special process (aka - it was not 'green')... a very beautiful, medicinal tea with a lovely smokey and earthy aroma... but, the makers only produce fifty pounds per year, because of the limited quantities of early March. Since the cost would be around three hundred dollars a pound, it was only shared among family and friends, not sold. (Thank you again, Angela Z!) That said, go to China and make some friends... Yuanfen styles... Ha!
Back to greens - early spring harvest teas are very much loved. They are known for being super complex and concentrated in delicate flavor. They can also typically be considered 'cleaner', as my friends living in Hangzhou, China explain (Hangzhou is home to a famous green called Dragon Well). Because - practically speaking: the earlier harvests are simply sprayed less than teas grown later in season... once the rain comes, and the bugs wake up, and the heat sets in...! These teas also are said to have a richer concentration of nutrients like amino acids, and a lower concentration of catechins (which are astringent, and drawn further into the leaf by sun), than later harvests.
Green tea specifically (and I'm pointing at organic, loose leaf here) is purported for its health benefits. Take a look at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's write up. And if that peaks your interest, Maria Uspenski, cancer survivor and owner of The Tea Spot, wrote a book Cancer Hates Tea, which I've recommended to friends and family.
Regarding the how-to's... our lush green friends are typically best up until 3-6 months from harvest date... some can go longer if stored properly, but really, six months is a good marker. And most, if not all Tea Masters recommend storing your greens in the refrigerator or freezer, until you're ready to enjoy. And finally, I'd like to share the brewing requirements for green tea. This is something that drives me crazy, as most cafes and restaurants that I walk into (and even some tea houses!) still do not know that if you add boiling water to any green tea, you will actually burn it and ruin the taste. (And guess what I'm met with by most baristas or servers, if I mention super politely - oh yes, eye-roll, or lack-of-interest -oh dear.) Even if you're using an old fashioned kettle, without access to a thermometer, simply wait until the water starts to steam... and then as the very first of tiniest bubbles appear at the bottom, you must stop the water's heat. Speaking of, sitting with water and fire can be a soothing and meditative practice, if you let it... I recommend welcoming this short mindful escape to your day. You can find more information about 'water practice' over at Global Teahut. As far as steeping time goes on these verdant leaf, thirty seconds to a minute will do it for the first... for subsequent steeps, you can try adding a bit more time here or there, but go with your instinct, and pay attention to how you feel. Experiment a tad, pay attention to your gut, and be in the experience, and the dance of tea, each time you sit...
All that said, here are a bunch of my favorite types of the more famous green teas... as well as a few resources for purchasing. Happy exploring...
2018 Dragon Well (Longjing) This is a Chinese pan-roasted green with a signature sword-like shape, chestnut aroma and a slightly sweet, silky smooth vegetal taste... I recommend trying one from my tea teacher, Roy Fong. He owns Imperial Tea, and I'll tell you this - when it comes to curated offerings, Roy knows what is what! Try his Imperial Lotus Heart lot if there's any still available... if not, grab this one, which was harvested a week later, with slightly larger leaves... Finally, you can also grab a 1/2 oz sample Dragonwell from another fave tea shop, Teance
Mao Feng. Huang Shan Mao Feng comes from the north side of the mountain in Anhui province, and is called one of the top ten most famous Chinese teas. I recommend trying this one from Mei Mei Fine teas... Enjoy the orchid fragrance, and the smooth and creamy taste, with multiple other sweet notes that pop through each brew.
Gyokuro. The name translates to "jade dew" in Japanese, and is shaded for three weeks during its growth. Its got a rich, umami flavor... I love Ippodo tea of Kyoto, and they recommend trying their Kanro variety, first... which "is likened to drops of dew concentrated with sweetness"! You can grab a lovely small can with box for ¥4,000, which is roughly $35USD give or take. Also, with Gyokuro, I encourage you to go for water that is even cooler than for other greens... 140 Fahrenheit... or try it cold-brewed... Yum.
Nilgiri Green. These teas from the mountains of Southern India just make me happy. Young Mountain Teas (who led a group of us tea geeks in song, the last time I saw them!) has got a nice green that is actually called 'Nilgiri Smile' and its got a fruity peachy finish. $6.50 for an ounce.
One more. David's Green Private Reserve which is pure bliss, in my glass gaiwan, above... not to be missed! (Price avail upon request, give them a call - don't be scared - reasonably priced!)